Page 23 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 18

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iptz in
— Y
idd ish
r am a
To Goldfaden the theater was a medium both for entertaining
and for comforting his people. He had faith in the curative power
of laughter, in the fruitful mating of art and morality, in the
benign union of beauty and goodness. Thus, he continued the
traditions both of the Maskilim, from whom he stemmed, and of
the Badchonim, the didactic folksingers whose beginnings he
carried on to dramatic fruition. His plays were successful because
their texts and melodies, their philosophy and morality, were
in harmony with the spirit of his people.
Yiddish Drama in America
The beginnings of Yiddish drama in America coincide with
the first wave of mass immigration of Yiddish-speaking Jews. In
1882, the year following the assassination of Alexander II and
the panicky flight of Russian Jews to the New World, the first
Yiddish plays—Goldfaden operettas—were successfully produced
in New York under the direction of Boris Tomashefsky, a cigar
worker with a fine singing voice. The ban in 1883 of all Yid-
dish dramatic activities in Russia induced the emigration to
America of many actors and producers, of whom the most
prominent were Jacob P. Adler and David Kessler. Joseph
Lateiner (1853-1935), who arrived in 1884, wrote the first full-
length drama on American soil and on an American subject.
He was soon followed by Moshe Hurwitz (1844-1910), nick-
named Professor. Both dominated the American Yiddish stage
with their texts because of their knowledge of stagecraft, even
though they were patently lacking in literary talent. Not even
Shomer (1849-1905), who produced six plays during his first
year as dramatic author, could compete with them. Nor could
Goldfaden during his first brief stay in America dislodge these
imitators from their almost monopolistic hold. Actors and
audiences became aware of the low level to which Lateiner and
“Professor” Hurwitz had reduced the Yiddish theater only when
Jacob Gordin (1853-1909) turned his attention from 1891 on
to the writing of serious drama.
Gordin adapted and originated at least seventy plays. He
learned a great deal about dramatic construction by translating
Ibsen, Strindberg, Tolstoy and Gorky. He based many of his
own plays on excellent foreign models and derived some of his
plots from Euripides, Shakespeare, Calderon, Schiller, Gutzkow,
Grillparzer, Hauptmann, Hugo, Ostrovsky and Sudermann.
Gordin’s first outstanding success was achieved with his play
Der Yiddisher Kenig Lear (The Jewish King Lear)
in 1892.
While Boris Tomashevsky was regaling a vaudeville type audience
with a Lateiner operetta and David Kessler was vying for the
same kind of audience with a Hurwitz operetta, Jacob Adler
realized that Jewish intellectuals, who shunned the Yiddish