Museum of the Yiddish Theatre

   
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The Parkway Theatre
(formerly the Rolland Theatre)
1768 St. Johns Place, Brooklyn, NY
This production opened on January 20, 1936.

 

"VELKHE FROY IZ GEREKHT?"
(WHICH WOMAN IS RIGHT?)

by Harry Kalmanowitz, music by Yasha Kreitzberg


 

   
The Cast of Characters:
 


no
photo
Nathan
Goldberg
Rose
Goldberg
Jacob
Jacobs
Bettie
Jacobs
William
Schwartz
Louis
Birnbaum
Minnie
Birnbaum
 

no
photo

Mildred
Block
Ben
Gailing
Paula
Lubelska
Peter
Graf
Mae
Simon
Aaron
Soffe

 

Lili

This review was written by Abraham Cahan and appeared in the Jewish Forward on January 14, 1936:

I have seen Kalmanowitz's new drama, "Which Woman is Right?," which is now playing in the Parkway Theatre in Brooklyn. It is a story (rightly said, two stories) that is about two families, for whom the same sort of misfortune happens; and the subject matter is a comparison between the two various "policies," with which the wives of the two concerned families lead the way. With the question, "Which Woman is Right?," which one really means, "Which of the two 'policies' is the right one?"; and the answer needs the theatre attendees to give it some thought. But in principle not taking the answer already the play itself [awk]. It is a self-evident decision.

The families' misfortune consists of this, that both fall in love with the husband of another woman, and he leaves the house. Both women are, naturally, are terribly depressed and upset, but there is a big difference in the way they react to the disaster. One woman acts just the opposite as the other. The first, whose name is Mrs. Gitlin, tries to stifle her sorrow and anger. She doesn't fight against her husband: She doesn't create a scandal. She tries with all her might to treat him decently, not to offend him. In her heart she clarifies that this will be the case for her, because she believes that her husband's romance has no reality; that there is a temporary "disease" in him. He met a woman, or a young girl, and a passion was kindled in him; but this should not be taken seriously. She hopes that it will not last long. The passion will pass. The "heroine" of his romance will be rebuked. He will sober up and come back.

In English there is a saying: "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." This is actually Mrs. Gitlin's life philosophy.

Entirely different scenes come from the family of David Ferber. Bertha, his wife, has more of a temper than Mrs. Gitlin -- more temper and less understanding, and also less tact. There was a lot of searching and anger in her; she boils and cries and speaks a lot. So talking she exclaims that he is the father of only one of his two children; that she had one child with another. Which child it is, she will not say, she declares. She makes this statement in a tone of anger, of a thirst for vengeance. She wants to show David that he is not such a precious object to her. If he is interested in another, he should not opine such an attitude to her. For she also has a romance, and one child of hers is from a lover.

In the drama ends at the Gitlin's, just as Mrs. Gitlin had calculated and hoped. For Gitlin, his romance really did not last very long. The flame of his lust for that woman was gradually extinguished. As a refugee, he unfortunately returned home without consulting his wife. And she immediately forgave him. So she calculated and her expectation came true. She probably understood her husband's character. At home, peace and family happiness thus reigns again, as it is usually called.

The woman, for whom Gitlin had left his home, you don't see on the stage; and you won't miss her. She never comes in to Gitlin's house, and Miriam, his wife, cannot. So, if Miriam cannot, the theatre audience cannot have any pretenses also of why he cannot.

An entirely other story is connected to the romance, which brings misfortune to the Ferbers. The woman in whom he is interested, comes to them at their house, enters by accident, and it turns out that this is the former lover, Esther, with whom he traveled together to America. She married another, but her marriage was not a happy one, and she is already free of it for a long time. She left years ago. The accident through which she came to the Ferber's house, consists of the following: Mrs. Ferber engaged a piano teacher for her child, and the piano teacher is this Esther, the heroine of Ferber's first romance.

At first Mrs. Ferber did not know who she was. But little by little she learned for herself. She acknowledges that her husband is acquainted with the piano teacher from the old country, and she becomes aware that now he visits her, and that their old love has flared up. Then the drama begins in the home. Ferber leaves home. Mrs. Ferber remains with the children. A sister of hers, with her good husband, comes to her, into her home. In the end, this happens as such:

Mrs. Ferber explains to her sister, with tears in her eyes, that she had said to her husband that one of her children is illegitimate, but this was simply a foolish lie; that she declared this in anger to her husband. A couple of days earlier she had read a story by [Guy De] Maupassant, which contained such a story. The story was planted in her brain, and in a collision with her husband, it slipped out, because she wanted to make the man worse, that he should not consider himself too big in his relation to her. In other words, she "borrowed" a theme from Maupassant.

In the end, the piano teacher comes to Mrs. Ferber and assures her that since she found out that Farber was away from his family, she has not let him.

Ferber, again, enters the house miserable and depressed, almost like a tramp. There could have been a living piece of tragedy; but it comes out a melodrama.

The answer to the puzzle, "Which woman is right?" is thus, that Mrs. Gitlin's "policy" is the right one, and Mrs. Ferber's is false. But it doesn't come out very smoothly, why in the other family here the history with the illegitimate child is mixed in; and this plays a great role in the further development of the story and has not relationship to the question, "Which woman is right?".

At the Gitlin's indeed everything develops nevertheless according to Mrs. Gitlin's plan. It doesn't have mixed in any side circumstances. At the Ferbers, however, there are mixed in special circumstances, and Mrs. Ferber's exclamation, that one kind is illegitimate, is not the only circumstance that is planted here within the question. Very important also is the fact that Esther is Farber's first love. He was very attached to her before he even knew there was a Miriam (his current woman) in the world. And as they say: "Old love is not forsaken." So there are completely different causes here than with the Gitlins. The two tragedies are nothing similar to each other, and the question of who acted correctly therefore arises.

A further remark is required here: even with the Gitlins, where everything goes smoothly, Mrs. Gitlin's policy in such matters does not apply entirely to such things that not only the character of the woman plays an enormous role, but also the character of the other two people -- from the husband, and from his lover. One can easily understand that when Gitlin's lover wants to be a woman with character, and she wants Gitlin to taken into her hands. Had it not been for Gitlin's plan, his plan would not have been fully realized. Whether he is strongly in love with the woman, or if he is not, she would already have held him on a "leash," as the Americans say.

This all is a highly important matter, which serious literature must have in mind.

But, let us finish with this subject.

Ferber walks around confused about his wife's remarks about one of their children. The question, which child is legitimate and which is not, does not allow him to rest. He neglects everything, and he becomes virtually trampled. He disappears. Mrs. Ferber remains a deserted wife. Her life is completely ruined. And all this is the result of her temper, that is. At the Gitlins, however, everything is pressed out, the sun is shining on them.

Nevertheless, with all the flaws, the drama has in itself a dramatic force and various individual features, which bear the stamp of Kalmanowitz's talent. Often you feel a corner of real life that shund writers do not notice. They are occupied only with the technique of their melodramatic machinery. Everything is created in them in their flat-fabricated brain. They forget about the life that surrounds them, or they never like it. Quite different is Kalmanowitz; he is above all a writer with an eye to see, with ears to hear, and with a spirit to fulfill what is happening among people in the world. And in this play you feel it too. Not thoroughly, but in general, yes. As a result of his literary inclinations, the play is permeated with the awareness that you are immersed in the drama that is unfolding here, and you are also immersed in it. Kalmanowitz does not fabricate, he lives in his drama and you have to live in it too.

We have two families with two dramas. The Gitlin drama is, as we have seen, is a simple one, and it develops smoothly and naturally, in such a place that you sit as tense with an interest that one has in people with whom one is personally acquainted. With all the flaws that one can point out even on the Gitlin part of the play, it is all true drama, so sincere, so persuasive, I was overwhelmed by the situation, really as I would have known Gitlin's personality:

Not every writer of fiction has the seriousness and artistic sincerity to create such a mood. The errors that Kalmanowitz's new play contains, you see indeed; but they do not bother you, because the drama dominates you as a piece of reality, and you get a true artistic genius.

As far as the situation of the Ferbers is concerned, you are also very interested.

Remarkably: You criticize that part of the drama more strongly, however, at the same time you become interested in it with a higher kind of interest. The main trouble with this part of the play consists in this, what is needed is more development, more cultivation. It is a piquant subject. The character of the main heroine is the second part, Mrs. Ferber, but an interesting type. Thus, in order to work out what is required, it would need much more time and attention than is possible when writing a play for the Yiddish theatre under the present circumstances.

The topic of the Ferber tragedy is so complicated and so delicate, that if you are here to consider [this] in detail, it would require a lot more space than we can provide here.

The bottom line is that the drama has great flaws in it. But most of all it is of an important kind. It is a topic on which it would be worthwhile to write a novel. Anyway, the interest in this drama is incredibly strong.

This is the first drama that I have seen this season in a Yiddish theatre, and the two-and-a-half hours that I spent in the Parkway Theatre at the production, were from beginning to end electrified with true dramatic interest and with true artistic genus.

The role of Mrs. Gitlin is played by Mrs. Rose Goldberg. It cannot be said that in her speech the natural tone of reality sounds positive. Partly there is an echo of declamation, but not too strong, and the main thing is the following: You see that she immerses herself in the situation, and the words come to her from the heart, her words and her tenor agree with the tragic situation that has been created between her husband and her. You feel that the actress is really living through what is going on with Mrs. Gitlin in her heart and mind, then when she adheres to her "policy" not to pull the strings too strongly and make it possible for her man to come back to her. For her role in the play, Mrs. Goldberg receives a heartfelt compliment. In the highly dramatic scenes she evokes a lot of applause, and the applause is justified, well-deserved. They come from the hearts of the theatre visitors because Mrs. Goldberg's playing comes from the heart.

The role of Mrs. Ferber is played by Mae Simon. This actress has not been seen on the Yiddish stage in a long time. And this, I believe, is a shame, for in this hr to in a play in this play, she has shown important virtues as an artist. She speaks in a natural voice, whether in temperamental moments, or in the calm ones. It feels that she has the power of imagination and artistic sincerity. As we have said, the role is a little tangled, or very interesting. And the general impression that you leave with is that, within Simon there is a force with which the Yiddish theatre has to reckon [with].

Nathan Goldberg, in the role of David Ferber, has his own song but not an important role. But to spoil does not make such a skilled actor. The melodramatic moment on which I indicated, then when he comes to his family without a collar, with a tee-shirt, a desperate person, this scene however spoils the role. But in this he is not guilty. It lasts no more than a minute. But these are some of the moments that seem like a drop of bad kvass in a glass of good wine.

Benjamin Gitlin is played by William Schwartz. The role was not worked out and did not succeed otherwise. But Schwartz plays it with sincerity, and his playing comes to grips with the whole exciting situation in which Mrs. Goldberg has the most important role.

Louis Birnbaum has the role of Mrs. Ferber's brother-in-law. In the play he is called Nathan. This is a Jew with humor, with common sense, and with character. And Birnbaum plays this successfully.

As his wife, that is, as Mrs. Ferber's sister, who is called Menukha in the play, appears Bettie Jacobs. Menukha also has a lot of humor, and this role is suited very well for Bettie Jacobs, who once had a "hit" as "Yente Telebende." As always, she is very sympathetic on the stage, and her humor is enduring and compelling. In the further parts of the play, when her sister is already a deserted wife, Menukha's humor is a bit off-putting. She speaks with anger, but in her anger one feels that this a woman with common sense, with a practical understanding. In short, it is the same Menukha who earlier began with an easy fun. Mrs. Jacobs is all right.

There is a third sister with the name of Gussie. This is quite another type. The role is played by Mrs. Birnbaum.

The role of Esther, the piano teacher, is played by Paula Lubelska, a Jewish actress who a short time ago had returned from Paris. There she played with Schwartz in I.J. Singer's "Yoshe Kalb." She had the ramous roe of Tsibiya. In this play she had less to do. She sang a song and was on the stage a couple of times. In general she made a good impression.

Peter Graf should receive a true compliment for his acting in this play, in his role as an old man, Gitlin's father. Such father's are possibly a common occurrence on the Yiddish stage. They have mostly one face. They are not taken seriously and are rarely looked after. This is usually the case with kaziane (banalities?), as well as any other stage business. But Peter Graf plays with a seriousness and sincerity, and he makes an impression. It seems that he feels and understands the role of Gitlin's father, that he takes it to heart that his son is not behaving well in relation to his wife. Everything that Peter Graf has done on the stage is satisfying. It is  brilliantly with the sincere play of Mrs. Goldberg, and it has contributed to the overall result -- a family drama that interests you as much as if would be in real life.

As a detail, we will point out the following:

Ordinarily a father on the Yiddish stage is an old-fashioned, Orthodox Jew, and the actor ventures to evoke fabricated comedy with his outmoded [actions, etc.]. But Peter Graf in the role of the father is clothed in today's American fashion, and he thinks so too. In short, Mr. Graf has won this interest and sympathy of the public.

In the play, Jacob Jacobs has the role of an immigrant, a Pole, a fraud, who goes around borrowing money, and then he plays cards. It is a similar role that we have also already seen Mr. Jacobs in a previous play. In this case, however, he created a lively type, and he evoked a lot of laughter and cheerfulness. He really made a "hit."

The roles of Ferber's two children, a young boy and girl, are played by Evelyn Grell as the young boy Julius, and Gloria Goldstein, a five-year-old girl, who indeed plays the role of the girl.

 

 




Photo of the Parkway Theatre courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives.
 

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