Page 24 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 18

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e w i s h
o o k
n n u a l
theater, could be attracted if a weighty problem of general interest
were seriously presented. Gordin’s Lear-tragedy, which adapted a
Shakespearean theme to Jewish needs, was ideally suited for this
purpose. The conflict of generations was then raging with full
force in immigrant homes. Old-fashioned fathers, unable to
exercise patriarchal authority over their Americanized children,
saw their own heartache realistically mirrored on the stage.
Indeed, parents are said to have brought their rebellious children
into the theater in order that they might learn a lesson and
behave with greater consideration.
The Jewish King Lear
ushered in the Golden Era of the Yid-
dish theater. Gordin used drama as an educational medium, as
a stimulus to thinking, and not primarily as a pleasant means of
relaxation. In
Mirele Ejros,
his successful drama of 1898, he
touched the hearts of Jewish theater-goers with the tale of a
Queen Lear. She was a strong-willed Jewish mother who con-
ducted her business and household in imperial fashion but in a
moment of weakness turned over the reins to her children who
soon made it impossible for her to remain in her own home. In
Gordin presented the new emancipated woman who
was prepared to follow the call of love wheresoever it led her
and to endure whatsoever consequences from outraged public
sentiment. In the tragedy
Gott, Mensh, un Teifel,
he wrestled
with the problem of man’s dual nature.
Although Gordin’s texts still abound in sudden reversals of
fortune that are inadequately motivated, though he often pre-
fers the unlikely happy ending for a basically tragic situation,
and though his humor is sometimes forced and superficial, never-
theless his plays present characters that are alive, situations that
are real, social issues which are vigorously debated, and moral
problems which cry for at least some tentative solution. Gordin
weaned Yiddish audiences from melodramatic operettas of the
Goldfaden Era; he accustomed actors to more natural acting;
he raised the stage to a serious platform on which human wills
clash, human emotions explode and conflicting ideas are clari-
Gordin’s reform of the theater paved the way for able disciples
such as Leon Kobrin (1873-1946) and Z. Libin (1872-1955). In-
deed, Kobrin’s early play
profited from Gordin’s collabora-
tion and his subsequent play
Natur, Mensh un Khaye (Nature,
Man, and Beast)
echoed in its very title Gordin’s
God, Man, and
Kobrin, however, moralizes less and visualizes more. He
starts not from an idea but from character. He has his heroes and
heroines battle antithetical forces within their own nature and
fight their way out of a moral dilemma in which they are hurled,
or he has them die in the attempt. His dramatic striving reaches
its apex in his tragedy
Yankel Boila.
Kobrin has a keen ear for the melodies of the human heart.
He projects lovers wrestling with duty, modesty, fear and pride.