Flip the Script Friday: Isaac Bashevis Singer and Eve Friedman, Teibele And Her Demon

In honor of the triumphant return of Twin Peaks, and because I still have the book out from the library, here’s another selection from 13 Plays of the Ghosts and the Supernatural. This one reaches back into Jewish folklore: Teibele And Her Demon, by Isaac Bashevis Singer and Eve Friedman.

The playbill of this play is really awkward looking, yes, more awkward than this, so I used a picture from what seems to be a Romanian production. (http://www.teatrul-evreiesc.com.ru)

 

The Basics

Teibele And Her Demon was first performed in New York City on 16 December 1979.

Characters

  • Alchonon – a “shabby scholar”
  • Teibele – a young, attractive agunah, or woman trapped in marriage in Orthodox Judaism
  • Menasha – Alchonon’s friend, a peddler
  • Genendel – Teibele’s friend, a widoe
  • Rabbi
  • Various others

Setting/Plot

1880s, the small town of Frampol, Poland. Teibele is an agunah, or a “chained woman;” since her husband Moshe Mattis is missing and it is not certain as to whether he is alive or dead, she is still considered to be married to him without any hope of initiating a divorce and continuing on with her life. One night, Alchonon enters Teibele’s bedroom as “Hurmizah,” a demon, and the two start a relationship; however, in real life, Teibele can’t stand Alchonon. Teibele’s “demon lover” tells her to marry the man she despises, (who is, obviously, the same person), and uses Menasha’s forgery skills to get a fake death certificate to make that happen. However, when Menasha tries to pull the same stunt on Genendel, he accidentally reveals everything to everyone, including Teibele, who is in complete disbelief that the man she loves is actually the man she hates.

My Thoughts

I actually really wanted to know what would happen at the end. In the first scene with Alchonon as the demon in bed with Teibele, I thought it was some kind of sex game, but quite obviously it’s not. Other than the rabbi, all of the other characters are completely stupid; Teibele, for actually believing she has a demon lover (that’s only for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, honey); Genendel, for encouraging her; Alchonon, for screwing up so badly as the demon that he almost gets his cover blown a number of times; and Menasha, for screwing everything up because he wanted to play with everyone. Even though the idiot guys get their comeuppance at the end, it’s not as simple as that in the story.

Fifty Shades of…Okay

Why, why, why did Teibele believe it? It’s a classic Jekyll-and-Hyde, Steve-Urkel-and-Stefan-Urquelle thing, only worse because he doesn’t even really change his appearance, basically just his tone of voice and some of the things he says, which are pretty weird. At first, Teibele just seems like she just wants to get kinky, but towards the end, when she gets confused, we see that she was not the one in control all along, and being chained to her demon-lover fantasy almost kills her. Fortunately, Alchonon has two brain cells to rub together in order to, well, if not save her, than salvage a kind of messed-up situation. There’s also the whole thing with, why’d this girl just constantly do it with a stranger who snuck into her bedroom? Once you realize she’s not in control, it turns from enjoyable and almost erotic to, wow, this woman has no clue what is going on.

Overall, it’s a clean little play that goes rather far out there for being two short acts. It’s like a bite-size version of a Buffy/Fifty Shades hybrid, only with European Jewish stick people in old-timey nightwear instead of sexy lingerie. Which could also classify it as a comedy.

How I’d Flip It

Modernizing it would basically just turn it into another Fifty Shades, but researching pajamas of the era would be interesting. For some reason, I’m thinking black box, with a lot of cardboard cutouts, maybe some sneaky entrances/exits, or trapdoors. One cool think would be to have a black set in front of a curtain painted to look like fire, and window panes used as entrances (for the demon). Blacks and reds seem to be the order of the day, but of course I’m seeing Teibele in a white gown. For some reason, I’m also imagining a red/black/white plaid pattern as a motif (bed, carpet, costume accents), something most likely not used or seen in Poland, because this is crazy-land version of Poland.

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