Museum of the Yiddish Theatre

   
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The Yiddish Art Theatre
189 Second Avenue, New York, NY
Opened on January 10, 1933.

"DER OYFSHTAND"
(The Revolt)

by I.B. Tsipor, music by Leo Kutzin


 

This production was reviewed by L. Fogelman for the January 20, 1933 edition of the Forward newspaper. Here it is:


After I.J. Singer's "Yoshe Kalb," which had great success in the Yiddish Art Theatre, Maurice Schwartz is now staging for the middle of the week a second play, "Revolt," a dramatic poem by I.B. Tsipor.

A completely different world passes before our eyes on stage, a distant and at the same time a near world. A drama unfolds over slain Polish peasants from the seventeenth century who liberate themselves from their cruel landowner through a revolt.

According to the contents in the "revolt," as we see, it is a social drama, and therefore it is handed to us, not looking at what it divides us from that time three hundred years ago.

Liberation is, after all, a universal, all-human issue, and whether the drama of liberation plays out in the seventeenth century or in our time, it is not so important: We always follow with great interest how slaves break and throw down their chains.

The drama is written in verses with rhymes, and it creates a certain obstacle: This gives an artificiality, an unnaturalness to the conversations and actions; every rhyme that rings in our ears drives away from us the impression of naturalness, of honesty.

And the contents are very real; the realism here, however, is covered by a veil. The image of the peasants of Poland and the landowners' lives here are painted with unique, densely black colors.

A group of peasants, young and old, work as slaves day and night under the whip of the landowner's overseers. The landowner treats them in a horrible way: he beats them; he takes away their possessions and goods; to him belongs even every bride and her married name. He looks on the peasants as animals and humiliates and annoys them at every opportunity.

The old peasants are submissive and patient; but the younger generation feels. Old Gerzela represents a type of peasant who, over the years, has been transformed into a complete slave, who takes everything for granted. But his young son, Vitek, is already full of protest, with revolt. He can not stand the action of the landowners, and he is ready to revolt against every injustice; he can hardly control himself.

Vitek's patience finally bursts when his bride, Magda, is forcibly taken to the landowner on the night of his wedding. Then he breaks into the palace and forces his way there. Vitek, however, is thrown to his death, and the landowner drags Magda away to himself in the bedroom.

A second peasant, the old Mamshibam, who came to the landowner for justice, is also annihilated there in a murderous manner.

The inhuman actions of the landowner finally cause a fire or revolt to erupt among the peasants of the village, which flares up further and further. Armed with machetes and axes, they step out against the landowner. Among them is one Magda, who is touched by a sense. From her tragic experiences, the landowner runs around in palaces wild with fear and despair. The peasants rush in, and the fellow is stabbed by the same old man who not long ago had his hair shorn in the same room.

The revolt ended with a victory by the peasants: they finally are freed from their sovereign.

In the three acts of the play we do not have before us an all-encompassing, complete picture of the peasantry, nor of the pristine life of that time: the author's goal, apparently, was to address only the main features of the peasant slavery of that time, of the "panchchine," and of the wild peasant disobedience. But in order to make a strong impression on us, and above all an impression of dramatic authenticity and of an artistic truth, we do not require general features, but rather important details of the life of the time and of the characters portrayed. Otherwise, the people pass before us like bloodless shadows, and the dramatic scenes and other scenes are not entirely thoughtful and convincing.

And her lies the disadvantage of Tsipor's drama. It has in it less inner dramatic stuff, and it is satisfied only with several melodramatic scenes, and with talk instead of action.

When you throw out the whip that the landowner gives the old peasant, and the scenes where the landowner chases after the young Magda, you do not have any dramatic action for itself; but the lashing and savage pursuit of the girl, dramatic as it may seem, does not create any drama.

The true drama, the revolt of the peasants, plays somewhere behind the stage, and we must only stumble upon this from the speech that one hears about the uprising of others. Much more logical would have been the opposite, to show us the uprising itself, which is, after all, the essence of the whole play, and with the lashing and with the pursuit of the girl not taking up virtually an entire act.

By the way, both scenes have a lot to offer: there's nothing to bother the peasant so much and follow the girl on stage for so long; it's just nice to watch. Maurice Schwartz tried to cover the internal shortcomings of the play with external beautiful effects, and to a certain extent he succeeds. Some scenes catch our eye. The sets and music together with the lighting effects create mood.

But the play saves the play itself. Most of the participants defeat the difficult obstacles that the play poses to them. Even the rhyme's disruption was partly overcome by the fact that they are constantly trying to transform the grammatical, lofty verses into everyday phrases.
 


The role of the landowner fell into the hands of Izidor Casher, and he has breathed life into this one-sided, evil figure. He portrays a cruel tyrant, who is wild and repulsive in his relationships with people. For him alone Maurice Schwartz has taken the role of the feigned old peasant Ham (sp), who later becomes the head of the revolt. Schwartz creates a touching type of an enslaved peasant, and who is the one who has not yet completely extinguished the last spark of human weirdness. An overworked-to-death, refined farmer stands in front of a wild landowner; both an embodiment of two separate worlds, which must finally come to a collision. Schwartz conveys very well the sufferings and pains of the peasant farmer.

The old, entertaining peasant is played by Moshe Silberkasten; he also creates a lively type of a servant who has already made peace with his servitude.

The role of his son Vitek was performed quite well by Anatol Winogradoff.

Charlotte Goldstein displays a hot temperament in the role of Magda, Vitek's bride. She has several interesting and strong scenes of vanity and despair. She performs in an impressive manner.

As always, the talented Michael Rosenberg was interesting and lively.

The only one in whom the gentile felt strongly was Wolf Goldfaden, the landowner's economist. Somehow the gentleness is felt more than from all the other gentiles of the play.

And Lazar Freed in the role of the pious and peaceful Manakh, is already dreaming a bit. Something, it seems, remained here in him from his role in "Yoshe Kalb," which he now plays in. And perhaps he was justified in his interpretation ... Between the pious Manakh and Yoshe Kalb there is a spiritual closeness that is expressed in their behavior in a similar way.

There are only two Jewish types in the play: a grandfather Yoshe, and a grandmother Dvoshe; they are two lovely, very friendly people who play a side role in the drama; they maintain a mill with the landowner on rent, and are expelled from it. The roles in a pleasant, natural way were performed by Gustave Schacht and Leah Naomi.

The production of the play and the collaborative acting of the actors in general make a good impression.

 






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