Museum of the Yiddish Theatre

   
 Brooklyn
 

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The Hopkinson Theatre
482 Hopkinson Avenue, Brooklyn, NY
This production opened on September 21, 1933.
 

"MENAKHEM MENDL"
by Israel Rosenberg and William Siegel, music by Benjamin Blank

 

This review was written by Leon Fogelman for the Yiddish Forward newspaper, and it was first printed for the September 29, 1933 edition. Here it is:


"Laugh!" -- This is apparently the ideal of the Hopkinson Theatre. It doesn't matter what one laughs at, or whether the audience laughs -- this, it seems, is the point-of-view of the theatre.

And the audience sits and gasps the whole time with laughter. It does not matter that the joke already has a long, gray beard; that the joke is quite flat and at times not very kosher; everything is a good commodity because it evokes laughter.

The Hopkinson Theatre became a type of laugh factory since Menasha Skulnik settled there. Now he has acquired a good, suitable partner, -- Yetta Zwerling, -- the theatre cracks with laughter, and provides the fabric for laughter, and a second pair, -- Israel Rosenberg and William Siegel, were not very selective in their material: they include old and new jokes; all kinds of jokes, words and comic ideas, which have a limit.

They have given their comedy the name of "Menakhem Mendl." It seems that it is not very appropriate to name this frivolous, vaudeville [piece] with the name of Sholem Aleichem's immortal hero, when here there is no sign of Sholem Aleichem's humor and Sholem Aleichem's characters.

Here it's all about a stingy, old guy, Menakhem Mendl, who lives with a widow, who has two daughters; Menakhem Mendl is not indifferent to the younger daughter, and the older daughter is chasing after him. He has saved a considerable amount of money in a bank, but the bank goes bankrupt and he retains his bank book. He does not choose to commit suicide, but he always regrets it. Meanwhile, a bootlegger seduces the widow's younger daughter, and Menakhem Mendl covers her sins with what he did with her marriage.

But the "nail" of the entire "comedy" does not lie in this. The main idea is this, that the bootlegger with his partner have with Menakhem Mendl's consent taken out an insurance policy in his name. They made an agreement with him that he would commit suicide in a year, and therefore they will maintain him with every pleasure for the year, and both bootleggers will receive the money after his death.

He lives each day, but the moment finally comes when he has to part with the world, [but] he has no desire to do so, and he gets, as they say in America, "cold feet."

Here there comes to him to help the bootlegger's lover, an Italian girl who reports both bootleggers to the police, and Menakhem Mendl is thus saved from death.

It's an interesting idea, but it does not ask many questions: "How and why?"

What matters is who you laugh at.

I would like to give you some typical examples of humor [used] for comedy, but they would not be entirely kosher for print ...
 


The main laugh masters of the play are Menasha Skulnik and Yetta Zwerling. As always Skulnik plays the same simple-minded shlumiel; she calls him by the name, "Menakhem Mendl," or something else.

And as always he evokes laughter with his naive tone, with his tm'evaten appearance, with his dancing gait, with his twisted hat, and with his crazy movements.

Yetta Zwerling is a very temperamental actress, with a lot of humor, and with a strong feeling for rhythm in her acting and singing. She has a love for exaggeration; very often she oversalts and overpeppers; but the impact of a true actress' temperament is felt, even in her vaudeville tone and in her vaudeville movements.

The remaining roles seem pale in comparison with the two comic types, which are formed from them both, from Skulnik and Yetta Zwerling. And some of the roles and scenes do not stick to the comedy. The entire melodramatic story with the deceived girl, and also the story with her love for a student, is stuck in here without any issues.

But even this is swallowed up and flooded with laughter.

The role of the widow is played by Ella Wallerstein. There is no character in the role and she has nothing to play with.

Bessie Budanov plays the role of the younger girl. She is quite impressive in the scene with the bootlegger, when she realizes that she has been deceived by him.

One bootlegger is played by Bennie Zeidman; the second by Isidore Friedman.

The peppery Italian girl is played by Sara Skulnik.

Also having roles are Isidore Lipinsky and Aaron Soffe.

 

 

 

 

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