Volume 73, Number 39 | January 28 - February 03, 2004

London lawyer recalls Capetown storyteller


You never know what you’re going to find on somebody else’s library shelves.

In 1990 in Johannesburg, South Africa, a London-based lawyer named Saul Reichlin, who was visiting his cousins Morrie and Ekie Fine — “Morrie was the kind of G.P. who at age 80 would get up in the middle of the night to go see his patients” — reached up idly to the Fine bookshelves to pull down a collection of the stories of Sholom Aleichem.

Just as idly he opened it — and found himself looking at an inscription of 16 years earlier: “I commend these wonderful stories to you,” and the signature: Rebecca. That was Saul Reichlin’s mother, Rebecca (“Bex”) Kreiner. And suddenly Rebecca’s son, then in his 40s, was carried back in memory to when, at age 10, in Capetown, he’d first been taken by his parents to a dramatization of some of the works of the great Yiddish story-teller.

Nowadays, ex-lawyer Reichlin does his own dramatization — more specifically, dramatized readings — from the works of Sholom Aleichem, under the subtitle: “Now You’re Talking!” He’s done these performances in South Africa, the United Kingdom, Canada, Holland, Belgium, Austria, and is doing them here in New York, through Sunday, Feb. 1, at the DR-2 Theatre on East 15th Street.

The nine stories that he tells include one particularly nice one, “Eternal Life,” about a good-natured if somewhat slow-witted young man named Moishe who schlepps by horse and wagon here and there in the snow, trying — as a favor — to dispose of the dead body of the wife of a total stranger.

Like most Sholom Aleichem stories, it has no punch line, it just tapers off into what, in poetry, is called a dying fall.

“We’re often left with a question as a closer, a trigger for thought,” says Reichlin. “With him, the journey is the essence of the story. There is no gag line. He’s an explorer of life’s comedy, without trying to be funny.”

Reichlin was with a firm of solicitors in the West End, handling house transfers, divorces, wills — “bored out of my mind and just giving everything to my secretary to do” — when, in or around 1970, he changed course 180 degrees and entered drama school. “Three years of training, and 30 years of guilt.”

Don’t worry about it. Be well, keep happy, as Sholom Aleichem might have said. And did say.


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