The Zulu and the Zayda – Original Cast Album (Arkiv version) 1965
The Zulu and the Zayda is a play with music about two remarkably undiscouraged people living under very discouraging circumstances. The Zulu’s circumstances are, as most of us know and feel, that he lives in a homeland taken over by white proprietors in which he must watch every step and every breath just to be allowed to keep what little freedom is left to him. This applies to pretty much any Zulu.
A Zayda, we learn, is a Jewish grandfather. This particular Zayda is seventy-nine years old and has been twice uprooted in his life, first from Slutsk, his native village in Czarist Russia, and more recently from London where, for many years, he was happily selling wares from a pushcart. Now he finds himself in Johannesburg, where his devoted son, who runs a prosperous hardware store and nervously tries to avoid trouble while raising a family, has brought him to live out his remaining years.
The son, Harry Grossman (Joe Silver), is a likable fellow under most circumstances, but just now suffering anxieties that tend to break down his best nature. The trouble is Zayda. Zayda speaks Yiddish and expects to be understood by everyone. Zayda gets lost and into trouble. Zayda wanders into native quarters and ignores the laws of apartheid.
In the opening scene of the show, Harry Grossman’s trusted houseboy Johannes, played by Ossie Davis, neatly outlines all of this for us. After his song, “Tkambuza,” glorifying the Mighty Hunter, he confesses his own less-than-mighty status – interrupting his remarks to show his pass to a cop – and expresses his concern for his boss.
To the worried Grossman (Zayda is lost again) he offers a solution. His brother Paulus could come and act as Zayda’s guide, nursemaid and grandfather-sitter. Harry says no.
But Harry’s sons, Arthur and David, teenagers intent on sports and cars, are not so sentimental. Eskimos, after all, supposedly put their old ones adrift on ice floes. Why shouldn’t Zayda die comfortably in an old people’s home?
At this point a huge and friendly policeman brings in Zayda (Menasha Skulnik), asleep in his arms but clutching an assegai (native spear). When Zayda is put to bed, Harry asks Johannes about his brother Paulus. Where is he, anyway? In Pondoland, replies Johannes, only eight-and-a-half hours by train. The deal is made.
Paulus (Louis Gossett) arrives at Harry’s hardware store a day or two later, but without Johannes. Since Paulus speaks only Zulu, he has some difficulty making his identity clear to Harry. He finally uses two identical watering cans to show his brotherhood to Johannes. An even harder point is made: in order for Paulus to travel freely, he has had to take Johannes’s pass, which means that Johannes will have to get back from Pondoland slowly and surreptitously. Without Johannes to translate, the language difficulty is enormous, and we see at once that a certain playful cooperation between parties is necessary to communicate effectively by pantomime.
This cooperation is hard for the status-conscious Harry, but not for Zayda. He is immediately stunned by Paulus’s color, his size, his language and his shoes cut from auto tires. He finds all of this fascinating, and the two begin to pick up bits and pieces of each other’s language right away. They are delighted that the word for knife, “messer” in Yiddish, turns out to be so close to the Zulu “umese.”
Johannes returns safely and cheerfully takes up his household duties (“Crocodile Wife”). He is pleased with the way things are working out. Zayda is learning Zulu, Paulus is picking up Yiddish, and while Zayda can outrun anybody for short distances, Paulus, with his long legs, can catch up with him.
Grossman is not quite so pleased. Paulus loses his pass to a cop for having sat on a bench with Zayda in order to take a nail out of the old man’s shoe, and Grossman has to go and pick the pass up at the administration building. His friends have seen Paulus and Zayda holding hands to cross streets in downtown Johannesburg. Grossman feels he has to warn his father not to be so friendly in public with the Zulu.
Paulus is not entirely content either. He has dreamed that his own father resents his having left the Zulu village. Zayda gives Paulus a Jewish anniversary candle, a Yahrzeit light, to appease his father’s spirit (It’s Good to Be Alive).
But the background of racial hatred is not so easily gotten around. Johannes expresses its effect (The Water Wears Down the Stone) and Zayda his philosophical acceptance (Rivers of Tears). But now what should be simply a joyous occasion, Zayda’s birthday, brings matters to a head. It falls on Paulus’s day off. Grossman is planning a surprise party for Zayda, which Zayda knows all about. Zayda resents Paulus even having a day off (“Who gives me a day off?”). In order to be near his friend on his birthday, Zayda insists on coming with Paulus to his Zulu friends’ house.
The appearance of Zayda at the house of Paulus’s friend John (Yaphet Kotto) causes his host great consternation. Europeans are not allowed there, only police. John insists that Paulus take Zayda home but is then ashamed of his own lack of hospitality and offers him food and drink. While Zayda rests, he listens as the Zulu friends join in song (“Like the Breeze Blows”).
Zayda is not one to leave without expressing his thanks and appreciation for kindness to him, as welcome as “an aching tooth when it finally stops.” They sing and dance together (“Oisgetzaichnet”). The music and laughter attract unwelcome attention. The police enter and take the whole group away to jail.
We see them next behind bars – all except Zayda who, being European, is seated in solitary misery opposite the magistrate’s bench. While he waits for Grossman to come to his rescue, his jailed friends sing to keep up their courage (“Some Things”).
Grossman arrives and begs Zayda to be silent while he makes a gentleman’s agreement with the magistrate. A contribution of sixty pounds to charity will free Zayda, but not his friends. Grossman pays the money and urges Zayda to come away.
Of course he won’t leave without his friends. On the local sliding scale their worth to the police (for charity, of course) is only five pounds each. Zayda searches his person and from an almost incredible number of hidden pockets manages to come up with enough bills and change to free them all.
Johannes realizes that boss Grossman will be upset by all this and warns Paulus that he must behave and learn the rules of life in Johannesburg. Laugh only after a European laughs, or when alone. Stand when a European enters. Above all, keep looking in a European’s eyes, scan his face for the true meaning not conveyed in the words.
Zayda and Paulus visit a Jewish cemetery and rest near the tombstones. Zayda discovers that Paulus is “married but not married.” In Zulu villages, a man brings a girl’s father a dowry, usually a number of cows, in exchange for the bride. Paulus has delivered only one cow so far, and thus the girl remains with her father. Paulus has three cows to go and sings to his love to wait for him (“Zulu Love Song”). Zayda gives Paulus his gold watch as a contribution to this marital lay-away plan.
Paulus has heard the Zayda’s unnaturally heavy breathing and goes to Grossman for permission to buy a certain herb he knows will help Zayda. Grossman is infuriated at the presumption that some native Zulu herb could do more for his father than the physicians he has watching over him. He is also displeased that Paulus took Zayda to the graveyard and decides on the spot that the Zulu-Zayda relationship has not worked out. Paulus has been too much trouble. He discharges him and pays him off. Paulus leaves.
Johannes, whose function it is to give tongue to the emotional tenor of each development of the play’s action, sings “How Cold, Cold, Cold.” Paulus is gone. Zayda is upset and fretful. The family is arguing. No one has actually told Zayda of Paulus’s dismissal yet, and they all fear the effect on him. At dinner there is momentary peace. Zayda sings “L’Chayim – May Your Heart Stay Young.”
Then he asks for Paulus. Grossman tells him that he is not coming back, that he has gone back to Pondoland. Zayda guesses that Grossman has sent him away, and why: “You couldn’t stand to see me happy!” When Zayda speaks of going to search for Paulus, Grossman forbids him to leave the house.
Johannes reappears against a darkened set signifying the interior of a hospital. The lights come up to show Grossman and his wife Helen visiting the Zayda, bringing him chicken soup to bolster his weakened heart. As Helen goes in with the soup, Grossman’s son David comes out of the sickroom to say that Zayda is sitting up. He then begs his father to find Paulus and bring him back.
Paulus has found a job delivering orders for a local pharmacy. Grossman finds him in a storage room, thinking things over as he works (“Eagle Soliloquy”). Grossman asks him to come back. Paulus consents, on certain conditions. One, they must not treat the Zayda as if he were old. Two, Grossman himself is to stay with Zayda on Paulus’s day off. Three, a pair of leather shoes. In return he promises Grossman to try to keep himself and Zayda out of trouble.
Grossman brings Paulus to Zayda on the grounds of the hospital, Zayda still confined to a wheelchair but looking his indestructible self again. “You got bigger!” he exclaims on seeing Paulus. Paulus has brought him a gift, the African nail harp Zayda saw and so much admired in the home of Paulus’s friends. Life picks up again for them as before. But Paulus tells Zayda he has promised boss Grossman that they would stay out of trouble. “No trouble?” exclaims Zayda. “What are we going to do all day!”
Trouble, no trouble. – “It’s Good to Be Alive.”
– C. Burr
(Taken from the original liner notes for KOL 6480/KOS 2880)
A Glossary of the Zulu and Yiddish Phrases Used in the Play
by Harold Rome
AWUYELELEMAMA: (Used in “Zulu love Song,” also in “Tkambuza, Mighty Hunter,” ah-woo-yeh-lay-Iay-ma-ma). An exclamation, expressing many emotions, sad or joyous, depending on the tone of voice. English equivalent: How about that? Jewish equivalent: Oy!
I-N-KOSI-LE ’MPI: King of War.
LEBEN IS GUT: It’s good to be alive.
TAHKE: Yes indeed; you said it; no kidding?; that’s for sure, etc. Again, it depends on the tone of voice.
L’CHAYIM: (Hebrew) Literally: To life! Used as a toast it is the equivalent of Skal; Cheers; Down the hatch; A votre santé.
GLAZZELE: Well, anyone can tell “glazz” is glass, and when you add “ele” pronouncing both e’s short, you have the entire foundation of Yiddish – you have created the affectionate diminutive. Glazzele is a dear little glass, just as …
TZATZKELE: is a dear little tzatzke.
TZATZKE: Now that takes a little explaining. Literally, it’s a toy – a plaything – and I suppose figuratively it is too, because it refers to the kind of girl who would make quite a nice little toy or plaything. In the nicest kind of way, of course.
STRUDEL: That’s a pastry made of dough which has to be rolled out on the dining room table until it’s thin as tissue paper, then stuffed with goodies. It’s absolutely …
OISGETZAICHNET: which, to keep things crystal clear, means great; wonderful; the end; out of this world.
MAZEL: A piece of good fortune; a blessing; great good luck.
BORSCHT: That’s beet soup, which with a dollop of sour cream and a boiled potato is absolutely out of this world (oisgetzaichnet). Although there are those who prefer …
SCHAV: which is sort of a Jewish vichyssoise, except it’s made of sour grass. I wouldn’t quibble. Either of them served cold on a hot day is a mazel.
DAHVENEN: Praying. You can believe me, a cantor in good voice, intoning the ancient prayers, can get notices from his congregation as though he were Caruso. Better, yet.
SCHNAPPS: Stop kidding! That’s interfaith language and has to be 90 proof at least.
A GLASS SELTZER AFTER A BIG DINNER: OISGETZAICHNET.
(Taken from the original liner notes for KOL 6480/KOS 2880)
Harry Grossman: Joe Silver Arthur: Philip Vandervort David: John Pleshette Helen: Sarah Cunningham Johannes: Ossie Davis Zayda: Menasha Skulnik Paulus: Louis Gossett John: Yaphet Kotto Peter: Peter DeAnda Joan: Christine Spencer Conductor: Michael Spivakowsky Musical Supervisor and Orchestrator: Meyer Kupferman Music and lyrics by Harold J. Rome Book by Howard Da Silva and Felix Leon