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The Yiddish Theatre Opens With a Bang

Beginning with a small group of struggling immigrant actors whose first performance was held in the back of a little store which was called the Oriental Theatre, at Broadway and Canal Street, the Yiddish Theatre today marks its fiftieth year of activity. Thursday evening saw the opening of ten Yiddish playhouses in New York City.

Peretz Hirshbein’s Yiddish folk musical, “Once Upon a Time”, with Samuel Goldenburg, Celia Adler and Joseph Buloff, opened at the Second Ave. Theatre, and,. in the Bronx, Jennie Goldstein presented “The Nayder” at the Prospect Theatre. “All in a Lifetime” was brought to the Bronx Art Theatre, and “What Girls Desire” opened at the McKinley Square Theatre.

Over in Brooklyn Aaron Lebedeff is starred in a new musical piece, “I Would If I Could”, at the Rolland Theatre. Menashe Skulnick reopened the Hopkinson Theatre with “Menachem Mendel.” At the Lyric Theatre, Celia Person made her debut as actress-manager in “The Song of Life.” “Fallen Angels” opened at the Amphion Theatre.

Maurice Schwartz, following his return from a highly successful tour of the Argentine. reopened his season with a revival of “Yoshe Kalb”, at the Yiddish Art Theatre. Much has been written and said in praise of Mr. Schwartz’s characterization of Reb Melech, the coarse, greedy and domineering Chassidic rabbi of Nysheve. When one first saw the play, based on the novel by I. J. Singer, last season, one was absorbed in the story of the young ascetic cabalist who, forced to marry against his wishes, sins with his father-in-law’s wife and spends the rest of his life a wanderer, seeking expiation for his sin. But the trials and tribulations of Yoshe Kalb seem to diminish in importance with the second impression and one becomes gladly aware of the rich and exotic background of the eastern Chassidic Jew.

Such character portrayals as that of Helen Zelinska in the role of the idiot girl who forces Yoshe Kalb to marry her, Anna Appel as “Gitele”, who has shorn the locks of many a bride, and the men who act the part of the gay and noisy Chassidism, reveal the colorful and vibrant qualities in European Jewish life.

The enthusiasm which greeted Mr. Schwartz and his troupe at the reopening of his theatre indicated the vast esteem in which he is held.

Ludwig Satz, after an absence of two years from the Yiddish stage in New York, returned in the Chassidic operetta, “Ich Benk Aheim” (I Long for Home), to the Public Theatre. The play, which is a sequel to “The Rabbi’s Melody”, was written specially for Mr. Satz by Gershon Bader, and Joseph Rumshinsky provided the music.

The story concerns Shaikenu, the son of the learned Yachmistrichi Rabbi, who on the death of his father refuses to take his place and migrates to the United States. After having been gone for seven years, he decides to return home, much to the joy of his townsmen. Many celebrations are planned in the young rabbi’s honor but he finds it difficult to shake off his American influences. A marriage is arranged for him according to the wishes of his dead father and after much pleading he agrees to go through with the wedding. Many humorous complications ensue and everything ends in happy, merry fashion. Ludwig Satz, in the role of the young rabbi whose Americanized Yiddish perplexes and bewilders his congregation, amuses and delights his audience in a performance of his usual comic tricks.

Such veterans of the Yiddish stage as Regina Prager and Sam Kasten please with their competent portrayals as the Rabbi’s mother and the sexton. Dina Goldberg’s role of the daughter of the sexton who could never get enough to eat and lived only for that purpose, was too obviously modeled on that of the idiot girl in “Yoshe Kalb.” The scenes of the dancing chassidim seemed more like a jazz version of Mr. Schwartz’s production.

“THUNDER OVER MEXICO”

“Thunder Over Mexico”, now playing at the Rialto Theatre, tells the story of Mexico from the time of the Spanish conquerors to the present, pointing out the degeneration of the once proud and pure Aztecs into a race of downtrodden, viciously-ruled laborers—peons, dominated by a succession of relentless feudal rulers. Directed by Sergel M. Eisenstein, whose “Potemkin” revealed his startling creative power in the use of the screen, “Thunder Over Mexico” is the issue of a controversy between Upton Sinclair, who was responsible for the editing of the picture, and those followers of Eisenstein who believe that Sinclair sold out to Hollywood.

This much can be said by one who does not know just how much was lost in condensing 200,000 feet of film into the usual feature picture length: “Thunder Over Mexico” does not approach Eisenstein’s other work either in the communication of an idea or in emotional content. There is an absence, with the exception of the death of the three peons, of any profound conception of the conflict between the ruling and peasant classes which has characterized so much of the history of Mexico.

Pictorially, it is splendid. Edouard Tisse’s photography is the outstanding point of interest in the picture.

As in all his pictures, the director chose his players from among the people. No professional actors were employed in the production.

“Thunder Over Mexico”, despite its weaknesses and superficialities. particularly in the latter half of the film, should he seen for its superb, interpretative photography.

Ruth B. Stoloff.

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