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A CONVERSATION WITH PAUL BARATOFF --

WHO FIRST ARRIVED FROM EUROPE


He spent three years in various European countries.

-- He tells about the relationship of the Jews in Europe to Yiddish theatre,

and speaks about the condition of Yiddish Theatre in America.


by Y.Sh. Prenowitz

 

20 August 1937
 

 

Paul Baratoff, the famous Russian-Jewish actor, eho returned a short time ago to New York from Europe, where he spent three years, has in a conversation with the writer of these lines, told many interesting things about his trip. He also told about the relationship of the Jews in Europe to the Yiddish theatre, and he was particularly concerned about the situation of the Yiddish theatre profession here in the country, and about the plays that are being performed in the Yiddish theatre. He is sure that if better plays had been performed, the Yiddish stage would have not only had moral, but also have financial success.

Before Baratoff left New York three years ago, he played with Maurice Schwartz in the [Yiddish] Art Theatre. They then had staged "Josephus," but the play sadly had no success. He then traveled to Karlsbad [Bohemia/Czech Republic], and from there to Memel [Lithuania], where an unlucky accident happened to him. He was struck by a taxicab, and he became so wounded that he had to lie ill for six weeks.

Arriving in Riga, he played for a short time on the Russian stage, and after that he traveled to Romania to play Yiddish theatre. But there is a law in Romania that no guest actor can play there for more than two weeks with

the actors of the National Theatre in Bucharest, with the director of the mentioned theatre, Jan Sadovana at its helm, who had done everything possible for them to do so, and asked that government officials make an exception for Baratoff. He didn't get permission to play; they said it would have been a disgrace for the Romanian intelligentsia, and for Romanians in general, because Baratoff had a big name as an actor in Europe. The permission was then given to him, and he played in Romania for eight months.

"The Jews in Romania, Baratoff says, love Yiddish theatre. Even in the small towns of every land where one finds a small number of Jews, every evening when  they play, the theatre is overflowing. There were not enough seats, and large crowds used to be happy to stand for the entire time, even in theatres. They just swallowed every word.

"But we did great business, and we played good, literary plays. The general public exclaimed a great success for several plays, and we gave them what they demanded."

Arriving in London,  -- the actor tells it -- he played in the Pavilion Theatre. He then played in "Hinkemann" by Ernst Toller, and the play drew packed houses. Before he presented the play, some advised him not to do it, because they did not believe that it would bring in a large audience, and even more: They assured him that the theatre visitors will strongly protest before the performance of the play, which they will not understand. But he did, however, decide to play it, and the success was great.

At the same time Julius Nathanson also played a light operetta in London. They both had great success.

Speaking about the current condition of Yiddish theatre here in America, Baratoff among others says:

"Confusion was expressed about the Jewish masses in America. When they speak about better plays on the Yiddish stage, he Yiddish theatre profession often does not say, "Moshe does not need to; Moshe needs to be shamed and he is not to be shamed."

"And 'Moshe' doesn't go to the theatre, and there was no one to pay the wages. True, it happens once that a theatre makes out well, but this is no more than an accident."

"They forgot that the 'Moshe' of forty years ago, is not the same now as he was then. He has outgrown it; he already has blind children, but people still shout that the audience does not want to go to any theatre where people play good, literary plays. I say on the contrary: He wants to go to the theatre and see good plays, according to his educated taste, and it is already time that the profession should begin to give mind to the soul.

Although Baratoff hasn't been in New York for three years, he was well-informed about the condition of the Yiddish theatre here in this country. He speaks painfully about the situation of the entire Yiddish theatre profession in America, and he greatly regrets what the Yiddish actors and actresses have done, who had created a name on the stage in better plays, With one small exception, theatres cannot get a place to play because they do not fit into the theatres where "light" plays are performed.

"They say that the Yiddish audience loves shund -- the actor continued to say -- However, the Yiddish Art Theatre draws the most attention from all the mistakes that the Yiddish Art Theatre has made. If you look at it from the bottom up, you look at it with great respect, and this proves who is right -- whether those who shout that the audience is very shamed,, or those who are sure that the audience wants to see good and interesting plays -- plays in which the viewer could hear a new idea, see a new scene, a new image, a new scene. In Europe do not allow yourself to be left standing in one place; "They are looking for something new for the theatre-goers, and they are also looking for new dramatic forces."

In the time when Baratoff visited Germany and Austria, he met with the former general director of the former royal Imperial Theatre in Berlin. He, Yesner, invited him years ago to play on the German stage.

"When I asked him -- Baratoff said -- why does he need to have me on the German stage at a time when there are so many great German actors in Germany and Austria, and he told me:

"In life and in art there is never enough. Every flower has its own scent."

Baratoff arrived in America from Romania, and meanwhile he still did not have any plans for the near future. As he said, he brought with him several good plays that were written by European playwrights.
 

 

 



 

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