Museum of the Yiddish Theatre

   
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The Yiddish Art Theatre
189 Second Avenue, New York, NY
Opened on October 17, 1933.


"DI KHELMER KHOKHANIM"
(The Wise Men of Chelm)

by Aaron Zeitlin, music by Leo Kutzin

 

This production was reviewed by Ab. Cahan for the Yiddish Forward newspaper, which was published on October 20, 1933. Here is its English translation:


An interesting idea executed with talent both by the writer and by the director (Maurice Schwartz). Take the Chelm fools, of whom Jewish folk humor derives so much successful fun, and make them the "heroes" of a fun play! Now that you have such burlesque, and it is very successful, you wonder why the idea did not occur to anyone before. The material is such that it simply asked him to make a naughty comedy.

To Aaron Zeitlin, therefore, there comes a compliment to see on the stage the possibilities of the theme, and a second compliment for the interesting conception and imagination that he shows in the place where he fulfilled the task.

Schwartz himself reaffirmed in the performance that he is a gifted artist as a director, as well as an actor. Once again we are convinced of what an important force, a doubled art force, he is for our stage.

About the name, "Yiddish Art Theatre," which he copied from the world-famous Moscow artist organization, he passed the exam, not only with his direction in "Yoshe Kalb," but also in earlier plays, and his offering of Zeitlin's work is a new confirmation that he has the right to the name.

If one had any doubts as to whether the copied title fits his theatre, it was in those couple of years when he copied a "school" of an opposite kind. By this we mean, of course, the time when he followed the fashion of a partisan decanting with her "Cossack" furniture, tuxedo hats and "heroes" who fall on the stage from the ceiling. Since he finally abandoned this "manco-art," the artist has risen above it, and his original work of art in the direction of "The Wise Men of Chelm" lent to a new bouquet of his glorious career.

Here we have cited "Yoshe Kalb." The success of this work of I.J. Singer's on Schwartz's stage is one of the most remarkable successes in the entire history of the Yiddish theatre. Its success has absolutely no equal in itself. This piece has been going on for packed houses all year. It can be said that this was more than a year, because usually a successful play is played in the Yiddish theatre only on Friday, Saturday and Sunday with two matinees; and "Yoshe Kalb" he played in mid-week too. Often an entire week. This year is anew, and again "Yoshe Kalb"! And the houses are packed, with great advanced sales. To this play the great crisis has no control.

The strange, dramatic power of the work and his invaluable artistic worth, were the main source of this overwhelming success. But the art that Schwartz manifested in helping make the dramatization and direction of the play is undoubtedly one of the causes of these successes, which are so much talked about in the American theatre world, as well as in the Yiddish.

Schwartz plays the "The Wise Men of Chelm" for the midweek, and according to the impression from the first evening, it also promises draw a large audience. The plot of the play is delivered on this page exclusively by our contributor Chaim Ehrenreich. So the bottom line is that I want to retell the story. I only want to say that the production has many moments that keep the public excited with a cheerful interest. There are moments when the story is drawn out. Here and there it is a little boring. This is especially true in the first half of the play, which takes place in that world, in the reign of the angel of death. It is very interesting, but it needs to be shorter. This whole work begs to be trimmed.

Here and there one can also ask questions about the logic of the thing. The whole story of the man who dies, and the brother who finally marries the widow so that everything ends well, smooth and round, is neither smooth nor round. It smells like an "old-wives tale." In general, however, the play is complete and is fun, it is truly rich.

Many of the theatre attendees noticed a strong resemblance to the play that was performed on the English stage several years back: "Death Takes a Vacation." The essence of the story is also reminiscent of Lermontov's famous dramatic play, "The Demon," who falls in love with a girl of this world. But these are all trifles. The whole is an original-composed interesting work of Aaron Zeitlin, and a production that is in a talented way directed by Maurice Schwartz. It is enough to mention the scenes that appear on the stage, an entire regiment of Jews, everyone dressed in yellowish clothing, bright capes and bright big hats with a beard "tsu mentsh." The originality of the matter makes an impression on the audience, and when these people start singing "Chelm, Chelm, Chelm," marching around and clapping their sticks, one can hardly refrain from laughing and applauding.

Maurice Schwartz as the rabbi, Yosef Loksh, the president of the Chelm idiots (idiotn), has made a strong impression on the audience with his humoristic playing. He has evoked warm laughter and warm applause.

Julius Adler plays the Angel of Death. He was interestingly made up, and he kept himself interesting. A mysterious figure has emerged who fits into such a "gentleman" as the Angel of Death.

Looking at him, especially in the second part, I could not free myself from the thought that in this role his face and his whole appearance reminds me very much of another Adler, a Jacob P. Adler. He was highly satisfying, and more than satisfying.

Lazar Freed plays the role a twin ... He ostensibly plays two brothers who are so similar, one to the other; both look like Lazar Freed. Both are "all right."

And if the story with twins is not very convincing, there are also no pretensions. Such questions are perpetuated in the magical singing of the yellow Jews.

Judith Abarbanel comes forth as the girl who the Angel of Death loves. She plays with her usual charm, mildness and sympathy.

The Angel of Death, as a minister of the death department, has an entire  suite with lofts and hobgoblins. They are dressed in red and they jump around when you bring them a "customer," thrown down to them in the fire that lightens its soul so that it is ready for a new job, that is, to enter the body of a newly born baby. The whole scene in that world would, in my opinion, be much better, if one were to shorten it a little.

The "chief" of the hobgoblins is Michal Rosenberg, and his "pep" comes out.

Important roles are held by Anna Appel and Helen Zelinska; and their performances were successful.

An important role also was played by Rosetta Bialis.

Izidor Casher plays as the judge in the "Supreme Court" of heaven. Casher shines in virtually every role that he takes, and here he shows that he also can play a heavenly judge.

The superintendent of Hell's oven, where they lighten the souls, is played by Wolf Goldfaden.

Moshe Silberkasten has a comic role of a Chelm religious teacher. He fights with his wife so much that they both fall into a trance. It's a comic role. In fact, virtually all of the roles are comic.

Also taking part in the play are the following actors:

Yitzhak Rotbaum, Eli Mintz, Wolf Mercur, Isaac Swerdlow, Pinchus Sherman, M. Bielawsky, Robert Harris, Yasha Rosenthal, Michal Gibson, Albert Stone, S. Krause, Reuben Wendorf, Moshe Strassberg, Anatol Winogradoff, Leah Naomi, M. Rosen, Liza Varon, H. Robert, Ida Garber, Clara Deutschman, Mrs. Wendroff, Nina Hertsen, Mrs. Goldberg, R. Zlatkin, and Charlotte Goldstein.

The production includes a great ballet, with a great number of dancers.


You can read more about "The Wise Men of Chelm," including production notes and a full synopsis, at https://www.museumoffamilyhistory.com/moyt/pih/wise-men-of-chelm.htm.

 

 

 

 

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