Page 48 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 34

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38
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
religious establishment, the Yiddish theater was forced to begin
as entertainment, not as art. Its technical conditions were at
best primitive—a platform in a garden or a hall rather than a
stage. Its early actors were, as Goldfaden’s letter emphasizes,
uneducated and untrained, and its audiences were as unsophisti­
cated and as uneducated as the performers. As a result there
arose the continuing bane of the Yiddish theater—a dearth of
good plays with broad appeal, which even such able playwrights
as Pinski, Asch, Leivick, Kobrin, Dymov, Hirshbein, Gordin
were not able to overcome. And yet there emerged from un­
promising beginnings a theater that was vital, energetic, often
brilliant, boldly experimental when it could be, with an host
of dedicated actors who made virtues of both their own in­
sufficiencies and the wretched quality of so many of the scripts;
being
folksmentshn
, they developed to a high art their capacity
to portray folk types, to improvise the folk world, and they
produced stars and actors of the first magnitude. Their ingenuity
was as boundless as their love of their theater.
Although little more than a half-century elapsed from the
beginning of the Yiddish theater to the destruction of its great
East European base,11 the years of its maturity were actually less
than a score—starting with the Vilna Troupe production of
Anski’s
Dybbuk
in 1920 in Warsaw and the Maurice Schwartz-
Jacob Ben Ami efforts to found an art theater in New York in
1918 and 1919, and
Di Fraye Yidishe Folksbine
in Vienna at the
same time under Jacob Mestel, and ending with the descent of
the black curtain in 1939. And of these years, how many were
free from the oppressive Polish anti-Semitism or from economic
privation or the lengthening shadow of Hitler in both Europe
and America? Yet what a variety the Yiddish theater was capable
of! What vigor of growth and experimentation at the very
time when its dependence on an audience, often uncultivated
and poor, was increased! In addition to the companies already
mentioned, those years saw the emergence of such theaters as
Vikt and Azazel in Warsaw, Ararat in Lodz, the Moscow Yiddish
Kamer Teater
which became the Moscow Yiddish State Theater,
l i Since this paper is an effort to touch on some major moments and forces,
cultural and social, in the history of the Yiddish theater rather than a
survey of its development, no attempt has been made to present the
details of its growth.