Museum of the Yiddish Theatre

   
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Yiddish Art Theatre
189 Second Avenue, New York, NY
This production opened 0n November 30, 1933.

"YOZEFIS"
(Josephus)

by Lion Feuchtwanger
review by Ab. Cahan, published on December 8, 1933.

 

"Josephus," the play that now is playing in Schwartz's Art Theatre, is based on Feuctwanger's historical novel. The dramatization was created by Maurice Schwartz. Feuchtwanger's historical novel is a large work with a mass of scenes, images, events, and the play includes only a part of its contents. But that would not be the case. We are talking here about the content of Schwartz's drama, not about the novel from which it is based.

It is very rich and wealthy, with beautiful costumes and beautiful sets, with an entire series of mass scenes. From a dramatic standpoint, the results, however, are very poor. The truth is that such a novel should be left to the reader, where it will be better dramatized.

Dramatic interest lies mainly in the feelings and passions of a single person that one shows in their relationships in collisions with another person or several persons. Fine sets and costumes can have meaning as an addition, as "trimming." The main thing, however, must be in the human feelings that are developed within the play. If this happens in such a place that it captures the viewer's interest, arouses him, immerses him in the battle that unfolds in wonder, then we have drama; and if there are images, vivid images of mutual human relationships, moods, [this] give life to the drama and increases its magnetic effect.

The first thing that a drama should have is dramatism, and the new play is very rich in this respect.

The sets are beautiful, and the costumes also. There are also a couple of mechanical effects that are very interesting. But is all only for the eye. There is nothing that reaches the heart. And the fact is that when they applaud, they are applauding a piece of "scenery," and rarely the play or the acting.

Yes, it is a production for the eye, but not for the ears, because the words that are heard in it make a small impression on the theatre visitor. Not only are they powerless within their content, but with their external sounds as well.

People are moving from those times, when in Jerusalem the Temple was still standing; and, as the style is in several plays, one doesn't speak with a human speech, but they declaim; the words spring out oddly. It seems to you that you are being told the Song of Songs. Imagine that speaking to people with human feelings would be difficult, even if the play had a truly dramatic tone. When real people have a conversation, they don't sing songs to each other.

But this is not what is most important. There are plays where the actors jump around unnaturally, and where their words also sound unnatural. And regardless there is much dramatic interest. You get used to the "notes" and you forget without them. One becomes immersed in the relationships between the people and in the drama that develops between them. Here, in this play, Schwartz has no good luck here either. Everything is with a broad hand, everything is shiny. However, one can say that the entire production is a fine costume without a body. There hang bare sleeves; there are empty palaces.

Several times I managed to point out Schwartz's sense as well as theatre director. When a play has dramatic power, he is the first to appreciate it. He immediately feels the pulse of such a play. This was especially evident in his evaluation of "Yoshe Kalb," which is easily the most dramatic thing that the stage has when it is owned, and this is confirmed by the incomparable success that it had and still has. Schwartz on the stage recognized this dramatic treasure in Singer's novel, when he published it in the "Forward." As far as "Josephus" is concerned, Schwartz was obviously so overwhelmed by the sea of colorful scenes, what the book contains and the possibilities to create rich sets with costumes, that the main thing -- that a drama must have drama for the stage -- he forgot.

 

Maurice Schwartz
as "Josephus"
     
 

 

 

 

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