It may have been cut from “Fiddler on the Roof,” but the song “When Messiah Comes,” a rueful ballad about the dashing of hopes, continues to resonate for theater director Michel Hausmann. Growing up in the Jewish community of Caracas, Venezuela, in the 1990s, Hausmann saw how the much-anticipated presidency of Hugo Chavez turned viciously against the Jewish state, as well as against the Jews of his own nation — leading the bulk of the Jewish population to depart for South Florida and Israel.
In his new musical, “The Golem of Havana,” Hausmann transposes the myth of the supernatural savior to late-1950s Cuba, on the eve of the Cuban Revolution, where a teenage girl dreams of a potent creature who will rescue her Hungarian Jewish family both from the working class and from the shadow of the Holocaust. The klezmer mambo musical, with music by Salomon Lerner and lyrics by Len Schiff, premiered last week at La MaMa in the East Village.
Directed by Hausmann, who also wrote the book, “The Golem of Havana” centers on 14-year-old Rebeca (Liba Vaynberg), the daughter of an unsuccessful tailor, Pinchas (Patrick Kerr) and a strong-willed, impatient mother, Yutka (Yelena Shmulenson). Just as the family is on the verge of climbing into the middle class, a wounded guerrilla fighter, Teo (Ronald Peet), the son of its maid, appears on the doorstep. The family members are obliged to decide how much to risk their own lives to protect the rebel.
Hausmann, who now lives in New York, has experienced anti-Semitism first-hand. He was rehearsing “Fiddler” at a large municipal theater in Caracas in 2009 when the state-sponsored orchestra suddenly bowed out of the show, citing fears of government reprisal for their involvement in a Jewish musical. Then, during a performance of his production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” at the Central University of Venezuela in 2010, tear gas was lobbed into a dressing room.
In an interview, Hausmann told The Jewish Week that his new play springs partly from his own family history during the Holocaust, with “hero stories on my father’s side and victim stories on my mother’s.” Similarly, the family in the musical is caught between seeking a miraculous escape from its condition and fearing what will transpire after Castro takes power.
“There’s a moment when a savior like the Golem, rather than protecting you, suddenly becomes your enemy,” Hausmann noted. “A revolution might be needed to bring social justice and democratic values. But then you can’t forget to put the Golem to sleep.”
“The Golem of Havana” runs through this Sunday, Sept. 8 at La MaMa ETC, 74A E. Fourth St. Remaining performances are Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. For tickets, $18, call OvationTix at (866) 811-4111 or visit www.thegolemofhavana.com.