a Memoir with Music

The Show

The true story of a Jewish pioneer in North Dakota, RACHEL CALOF is a compelling one-woman play with original music. This 80-minute production, suitable to all ages, is performed on a stage set with just a wooden table and two chairs. Actress Kate Fuglei transforms herself into the world of characters that populates Rachel Calof’s life as she triumphs over adversity.

About Rachel

The gripping, humane and yes, humorous story of one woman’s life on the North Dakota prairie in the 1890’s is spellbinding. It works its magic because it is honest, full of detail and suffused with the dreams, hopes and struggles of a young woman and young mother.Looking back on her life, Rachel Calof experiences in aching detail the daily challenges and triumphs of a young Jewish woman who came to North Dakota from a brutal childhood in Russia, with little but the picture of her fiancee, to introduce her to a new world.

A new world with an old world Mother-in-law, a 12’ by 14’ shack in which to live, a husband torn between fealty to his family and his new wife, freezing winters, flocks of chickens and opinionated cows; all these things and more give color, pathos and universality to her story.

RACHEL CALOF is highly unusual in that it addresses an aspect of the American immigrant experience that is rarely seen; the rural lives of Jewish immigrants as well as the day to day existence of a pioneer woman facing marriage, childbirth and carving her own destiny in a harsh and unrelenting environment. She gave the gift of life to nine children who all survived and had children and grandchildren of their own. Many of them have come to see RACHEL CALOF and have given it their blessing. When she was 55 and living in St. Paul she chronicled her story, writing her manuscript in Yiddish, in a stenographer’s notebook, which lay undiscovered until after her death. It was translated and published as RACHEL CALOF’S STORY: JEWISH HOMESTEADER ON THE NORTHERN PLAINS in 1995 by Indiana University Press, and serves as the basis for this one-woman show.

“Little things made the difference
between tragedy and happiness
in a matter of moments.”

-Rachel Calof

Creative Team

Kate Fuglei

Kate Fuglei


Ken LaZebnik

Ken LaZebnik


Leslie Steinweiss

Leslie Steinweiss

Composer/ Lyricist

Ellen S. Pressman

Ellen S. Pressman



Kate Fuglei

Kate toured the nation in the first national Broadway tour of SPRING AWAKENING. She has performed in regional theaters across the country including the New York Shakespeare Festival, the Guthrie, Arena Stage, McCarter Theater, La Jolla Playhouse, the Utah Shakespearean Festival, A Contemporary Theater and the Rubicon Theater.   She can be seen in guest-star and co-star roles in over thirty network television shows , four films for television and eight feature films.   She is one of the creators of RACHEL CALOF: A MEMOIR WITH MUSIC .   She is the proud mother of Jack LaZebnik and Ben LaZebnik.

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Ken LaZebnik

Ken LaZebnik co-wrote Robert Altman’s last film, A Prairie Home Companion, with Garrison Keillor. Of his ten produced plays, two have won citations from The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA). LaZebnik’s most recent play, On the Spectrum, was voted by the ATCA as one of the three best new plays premiered outside New York City. LaZebnik wrote the film Thomas Kinkade’s Christmas Cottage, which featured Peter O’Toole. For television, he was a writer/producer for seven years on Touched By An Angel, and has written for Army Wives, When Calls The Heart, and Providence.

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Leslie Steinwess

THEATER: Bmi musical theater workshop, ASCAP musical theater workshop. Incidental music for Broadway production of “The Price of Genius.”  Composer-in-residence for theater company “Dearknows” at Lincoln center NYC, home for contemporary theater and art NYC, Olympia Dukakis’ Whole Theater NJ. “The School of Jolly Dogs a British Music Hall”, Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, Waterford, CT. FILM: Music for PBS documentaries: Senator Sam; Under the Gun: Democracy in Guatamala, Open Lines by Marjory Steinweiss: Chicago Film Festival, Breckenridge Film Festival, Max Ophuls Film Festival Sarbrucken, Germany.  CONCERT MUSIC: Works for piano, string ensembles, orchestra and chorus. More info www.lesliesteinweiss.com.

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Ellen S. Pressman

Ellen S. Pressman is an Emmy award winner whose work has been featured on such acclaimed series as
thirtysomething, L.A. Law, Hill St. Blues, My So-Called Life and Party of Five. Ellen’s early directorial resume includes episodes of Felicity (J.J. Abrams), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Joss Whedon), My So Called Life (Winnie Holzman), as well as Time of Your Life, and Charmed. As a producer, Pressman has received Emmy awards and Golden Globe awards for Best Dramatic series, as well as Humanitas Prize awards, for Hill St. Blues, L.A. Law and thirtysomething. She has directed Rachel Calof throughout its development.

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Upcoming Performances:

United Solo Festival  at Theater Row
410 West 42nd St, NY, NY


Monday, Nov 16th at 9PM- SOLD OUT

Wednesday, Nov. 18th at 9PM- SOLD OUT

Saturday, Nov 21th at 2PM- SOLD OUT


Past Performances:

The McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas, December 2014

Devils Lake, North Dakota, June 2014

Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company,  August 2013

Jewish Theater Conference, UCLA,  January 2012

FRINGE/New York International Theater Festival,  August 2011

John Raitt Theatre, Pepperdine University, February 2011

Ensemble Studio Theatre West,  November 2010

Tech Specs

  • Playing Space: Minimum 34′ by 34′ In the center of the playing area, a 12′ by 14′ outline of the Calof shack will be established with masking tape.
  • Set: Host institution will provide two wooden chairs with backs sturdy enough to sit on, and one wooden table (top 2′ by 2′, height 30″) sturdy enough to stand on. These properties should reflect the time period of the play, ca. 1930’s.
  • Piano: One tuned acoustic piano to be place at the discretion of the performer.
  • Lighting: Lighting plot is available
  • Sound: If theater is less than 150 seats, no amplification is required. If theater is larger than 150, a lavalier mic and sound system is required.
  • Showlength:  Runs 80 minutes and is appropriate for all audiences.


"Fuglei begins the story in the 12-by-14-foot dining room of Rachel’s St. Paul home in 1936. The space is taped out on the stage floor and she tells us that this was the size of the family’s first home in North Dakota. Throughout the play, we look at these dimensions and imagine husband and wife, his parents and brothers, a couple dozen chickens and a cow all living in this dirt-floor hovel. Always, there is the suffocating presence of others with no privacy. It boggles the mind."


"Fuglei’s performance is captivating, whether detailing her first encounter with cockroaches in NYC or in the day-to-day reality of living in a tiny home, carefully rationing fuel because running out would mean death."

− CITY PAGES, Ed Huyck

"Rachel Calof brings to life the pioneering immigrant story flush with unimaginable hardship, perseverance, and pain. Yet with Ken LeZebnik’s tender writing and a performance of such specificity by Kate Fuglei, this 90-minute, colorful tour de force becomes a mesmerizing journey of hope and triumph."

− BARBARA BROOKS, Producing Artistic Director Minnesota Jewish Theatre

"Actress Kate Fuglei gives a tour-de-force performance in Rachel Calof..."

− NYTHEATRE.COM, Julie Congress

"Fuglei creates the whole thing with her body, movement, and voice, all of which build a rich and vibrant world. Beyond that are the Steinweiss’s songs. The show is subtitled ‘a memoir with music,’ and the selections have a lot more in common with classical art songs than rah-rah American musicals."

− CITY PAGES, Ed Huyck

"This piece should be seen by everyone. I can’t recommend it highly enough."

− KATHLEEN MARSHALL, Pepperdine University


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