Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

He's no FOOL

Even though he plays one on stage

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What do Eastern European Jewish men and Egyptian Muslim women have in common?

More than you'd imagine, according to Howard Rypp, a Tel Aviv-based theatre professional who is staging his one-man show here in his old home town.

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Gimpel the Fool is a comic fable based on the 1955 short story by the Yiddish-language Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer. It runs at Venue 4 until Friday.

The title character is a gullible man who learns that his wife is not the innocent virgin she pretends to be.

In October, Rypp was invited to perform the 50-minute piece, in English, at an Egyptian-Israeli academic conference in Cairo.

"I worried how it would go over," Rypp, 54, recalls. "It's set in such a Jewish milieu."

But it obviously struck a universal chord. After the show, he went out to eat with a group of people, one of whom was an Egyptian woman he judged to be in her late 40s.

"She was emancipated, she wasn't covered up," he says. "She turned to me and said, 'I'm Gimpel.' "

The woman told him that she had been married for 12 years when she learned that her husband had another wife.

Bigamy, or even polygamy, is not illegal in Muslim Egypt, he says. "But they've recently passed a law that if a man marries a second time, he has to tell his first wife."

In theatre-rich Tel Aviv, Rypp serves as artistic director of a small company, Nephesh Theatre, which he started in Toronto in 1978 with fellow Winnipegger Gordon Wiseman. At the time it was Canada's first Jewish theatre company.

When Rypp emigrated to Israel in 1984, he took Nephesh ("soul" in Hebrew) with him. Today the company stages 12 Hebrew-language plays and three English ones in its seasonal repertoire.

"It's not like Canada where a play runs for three weeks and then ends," says Rypp, whose retired parents, Morley and Shirley, remain enthusiastic culture vultures in Winnipeg.

"If a play is successful it can run for years in repertoire. I have one that's been going 16 years. The actress is 86 and she's performed it 1,500 times."

When he turned 50 he got depressed about all that he had failed to do.

"This was a birthday present to myself," says Rypp, who has three adult children with his Uruguayan-born wife, Beatriz, a writer and dramaturge. "I hadn't acted in 25 years."

He adapted Gimpel himself, using American novelist Saul Bellow's original English translation. He asked Wiseman's brother Ron to do the music.

Rypp took Gimpel to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2007 and to several European cities in 2008.

This is the play's Canadian premiere. After Winnipeg he takes it to the Saskatoon fringe.

"My motives are pure," Rypp says. "I'm not thinking about the money. It's purely for love."


Rypp directed the 1985 MTC Warehouse production of Einstein by Gabriel Emanuel (AKA Gordon Wiseman).

In 1998, Nephesh staged Make Yourself at Home at Winnipeg Jewish Theatre, and in 2003 brought It Sounds Better in Amharic, by Yossi Vassa, to Winnipeg's Rady Jewish Community Centre.

In 2008, Nephesh toured another Vassa play, One of a Kind, to Toronto and New York.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 20, 2009 C5

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