Gaily grotesque, “The Wise Men of Chelm” is one of the most delightful portrayals of foolishness that the theatre has seen in many a day. Maurice Schwartz and his Yiddish Art Theatre troupe have interpreted Aaron Zeitlin’s folk comedy in such a superb manner that one does not take into consideration the shortcomings of the play itself. Mr. Schwartz has achieved with his admirable direction a stylized performance that is rich in color and movement.
Jewish folklore ascribes to the inhabitants of the town of Chelm in Poland a naive stupidity. Mr. Zeitlin has fashioned his rollicking comedy out of this legend. The towns-people of Chelm are offered the gift of immortality by the Angel of Death who comes in the guise of a wealthy merchant to earth in search of love. However, immortality can only be purchased at the cost of not having any more births. At first the population is grateful but hobgoblins are sent to undermine their appreciation at the instigation of the Angel of Birth. Their dissatisfaction growsâ€”matchmakers wax indignant, shroudmakers and hired mourners cry “away with the one who has deprived us of new beings.”
The Angel of Death is driven from the town by those who would rather experience death than live forever in a static society.
The fable is slighted by the romping antics of the players and it might best be so because the play itself suffers from a weak sentimentality. The entire cast gives so excellent a performance that it would be difficult to pick out any outstanding performer, with the exception of Mr. Schwartz himself. As the foolish old rabbi of Chelm, he gives a magnificent portrayal of pure foolishness that will gladden his numerous followers.
The settings by Messrs. Van Rosen and Chertov are aptly conceived with their crazy shapes and weird color, and provide just the right background. Most amusing is the dancing of the hobgoblins arranged by Lillian Shapiro. Mr. Koutzen’s music, while tuneful, suffers from being too reminiscent and trite.
“THE WANDERING JEW”
“The Wandering Jew,” one is sorry to report, is nothing but a compilation of news-reels held together by the thinnest excuse for a story that has been viewed in many a season. The picture really is a selection of episodes dealing with the various phases of the persecution of Jews down through the ages and is suitable at best for religious schools. Even for that purpose, educators might object because of the endless piling up of stupid and crudely-handled pogroms and inquisitions.
The story concerns a renowned Jewish painter (Jacob Ben-Ami), professor in the Berlin Academy of Art, who has just put the finishing touches to his painting “The Eternal Wanderer,” supposed to be a symbolic embodiment of the Jew as the eternal wanderer among the nations. Engrossed in his work, he is out of touch with the march of German events and does not realize to what extent the anti-Semitic feeling has grown. His picture is refused and he is dismissed from the Academy.
There is no continuity in the plot, as it is broken into with irrelevant shots of the allied forces on the battlefields during the World War, poor “stock shots” of Moses leading his people out of the wilderness and Abraham defying Moloch.
“The Wandering Jew”, one regrets, relies too much upon the agitated sympathies of the audience to carry the picture. Like the recent stage play “Kultur”, which attempted to satirize the German situation, the authors do not achieve their desired aims because they have counted on the news-background of their audience to fill in what they have left out.
Many years will have to elapse, one feels, before anyone will be able to portray what is now happening in Germany with any degree of artistic integrity. The emotional upheaval connected with these events is too catastrophic for anyone to now evaluate in an art form the tragedy of a people.
THE COMING OPENINGS
Broadway will see the busiest week of the season with ten premieres scheduled to take place.
“Her Master’s Voice” by Clare Kummer will arrive at the Plymouth under the auspices of Max Gordon tomorrow evening. Laura Hope Crews and Roland Young will be co-starred. On the same evening, “Move On, Sister”, Al Woods’ first offering of the season, will be at the Playhouse. Fay Bainter and Moffat Johnson have the leading roles in the play by Daniel Rubin….
On Tuesday, “Give Us This Day”, a play by Howard Koch, will come to a theatre as yet unannounced. The cast will include Paul Guilfoyle, Eleanor Phelps, Ralph Theadore, Harlan Briggs, Anne Dere and others. Richard Meyers and Francis Curits, newcomers, are sponsoring it. On that same evening, Arthur J. Beckhard will install the Sierra play, “Spring in Autumn”, at Henry Miller’s. Blanche Yurka is starred in the show….
“The Family Upstairs”, that Harry Delf comedy which has been roaming the country, will be revived on Tuesday evening at the Biltmore, under the auspices of Leonard Doyle…. William Harris Jr.’s first production in two years, “Three and One”, a comedy by Denys Amiel, adapted by Lewis Galientiere and John Houseman, will come to the Longacre Wednesday…. Also on schedule for that evening is Frank Merlin’s presentation of “The World Waits”, a play about an Antarctic expedition, at the Little Theatre. The play is by George F. Hummell, who is described as a playwright, novelist, banker, book publisher and educator….
John Golden will present “The Divine Drudge,” a dramatization by Mr. Golden and Vicki Baum of Miss Baum’s novel, “And Life Goes On”, on Thursday at the Royale. Mady Christians, Tamara Geva. Minor Watson, Walter Abel, Josephine Hull and others are in the cast…. On Saturday evening, A. C. Blumenthal will bring the English play, “Eight Bells”, by Percy G. Mandley, to the Hudson Theatre. Colin Clive will have the leading role.
Ruth Bricken Stoloff.