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‘The Treasure’ by Sholom Aleichem (1976-77)

Reviewed for Menorah by Bernard Shulman (over 21).

This was a play first performed by Oxford students in 1970

In line with the established theatrical tradition that what Oxford sees today London sees tomorrow, the audience at the Fourth Sacks Lecture at Yarnton Manor on Tuesday, 21st June, were privileged to see, after the lecture, a performance of Sholem Aleichem's comedy. The Treasure, in its Hebrew version, before it was taken to Cricklewood Synagogue the following Sunday*

The plot of the play, originally called The Golddiggers, revolves around two Jewish (?) preoccupations - money and matrimony. A rumour is going around Kasrilevka that a treasure of gold coins has boon uncovered in the Jewish cemetery.

Levi, the suspected discoverer, pretends he is merely site-clearing for a railway which is to run through the cemetery. His daughter, Esther, announces that her cousin Benny is coming from America to find himself a wife. However, a widower named Eidle, the town banker and a mean character, fancies Esther as his second wife, and as it is Eidle's boy, Itsik, who is rumoured to have found a gold coin in the cemetery and so presumably knows the location of the hoard, Levi agrees to such, a match on condition that the whereabouts of the treasure be revealed. Predictably, when Benny arrives he falls in love with Esther, and vice versa.

Benny, in his turn, is suspected of knowing something about the location of the treasure. These ingredients, then, are-stirred up with Shalom Alice’s customary humour, and not without a pinch of improbability, until finally Benny announces that he, in collusion with the Parits (the Russian 'lord of the manor'), has played a trick on the treasure-hunters to cure them of their wild-goose-chase mentality, pointing out that whereas they were looking for treasure among the dead, in America treasure is sought among the living in work and industry.

With a cast of fifteen, it would be difficult to give adequate coverage to each performance without filling most of this issue of Menorah, and if I single out one or two performances this does not mean that the others were not creditable.

Quite the contrary, Among the thoroughly mixed cast of British and Overseas, Oxonian and non-Oxonian, Jewish and non-Jewish the range of Hebrew accents was truly astonishing (some Israelis in the audience evidently thought so), but it should not be thought that the most authentic accents invariably came from the Jewish members of the cast.

Robin Spiro, as Lazer-Wolf the warden of the butchers Synagogue, gave a powerful portrait which impressed itself as that of a man one would not rashly complain to about the absence of giblets - or whatever - when he was holding his butcher’s chopper.

Raffi Wittenberg, as Benny, possessed the right amount of thrust, and it was just unfortunate that his slight build made it difficult to believe that he could so easily have cowed Michael Nolan's towering Parits. But, as a card-carrying, fully paid-up member of the A.C.S. (Association of Certi¬fied Shlemiels), I must award the palm to Howard Cuckle's superb Nissi. His portrayal of the hen-pecked husband was such a joy that I laughed with one eye and cried with two. Elise Orenstein, as choreographer (besides playing the Shadchanit), produced a lively finale which would have enhanced any performance of Fiddler on the Roof. While Nitza Spiro, who produced the play, showed a truly professional grasp of her job, not least in the utilisation of the unpromising space available for the 'stage’.

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