Museum of the Yiddish Theatre

   
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The Irving Place Theatre
118 East Fifteenth Street, New York, NY
This special production was staged on December 8, 1938.

 

"MIRELE EFROS"
by Jacob Gordin

 

This production was reviewed by D. Kaplan for the Yiddish Forward newspaper on December 16, 1938. Here is its English translation:


In the Irving Place Theatre last Thursday evening, there was given a special production of Jacob Gordin's famous play, "Mirele Efros" -- a "special" with the very talented actress Celia Adler, who performed in this main role of Mirele Efros for the first time.

The role of Mirele Efros, as is well known, had been played for many years by the former, long-deceased star of the Yiddish stage, Keni Lipzin, who built her stage career mainly with this role, and for a number of years considered herself the undisputed queen, the best, the incomparable Mirele Efros. Not one actress in America, in Europe, and wherever there is a Yiddish theatre, has tried her strength, or luck, in the splendid role of Mirele Efros, and virtually everyone, with few exceptions, has broken their neck, so to speak. Anyone who has ever seen Madame Lipzin's Mirele Efros has stated that no one else can [play it]. Every dramatic actress who has reached a certain height in her career, with her ambition tends to shine as Mirele Efros, and perhaps she will succeed in grabbing a few leaves from Madame Lipzin's laurel wreath, and perhaps indeed the championship.

However, no one has succeeded in taking the Mirele Efros championship away from Mrs. Lipzin. This would not prove that even such an actress whom theater-goers may recognize, is a greater talent than Lipzin. "She plays better than Mrs. Lipzin generally, but not in Mirele Efros." The verdict is usually given, "For the role of Mirele, Lipzin is born for it." Something strange was hiding in Lipzin's mirror, which so enchanted everyone and blinded the eyes that no one could see any defect.

Can you imagine what a difficult task Celia Adler undertook, as she now tried to compete in power with such a determined queen and repaint an image, a character that has for years been so deeply ingrained in the memory and imagination of an entire generation of theatre visitors. No matter how well she plays -- and she really played very well, creating a fine acting representation of the very sympathetic Mirele-type that was very popular with the audience, -- but it was quite natural to expect that the theatre-goers who belong to the old generation and could not free themselves from their Lipzin-worship, would first thing make a comparison between her Mirele and the original, Madam Lipzin's. And when it comes to such a comparison, every actress, as has already been said, is prone to prejudice in the eyes of those with whom Lipzin's Mirele is an idol.

It may seem to them that when you see Mrs. Lipzin's stage art today, would you dare to shake yourself strongly? I do not mean to say that the Yiddish theatre today is better and higher, and today we have better talent than their once was. G-d forbid. I mean, however, that when we are older, the ability to criticize and analyze develops, and it looks less at people and things. Even the once-defunct Lipzin Hasidim might have realized that their "goddess" was neither popular nor flawless.

Perhaps. Even more than perhaps: probably. But whatever the case may be, I say it against what I must admit, that I belong to the older generation. I thought that the "Mirele Efros" of some thirty years ago, when Lipzin was in her full bliss power, in my opinion went so far that no one has been able to "bite" Mrs. Lipzin in this role. No one has ever ventured to bring out such an appealing and with such bolder force the rare character of the extraordinarily proud, wise and warm-hearted Mirele Efros.

And my opinion, it seems to me, is not based on a blind belief in the greatness of Lipzin's talent. I do not think that Lipzin was the best and greatest actress on the Yiddish stage. Her Mirele Efros is the best, however, because the properties of her mantle are very well adapted to this type. Lipzin's playful personality and character, as in a well-fitting garment, fit exactly into the frame of Mirele's personality and character.

We used to say, and we still say to this day, that Lipzin is, according to her nature and character, by herself was Mirele Efros. She does not need to "play" it at all. She is so natural. Therefore she is so good and natural on the stage. There is certainly a lot of truth in this statement. Lipzin indeed constantly made the impression that she would have really been "born" for this role. No other actress, who has ever tried to appear as Mirele, was said to be Mirele Efros herself. Lipzin had the exclusive monopoly on this. Lipzin possessed a tremendous fire, a volcanic temperament, which manifested itself much more strongly in vigorously roaring, melodramatically strained moments, than in the quiet moods and mild feelings of gray, everyday life. And Mirele's unusual, festive character, with embarrassed deep feelings, a character bordering somewhat on melodrama, found a successful stage fix in Lipzin's fiery-temperamental play.

By comparison between her and Celia Adler in this role, one must divide the strong, strained moments from the touching ones, in the "lofty" moments, so to speak, in which Celia Adler is much behind Lipzin's. What's missing is Lipzin's volcanic fire, and the deep, roaring emotions, and the magnetic personality is also significant. In the quieter moments, however, with Adler's great talent, it is outstanding in full measure, and we get a very satisfying art figure from Gordin's pet type.
 

One must, of course, keep in mind that a test, without a preview, cannot be as smooth and perfect as a self-indulgent play. Lipzin knew "on the outside" every time, every turn, every touch. Miss Adler often felt unsafe steps. These, however, are trifles.

The point is that Adler does a good job, not paying attention to this, that her Mirele does not come to this, who lives in our memory of Lipzin's time. And may she be praised wholeheartedly.

The production, on the whole, was satisfactory, especially when you consider that this was a test, a one-time play, that previously the participating forces probably had little or no chance of playing in these roles.

We liked the best Yudl Dubinsky as Nuchumize, Mirele Gruber as Shaindele, and Yakob Bergreen as Yosele. Proper and momentarily fine acting is by Leib Kadison the role of Shalmon, Mirele's business leader. Good also were Sara Krohner as Chana-Devoire, Celia Boodkin as the maid Machle, Israel Mandel as Daniel, and Chaim'l Parnes as Shloime'le.

It strikes me at hand to notice a trifle. On stage, the old musicians were missing. This adds a little color to the old-fashioned image of the piece. Actually, this is not the only thing that has failed to make the performance more colorfully Yiddish. But, as I said, this is a test, probably made in haste.
 

 

 

 

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