Page 26 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 18

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J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
18
of a theater because there was as yet no audience for Hebrew
plays and therefore no Hebrew theaters. He therefore turned
in 1906 to the writing of Yiddish plays. In 1908, encouraged by
Bialik, he organized in Odessa the Hirshbein-Troupe of actors
to present Yiddish dramas of literary merit. For two years he
wandered about Russia giving performances chiefly of his own
plays but also those of Asch, Pinski, Gordin and Sholom
Aleichem. Financial difficulties compelled the dissolution of the
Hirshbein-Troupe in July 1910, after its last performances in
Bobroisk and Dvinsk. Nevertheless, Hirshbein’s example exerted
a profound influence upon the formation years later of the
Vilna Yiddish Troupe and the New York Yiddish Art Theater.
Some of the actors he had trained in ensemble playing before
the First World War continued this tradition long afterwards.
Hirshbein had begun as a Naturalist and was hailed as the
dramatic poet of the cellar-dwellings. He turned to Symbolism
and was soon heralded as the Yiddish Maeterlinck. In later years
he turned away from Symbolism and fcnded as a neo-Realist. A
lyric idyllic tone, however, interpenetrates all his plays, the
most successful of which were
Die Puste Kretshme
(1912) and
Griene Felder
(1916). These and others by Hirshbein were part
of the permanent repertoire of the Yiddish Art Theater.
David Pinski (1872-1959) had also begun as a Naturalist with
his drama
Eisik Sheftel
(1899). Pinski brought to the Yiddish
stage the Jewish factory hand at a time when industrialization in
Russia was still in its infancy. The characters of his early plays
are naked souls stripped of idealizing veneers and true to their
inner urges. They are real in their mixture of brutality and
tenderness, callousness and kindness. They speak the Yiddish of
the market-place and the workbench—broken sentences, ejaculated
phrases, repetitious monosyllables.
In 1904, after the Kishinev pogrom, Pinski wrote the stirring
tragedy
Familie Tzvi,
urging Jews to resist ruthless foes, to defy
overwhelming odds and, if need be, to go down fighting for the
Jewish values they held dear. Pinski s boldness and originality
manifested themselves not only in his proletarian and nationalis-
tic dramas but also in his dramatic treatment of the relations
between the sexes. The lure of the flesh in all its intensity, fury
and havoc makes its entry upon the stage in such plays as
Yenkel
der Schmied
(1906), and
Gabri un d,ie Frauen
(1908). Pinski’s
masterpiece, which entered into the stream of European drama,
was his comedy
Der Oitzer
(1906). It was successfully produced
in German on the Berlin stage in 1910, even before its Yiddish
premiere.
The Yiddish theater was flourishing vigorously in Russia when
it was again banned on the outbreak of the First World War.
Although it was later revived in Warsaw, Vilna, Moscow and
Odessa, it never fully recovered. Almost all the leading Yid­