Page 25 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 18

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17
L
ipt z in
— Y
idd ish
D
r am a
He portrays them as being exultant in complete abandonment at
one moment and remorse-ridden and despairing soon thereafter.
Free love was a favorite subject for discussion in immigrant
radical circles. Kobrin’s dramatization of nature’s fierce sex
claims upon man was a daring innovation. Only David Pinski
had earlier ventured to depict raw emotions in all their brutal
nakedness, but Pinski was still in Russia in the 1890’s in contact
with Russian reality. Kobrin, on the other hand, had arrived
penniless in Philadelphia in 1892. He could dramatize vividly the
world of the pioneering Yiddish generation because he himself
had experienced it—the intensity of the factory struggles, the filth
of the slums, the idealism of strikers, and the hunger for bread
and for love.
With the death of Jacob Gordin in 1909 a decline began in
the quality of Yiddish drama in America, which was only tempor-
arily arrested by the founding by Maurice Schwartz of the Yid-
dish Art Theater a decade later. Many reasons have been given
for this decline. The phenomenal growth of the theater as a
mass medium was probably its undoing. In becoming big business,
it could prosper only by attracting a very large attendance.
Melodramatic spectacles and entertaining musicals served this
purpose better than profound dramas expounding social panaceas
or stimulating philosophic questioning. The flight of American-
ized Jews to English and the sudden stoppage of immigration
upon the outbreak of the First World War reduced the size of
the potential Yiddish public. Despite efforts of gifted authors,
composers, actors and producers, theater-goers dwindled from year
to year. Deprived of old patrons by death and assimilation and
unable to gain new patrons in substantial numbers, the Yiddish
theater nevertheless continued for fully another generation an
heroic struggle for survival in America. This struggle is associated
primarily with the Yiddish Art Theater, which produced dramas
of high literary quality by Ossip Dymov, Sholom Aleichem, and
H. Leivick and reached its pinnacle with S. Anski’s
Dybbuk
and
I. J. Singer’s
Yoshe Kalb.
A Revival In Russia
Meanwhile in Russia, with the lifting in 1904 of the ban on
Yiddish productions, a ban that had been in effect for two
decades, drama was experiencing a revival. Plays by Y. L. Peretz
and his disciples David Pinski, Sholom Asch, and Peretz Hirsh-
bein could now be staged.
The most dynamic spirit in this revival was Hirshbein (1880-
1948), a dramatist of superb literary caliber and also a producer
and director of tremendous energy. Hirshbein had begun with
Hebrew dramas which were published in the periodical
Hazman,
but there was no possibility of these resounding from the boards