Wise Up

For its staging of Sandy Asher's ironically titled children's comedy 'The Wise Men of Chelm,' Second Youth Family Theatre gets to bring the playwright to town

Wise Up
Illustration By Robert Faires

Hundreds of years ago, when the Earth was created, the Lord gave two angels each a sack, one filled with the souls of the wise, one filled with the souls of the foolish, and told the angels, "Go fly, and distribute these souls equally over the land." But the angel carrying the foolish souls tripped on the tip of a mountaintop and spilled them all over the town of Chelm, in Poland.

"I think that's one of the reasons we have all of these horrible Polish jokes," says Whitney Presley, who is directing Sandy Asher's ironically titled children's comedy The Wise Men of Chelm for Second Youth Family Theatre. "In the Yiddish tradition, there are dozens of tales about Chelm that literally go back hundreds of years. What Sandy does is assemble some of the more instructive ones and frame them with a narrator, a storyteller who introduces them.

"The whole thought behind the people of Chelm is that they're very good-hearted people, they just don't have a lot of common sense. One of the overriding morals of the stories is that you don't have to have a lot of common sense to get to the heart of the matter."

This is a very special production for Second Youth because Sandy Asher is coming to town and will attend at least one of the performances. "That was sort of the brainchild of Judy Matetzschk-Campbell of Pollyanna Theatre Company and me," says Rick Smith, Second Youth's artistic director. "Judy is working with Sandy on developing a play from a picture book for young children that Sandy wrote, and they wanted to find a time to come together and play with some ideas. Judy knew that we were going to do Wise Men, and Sandy has developed a lot of workshops and lectures for Jewish congregations around the country. So we approached the Jewish Community Center to see if they would collaborate with us on getting Sandy here, and they did! Sandy will be doing three days of talks with different JCC congregations, and we'll be taking Wise Men to the JCC campus on Mother's Day and doing a performance that's open to the public there, with Sandy doing a question-and-answer afterward. So, this is very big for us. Second Youth has never brought in a playwright before."

It's nice to know that all the wise artistic directors didn't end up in Chelm. Says Presley, a UT grad: "Actually, I think the angel tripped over College Station."


The Wise Men of Chelm runs April 29-May 15 at Austin Playhouse's Second Stage, 3601 S. Congress. For more information, visit www.secondyouth.com.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Whitney Presley, Sandy Asher, Wise Men of Chelm, Second Youth Family Theatre, Judy Matetzschk-Campbell, Pollyanna Theatre Company, Rick Smith, J. Richard Smith

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