YIDDISH THEATRE 101 > THE YIDDISH PLAYS > THE PLAY IN HISTORY  >  ALEXANDER PUSHKIN                                                 

ALEXANDER PUSHKIN1, by Valentino Carrera

(Yiddish: Aleksander pushkin)


"In this beautiful and striking play we are shown through an Italian lens, the life and tragic death of the great Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin –  Russia’s own 'Glorious Apollo.' At first we see him as a gay, romantic, amorous, fiery, freedom-loving youth, who at the risk of persecution and imprisonment champions the cause of the Russian people against its rulers and oppressors; and then we see him a few years later as a Samson shorn of his hair by a faithless Delilah, to please whom he sells his birthright - his gifts and ideals - for a mess of pottage, and whose paramour finally kills him in a duel. Valentino Carrera (1834-1895) was a noted Italian playwright whose dramas were popular not only with the public, but also with eminent stage artists such as Salvini, Rossi, Monti, Novelli, and Zaconi. The present play was first produced at Turin on September 29, 1865, with Rossi in the title role. Intended only for a single performance, it had a run of seven weeks. It is still played on the Italian stage."

Per the Yiddish Art Theatre production of this play, "Alexander Pushkin" is said to be a tragedy in four acts, translated by Abraham Armband from the Italian of Valentino Carrera. It was directed and staged by Maurice Schwartz on 26 January 1928 at the Yiddish Art Theatre, 12th Street and Second Avenue, New York City. (See the bottom of this webpage for mention of other theatre personnel.)

The cast of this production of "Alexander Pushkin" included (in alphabetical order): Anna Appel, Lazar Freed, Berta Gerstin, Michael Gibson, Wolf Goldfaden, Jechiel Goldsmith, Jacob Goldstein, Rebecca Lash, Henrietta Schnitzer, Maurice Schwartz, Morris Silberkasten, Morris Strassberg, Abraham Teitelbaum, Anna Teitelbaum and Boris Weiner.

photo: Alexander Pushkin by Vasily Tropinin. From Wikipedia.

Here then is the synopsis of Valentino Carrera's "Alexander Pushkin". The name of the actor who portrayed a particular role is in parentheses):



Pushkin (Maurice Schwartz), exiled and incarcerated for a revolutionary poem he wrote, escapes from his jailers and finds refuge with a band of gypsies who are camping in the Caucasian mountains. Here he soon makes himself popular with his songs and irrepressible gaiety. Follows an idyllic love affair with Mitidinka (Berta Gerstin), daughter of Ghirei (Jechiel Goldsmith), the leader of the band. This arouses the jealousy of a member of the band named Eblis (Morris Silberkasten), who is likewise in love with Mitidinka, and who, unab1e to get rid of his rival otherwise betrays him to the authorities. The poet is led away by his captors while Mitidinka is in her tent. When she emerges and finds him gone, she leaves the camp without bidding her father goodbye and sets outs in quest of her lover, after stabbing Eblis when he tries to detain her.


Eight months later. Mitidinka, who was once told by Eblis that when Pushkin first came to her father's camp he wrote frequent letters to a girl named Natalia Goncharov (Henrietta Schnitzer), has made her way to St. Petersburg and has found employment as a maid at the home of Anna Goncharov (Anna Appel) and her two young daughters, Natalia and Maria (Anna Teitelbaum). The latter, who is the younger of the two sisters, is in love with a handsome young officer called Baron George d' Anthes (Wolf Goldfaden), the son of the Dutch minister in St. Petersburg who has entered the service of the Russian army. She fancies that he loves her, too, but that he is too bashful to admit it. As a matter of fact, he is in love with Natalia, who secretly also loves him, though she was betrothed to Pushkin before the latter's incarceration. Pushkin has been pardoned by the Czar and is now on his way to the capital. The news is confirmed by Pushkin's best friend and fellow revolutionary Zhukowsky (Lazar Freed). Pushkin is given a hearty welcome by the Goncharovs, who introduce him to Baron d' Anthes. Presently a distinguished general and courtier comes to invite the poet to an audience with the Czar on the day following. While Pushkin is out of the room talking to the general, the Baron asks Natalia if she is really marrying the poet for love. Her answer is studiously ambiguous, nor is it made any clearer when she urges him to marry her sister Maria because it would make her, Natalia, extremely happy to have him as a member of the family. He tenderly takes her hand, and in this intimate situation they are surprised by Pushkin. The latter asks for an explanation, first of the Baron and then of Natalia, adding that if her heart inclines toward another man, he would be glad to see her in the arms of that man. Natalia answers that it was of Maria she and the Baron were talking. She is corroborated by Maria herself, who informs all present that Baron d' Anthes has given her to understand he is not indifferent to her. Pushkin is completely reassured when the Baron himself announces his intention to marry Maria in the near future. Dinner is announced and all proceed to the dining room. Pushkin is about to join them when he suddenly notices Mitidinka. After recovering somewhat from the shock of her unexpected presence in the house of his fiancée, he makes a futile effort to explain matters. In vain does he plead with her to leave the house, if only to spare herself the pangs of jealousy. She answers that she cannot live away from him and in turn implores him to let her be near him. "Merely to see your shadow is enough for me," she adds pathetically. Touched by her great suffering, he mutely nods assent.


Five years later. Pushkin, the erstwhile rebel. has becomes the Czar's favorite and protégé, thereby alienating all his former friends. Pushkin, the inspired bard, has degenerated into a glorified hack who commercializes his genius in order to provide finery for his wife, who is always to be seen in the company of her sister's husband Baron d'Anthes, and whose improper relations with him are common gossip and not wholly unsuspected by the poet. Pushkin realizes the cause of his downfall, and in a last effort to save himself from the corrupting atmosphere of the capital he begs his wife to retire with him to his father's estate in the country. His wife refuses and he is too weak to resist her wishes, although as he tells her himself, he knows her heart does not belong to him. Left alone with Mitidinka, he harks back to their happy days together in the Caucasian mountains, as contrasted with his present misery and suffering at the hands of the woman who replaced Mitidinka in his affections. An old and nearly blind man is announced, who proves to be none other than Ghirei, Mitidinka's father who comes to inquire as to the whereabouts of the Czar's singer who has robbed him of his only child. The old man's pathetic plaint, and his description of Pushkin as the "Czar's singer," stir the latter to the very depths of his being; he controls himself, however, and promises the old man that he will soon find and restore his daughter to him. No sooner does the old man leave the room than Zhukowsky rushes in breathless to tell of a new revolutionary attempt to be made as soon as the demise of the Czar, who is on his deathbed, takes place. Important elements, he tells the poet, have been won over to the cause of the revolution and all that is necessary now is to enlist the masses. This only Pushkin can do and by doing it he will conciliate his alienated friends. The two are interrupted by Natalia, who hands them a letter from Baron d' Anthes to the effect that the government has betimes discovered and crushed the latest revolutionary conspiracy, and that many of those implicated have been quietly put to death. Pushkin is ready to share the fate of his fallen comrades, but Natalia reminds him of his duty to his children. At this point Chevalier Ramberg (Abraham Teitelbaum), the secretary of the Governor General, arrives with the news that Pushkin has been knighted and appointed Poet Laureate - an honor which tastes like ashes in the mouth of the poet. 


In the presence of Anna, Natalia, Maria, Baron d' Anthes and Ramberg, Pushkin recites a new poem he is working on wherein he describes, under thinly disguised names, his own case, the case of a deceived husband; but his efforts to draw his wife and the Baron out prove futile. Natalia looks pale and haggard, and Pushkin asks her whether she is so distracted because Baron d' Anthes has been assigned for duty in another city; but his wife skillfully parries the thrust. Finally old Ghirei unconsciously removes whatever doubt still lingers in Pushkin's mind as to the identity of her paramour by repeating to him a lewd song which all the servants and tradespeople are singing about the wife of the "Czar's singer" and the Baron who is her lover. Pushkin thereupon challenges Baron d'Anthes to a duel and is killed by the latter. He dies in the arms of Mitidinka, who cries out pathetically: "I found you at sunrise and lost you at sunrise. But now no one can take you away from me. You are mine, mine!"

Settings were by M. Salzman. Executive Staff: Maurice Schwartz, Director; Jacob Rovenger, General Manager; Anna Schwartz, Treasurer; Harry Greenblatt, Press Representative; Frank Rovenger, Rep. Benefit Department. Stage Staff: Joseph Schwarzberg and Ben-Zion Katz, Stage Managers. Technical Staff: Louis Yeger, Master Carpenter; David Gold, Master Electrician; George Nemser, Master Properties. Charles Gardner, Superintendent.

1 -- Maximilian Hurwitz. Playbill for the Yiddish Art Theatre's production of "Alexander Pushkin", 1928. Courtesy of YIVO.


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