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The National Theatre
111-117 East Houston Street, New York, NY
This production opened on September 23, 1930.

 

"A KHASENE IN SHTETL"
(A Village Wedding)

by William Siegel, music by Herman Wohl

 

 

This production was reviewed for the Yiddish Forward newspaper by Hillel Rogoff and was published on October 10, 1930. Here is its English translation:

On the program, "A Village Wedding" is listed as being an operetta. The play would be more appropriately be called a melodrama with singing. In it there are so many operetta dramatic scenes. And the drama is strong at times and interesting. The stage director took this fact into account, it turns out. The dramatic roles are entrusted to good actors and the scenes are carefully performed.

The action takes place in a small town in Poland with a Chasidic rabbi in a house. The rabbi is old and wants to retire and give over his shul to his heir. Among his four sons are two who aspire to the throne. One of them is Simon, the oldest, and the other is Joseph an engineer [?]. The father loves Joseph and has decided to make him his successor. Simon, however, does not agree. He is a hypocrite and an plotter, and is ready to do anything in order to achieve his ambition.

Beyond the throne to the rabbinate, there is another win in the court to be gained, over which the two brothers are masters, and this is the hand of the beautiful Foygele. In this case, Joseph is also the happier one. Foygele loves him. But Simon hopes that if he succeeds in obtaining the rabbinate, he believes that Foygele will become his wife.

For a reason that happened to Joseph, Simon is given an opportunity to carry out his plot. Joseph, returning home from a distant town, meets with a troupe of Yiddish actors. As he has a good voice and is a handsome, young man, the actors pull him into a production. Furthermore the prima donna loves him, and he her. For a while he is bewitched with her. Later he leaves the actors. However Simon needed the event to confuse Joseph. He schemes so that the father drives Joseph out of the house and Foygele rejects him.

This is the essence of the entanglement of the drama. Of course, in the end, everything ends well. The truth is revealed and Simon receives his punishment and Joseph marries Foygele.

As far as I can remember this is the first time that Lebedeff has performed in a serious dramatic role. He plays the role of Joseph, and there in several scenes his "strong dramatics" emerges. He does it very well. It should be borne in mind that an actor who has the reputation of a singer and dancer and comedian, "takes on madness" when he seeks to play serious drama, especially when he is about to become tragic. People can often take it as a "joke" and laugh when they should cry. With Lebedeff this doesn't happen. The audience believes his serious scenes and gets carried away with him. He possesses dramatic talent.

The role of the old rabbi is almost entirely a dramatic one and is entrusted to Leon Blank, who plays it artistically, refined, and moving. In the play itself, as it is written, the rabbi is a pale figure, a rabbi like all rabbis.

In his role Blank creates a uniqueness. He creates a special type of person through his acting.

The operetta part of the play is performed by an entire range of good singers, with serious melodies as well as from comedic couplets. Herman Wohl, the composer, is one of the gifted musicians of the Yiddish theatre. Some of the melodies in the play are wonderfully beautiful and are received strongly by the audience.

The best voice in the cast is the well-known singer Anna Toback (She is known not only on Second Avenue, but also on Broadway.) In the second act she sings a prayer that Wohl had specially composed for her. This is really a pearl of a song. The theatre storms with applause, which both he [Wohl] and Toback deserve. Toback not only has an extraordinarily beautiful voice, but she also makes a beautiful appearance.

Of course Lebedeff has a lot to sing about. He sings both serious, as well as comical songs. And if he does not like the new songs that Wohl has written for him now, he also gives some of his old successes. He does not spare us, and the audience is grateful to him.

In the play there plays a young comic whom I have previously never seen. As I understand, he is still green. His name is Itzik Feld. He plays the role of a servant of the Rabbi. Everything he does is exaggerated, burlesque. He dances burlesque, sings burlesque and makes everything a burlesque piece. But he is an exceptional "entertainer." He has ideas, he has appeal, and most of all, he is passionate about what he does. One feels a freshness in his playing, a love for work. He himself enjoys his playing. When you see him for the first time in the initial scenes, it seems to you that it is something strange. But the more he plays, the more he grows on you. He "takes to you," and in the last scene you miss him when he is not on stage.

The role of the young Foygele is played well by Betty Frank. She sings several times, also not badly.

Among those who play in the smaller roles are Boris Rosenthal, Paula Klida, Sam Gertler, Peter Graf, Sally Schorr, and Max Rosenblatt. Each of them contributes his [or her] part to make the play one of the most entertaining of the new season.

The play was written by William Siegel.

 

 

 

Photograph courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.

 

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