Page 134 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

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people’s passion for entertainment, no longer restricted by the
religious ban on “frivolous company” and performances, and
recognizing the talent of the singers, who excelled both in singing
and in improvised comic dialogues, Goldfaden decided to write
for the stage.
The early dramatic sketches with which the Yiddish theater
took its first steps were later described by the author himself as
“nonsense” and “absurdity!” These plays consisted of plots all
borrowed from the European repertoire, garnished with comic
exchanges and songs full of biting mockery. The two actors in
Jassy had to improvise most of the dialogue. If the audience
laughed at the stage characters of a bickering mother-in-law, a
ridiculous Hasid or an amorous philosopher, it was thanks to the
actors’ excellent mimicry and pleasant voices, and not to Gold­
faden’s dramatic skill. However, his hack work, all written in haste
in order to attract a larger audience, successfully fulfilled its
purpose. Much later, already recognized as the “father of the
Yiddish theater,” Goldfaden explained in his autobiography that
in 1876 the Jewish spectators were not ready for Shakespeare and
Gutzkow in Yiddish, so he created for them simple, bright-
colored scenes with music and laughter. He created a theater that
his audience, naive as children, could enjoy.
Instead of educating his people with the best samples of Euro­
pean repertoire, Goldfaden, the maskil, son of the local watch­
maker, had succumbed to the unpretentious popular taste and
created a true folk theater. Being himself a novice in the theater,
lacking technique as a playwright, he intuitively used the theatri­
cal devices of the Purimspiel, the jesting and puns of
folk song and folk dance, all familiar and beloved by his people.
Thus, even the weakest among Goldfaden’s productions was
steeped in Jewish folklore and manifested an authentic vitality
and joy of creativity. Moreover, even his comic characters like
Shmendrik, Kuni-Leml, and Brayndele Cossack that evoked such
indignation on the part of contemporary Jewish intellectuals, also
became a part of Jewish folklore.
Within the theater, Goldfaden had proven his versatility. He
managed his own troupe, wrote, directed and produced more
than twenty-five plays, and also contributed to the music and the