This past weekend, junior Tamar Nachmany debuted her interpretation of Teibele and Hurmizah at Hopkins as part of her Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. Written by Isaac Bashevis Singer, the play is based on a Polish erotic fable and is rife with sexual exploration and deviancies: characters consort with demons, fantasize about adultery and arrange threesomes.
The play is based on a beautiful young lady, brilliantly played by Rebecca McGivney, who is tormented by her husband's disappearance. Stranded in limbo between deserted wife and widow, she cannot remarry until his death is in some way confirmed. Alchonon, an unassuming but learned man from the same village, seduces the sexually-starved Teibele by presenting himself as an irrefusable demon named Hurmizah.
Eventually Teibele falls for her demon companion, and Alchonon grows dissatisfied with having to love in disguise. But in giving up his demonic habit, he forces himself into a series of situations that are at once miserable and hilarious. The dialogue is sharp and witty - significantly so for a play set in the 19th century village of Frampol, Poland.
The majority of scenes center on the couple's adventures in bed, but the Jewish community plays a significant role as well. Alchonon's friend Menasha, and Teibele's friend, Genendel, flirt covertly, and the rabbi, portrayed by freshman David Shear, enters for brilliantly dramatic scenes.
The play traversed various cultures before landing in Nachmany's hands, but she stayed true to its origins, producing it in both Yiddish and English. At the climax of the play, the characters speak - then shout - in Yiddish for a dangerously long time, but the audience never feels left out. Leaving the scene devoid of English was a brave but successful choice for Nachmany; the drama in the scene is so intense that the need for understandable dialogue is transcended.
"Initially I had not planned on having any parts of the show in Yiddish," Nachmany wrote in an email to The News-Letter. "[Studying] Yiddish would have opened up a number of interesting opportunities. . ." Nachmany explained that the actors found the foreign language a challenge to memorize, but also an inspiring and creative outlet.
The play will be performed again this weekend at the Bell Foundry and the Jewish Museum of Maryland. By reaching out to fellow students, colleagues and local artists, Nachmany was able to find several willing stages for her production. "There are so many cool people living in Baltimore who don't come to Hopkins shows, and I wanted to be able to engage with them on this project," Nachmany said.
Unique to this student-produced play was the addition of Charm City Klezmer. The trio played live during the show, filling in transitions and adding an instrumental soundtrack to the scenes. Coupled with the elaborate makeup - white faces and generous facial hair, designed by Suzanne Gold - the production ended up having a distinct aesthetic that extended beyond the Jewish culture and into the otherworldly realm that is theatre. That aesthetic is what sets Teibele apart; the play offers not just an escape but total immersion into a fantastical world.