Notes on the Yiddish Theatre

Although there are about a dozen Yiddish theatres in New York, hardly one of them can be considered of first rate quality. The sole exception, perhaps, is the Folks-theater on Second avenue, where Joseph Bulloff is the leading actor.

The New York Yiddish theatergoer greatly misses Maurice Schwartz this year. Even with all the criticism levelled against him and his theatre, he is still considered the Reinhardt of the Jewish stage.

With Schwartz away in Hollywood, the patron of the Jewish theatre looking for a good, clean production is puzzled where to find it. The truth of the matter is that no Yiddish theatre in New York has so far taken the place of the Art Theatre which Schwartz conducted.

The production, “In-Laws,” now playing at the Folkstheater (originally built for Schwartz’s troupe) is drawing large crowds. This is however due not so much to the qualities of the play as to the publicity it has received because of the boycott proclaimed against it by Jewish Communists in New York.

ZIONISTS VS. COMMUNISTS

“In-Laws” is a satire. It portrays the fight between the Zionists and the Jewish Communists and aims to show that both of these extremist movements in Jewish life are in a way identical in their fanatical tendencies. The nationalistic speeches delivered by the Zionist characters in the play resemble in a way the internationalist speeches delivered by the Communist characters. The author aims to show that there is very little difference between ‘long live Palestine!” and “long live Biro-Bidjan!” The extremists of the nationalist and internationalist camps are revealed in a comic light in this play.

The central figure in “In-Laws” —although not playing the central role—is Joseph Bulloff. He plays the role of a Jewish simple-simon, a landlord who would be only too glad to get rid of his real estate and who feels that “Wall Street is the source of all his troubles.” He is anxious to join the Communist movement, though he does not know at all what Communism means. To him, the Communist Party deserves support as long as it fights Wall Street.

This Jewish “capitalist” who was brought to the psychological point of siding with the Communist party, soon finds himself thrown out of the party because he observed religious ceremonies. Simple-minded, he cannot understand why Communism should be opposed to religion. He does not see any harm in the religious ceremonies which he performed and for which he is condemned. Furthermore, he sees no harm even in Zionism. To him a Jew is a Jew.

MAKES PLAY A HIT

Bulloff plays the role of this landlord in direct but impressive manner. Though this is not designed as the central role in the play, he makes it so. Each time he appears on the stage he brings life and laughter with him. He actually makes the play a success.

Nevertheless, “In-Laws,” even with what Bulloff does for it, is not the best which the intelligent Jewish theatre – goer deserves. There are thousands of literary-minded Jews in New York looking for better plays. They used to find them, most of the time, in Schwartz’s Art Theatre. They can’t find them this year. This element of patrons of the Yiddish theatre may eventually drift away from it altogether if no better productions are given them.

THE MUSICAL COMEDY FIELD

The situation is somewhat better in the field of the Jewish musical comedy. Here the return of Molly Picon to the New York Yiddish stage has greatly improved the outlook.

The musical comedy, “One in a Million,” in which Miss Picon appears, is not the best play in which she has been seen. It is, however, true to the tradition of the Second Avenue Theatre. It contains a lot of music and ballet and permits Miss Picon to reveal her many-sided talents.

The singing in “One in a Million” is far from good. Both the men and the women in singers’ roles are unimpressive. Miss Picon, however, ably covers the defects of the play.

American film agencies, we are informed, have taken an interest in the play “Recruits” given by the Jewish Artef theatre. A synopsis of the play has been done in English and representatives of film companies have visited the theatre for the purpose of getting acquainted with the production. The play pictures Jewish life in Russia under the Czar.

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