YIDDISH THEATRE 101 > THE YIDDISH PLAYS > THE PLAY IN HISTORY  >  HABIMA'S "THE DELUGE"                                                 

THE DELUGE, by Henning Berger

The Cast of Characters of "The Deluge"

D. Itkin .......................................
A. Baratz ....................................
Z. Friedland .................................
B. Schneider ................................
Raikin Ben-Ari ..............................
B. Bertenoff ................................
H. Gruber ...................................
A. Prudkin ...................................



"THE DELUGE, a play in three acts, by Henning Berger. Presented in Hebrew by the Moscow Theatre Habima. At the Cosmopolitan Theatre."

From the NY Times review,
"'Deluge Well Received"
January 11, 1927

"...Influenced, no doubt, by the play's success in Sweden and Germany, the Habima players included it in their repertoire. Last night's performance moved with a vitality which pleased the Habima's Jewish constituents as much as its Broadway adherents.

The play is sardonic comedy, intelligible not only to those conversant with Hebrew but to English theatregoers as well. What seemed to please the audience most last night were the pantomimic scenes.

The plot deals with several persons in various stations of life, marooned in a saloon of a small town along the Mississippi after a cloud-burst. Momentarily awaiting the bursting of the dam and  the approach of a flood, they become united, despite their personal animosities, and swear eternal friendship. The gambler forgives his rival on the Stock Exchange. A woman declares her  love for her betrayer  and he promises to marry her as they escape. An  impoverished investor wins promises of general assistance. Under he shadow of a catastrophe they all make vows of loyalty and promise to help each other if they are rescued. Here the Habima players sing Hebraic chants effectively.

The lights go on again in the saloon. The telegraph ticker begins its staccato. It is reported that the deluge is slackening. All are saved. Now the true sides of  their characters are revealed. As soon as the fear of death has been removed, all forget the fine pledges of friendship.

Miss H. Gruber played Lizzie, the woman,  with a rare understanding to one only slightly familiar with Hebrew her performance seemed sharply etched. D. Itkin, who portrayed Stratton, the bartender, and A. Baratz, his assistant, were generally amusing. The others in the cast also played well..."



The morning of a hot day. Stratton, the owner of the saloon, and his assistant, Charlie, are excited because O'Neil has said that there will be a flood. "The earth will tremble, the heavens will reveal themselves, frightened mankind will crawl out of their caves as if pursued. The deluge will wipe out everything!"

Stratton asks Charlie as to yesterday's happenings. It appears that the speculator, Beer, lost heavily in yesterday's stock market. This delights the gambler, Fraser, who has also lost.

Clouds gather overhead; it begins to rain. In the saloon "it becomes thick as a grave," says O'Neil. They light a fire. The telegraph ticks out more and more disturbing news: "The lake is overflowing its shores. Bread is getting dearer."

"That low-down Beer is robbing me again," growls Fraser. O' Neil asks him if he likes crabs. Fraser resents O'Neil's remarks about the failure of his business (he is the owner of a brothel). Angry, he goes out.

It begins to thunder. Two tramps rush in, seeking shelter from the storm. They describe the downpour. Stratton wants to drive them out, but O'Neil suggests that the door be left open "for fresh air." The newcomers order ale. They are unemployed. One is a mechanic, the other is an actor. O'Neil laughs when he hears their stories. The actor is indignant and O'Neil apologizes.

The telegraph increases their alarm when it announces that the dam has burst. All are depressed. O'Neil mocks at their fear. "Yes, indeed, the saloon will be the first to be carried away by the water." They are frightened and at a loss. The door is closed. "That scoundrel O'Neil is responsible for all this!" cries Fraser. The quarrel becomes more intense. A fight follows, in spite of the proprietor's place for peace.

The telephone rings. Nordling answers. It is Beer's fiancée. She is worried, and wants to know where Beer is. Lizzie, a prostitute, enters. She hurries to the phone. "Beer isn't here. You'll lose your interest in him when you know him better."

The owner is angry with Lizzie for coming down during the day. "For your sort this place is open only at night," he tells her. "Isn't my money as good in the day as it is at night?" she retorts, and goes off to her room.

Someone knocks. "Don't open!" says the owner. But it is Beer, the saloon's best customer. He is let in. His fiancée call sup again, and he answers. The telegraph announces further increases in the price of bread. Beer laughs at Fraser's losses. "I wish the flood would come now and drown everybody!" shrieks Fraser.

A loud noise and the rushing of nearby waters is heard. All are scared. But O'Neil remains calm, and suggests letting down the iron shutters. They run to all sides, seeking a way of saving themselves. Charlie runs to the cellar. Norling observes that the place is built of concrete and says that it will resist the pressure of the waters. But should the waters rise still higher, they would all be imprisoned.

Beer if frantic. Today is his wedding day. Lizzie, who has come down again, laughs at him. He recognizes her; she is a girl whom he has recently dropped. "What have you got against me?" he asks her. "I guess I wasn't the first!"

"You scoundrel...I loved you... You brought me to this life."

O' Neil tells them not to lose courage. "We are all going to die, it is only a question of hours. Let us be calm and reasonable." Stratton goes to the telephone to call up his family. The telephone is not working. The rushing of waters is heard nearer and louder.


Imprisoned in the water-surrounded saloon, the men try to forget themselves by drinking. "We're all going on the same journey. Let's forget our quarrels," says O'Neil. Fraser waits in vain for the telephone to ring. Beer tries to make peace with him. "Why hate me? I'm the same kind of good-for-nothing as you. My fortune is just as doubtful as my wedding. It's all speculation. Let's forget our enmity and he stock exchange!" Fraser, touched, takes both Beer's hands. "Down with the stock exchange! We'll die together!" O'Neill says, "Here are two enemies, like Saul and David in the cave. Come Fraser, let's be friends." Fraser is pleased. Beer orders champagne. Stratton enters and says, "Everything is on me today. I'm treating all of you. It's all going to be destroyed, anyway."

The telephone rings; all rush to answer it. But it was an accidental ring.

Stratton grows reminiscent about his family. "I'm only a barkeeper, but my son was going to be a doctor." They comfort him and lead him out.

"What do you think, Lizzie? Do you think I'm crazy?" asks O'Neil. "No." "A thwarted genius?" "You said it." "And the reason? Wine, women, money... No... Once I condemned an innocent person...the most unfortunate person in the world... We're all unfortunate..."

Beer comes in. He tries to make peace with Lizzie. She tries to go away, but he stops her. "You promised to marry me," she says. "But that isn't the worst of it. The horrible thing is, that you promise, you tell us lies and we believe you. We don't demand things of you -- marriage, or a home; only a sincere smile...kindness... Now you have cast me off...and I love you...still. Oh, it's idiotic to love..." She touches him caressingly; hey make friends, and go to join the others.

Thus under the leadership of O'Neil they await death, united.

Charlie tells them that the flood has reached the sixth step. They become panicky, but O'Neil warns them not to lose their heads. He asks Nordling to tell them about his discovery (for he used to be an inventor). Fraser tells him that the rich Beer and O'Neil will help finance him if they are all saved. Nordling explains that by means of his invention, a septem of telescopes and mirrors, the moon and stars can be brought so near as to be clearly observed and studied. All are impressed with the ingenuity of his invention. Stratton meanwhile serves punch to everybody. The actor recalls is former fame, and tells stories of his acting days.

"Friends, all of us, gathered here, can understand for the first time in what consists the true beauty and meaning of life, in brotherhood and equality."

"I understand!" cries Fraser, interrupting. "Yes, we will be like brothers; we'll die together in friendship and love. Let us unite and form an inviolable bond of unity." At this point the fire goes out. "Bring a light!" The water is beginning to flow into the saloon. There is silence. "Now -- Give us your hands...form a chain...swear brotherhood."


Slowly the lights go out. Stratton asks for lamps. Charlie brings them. It is midnight...  It is midnight... Suddenly a clicking is heard. Frightened, they crowd together. It is the telegraph working again! It tells of the rising lake, the storm, the price of bread still going up. It is a sign of hope! Nordling hears a noise. "Look around -- everything is in the same old place!" O'Neil is disappointed. "Charlie, go look in the cellar." They all go to look. Wonderful, that the stars have resisted the pressure of the water! Nordling hears the noise again. All listen intently. Lizzie clings to Bert.

"Perhaps it is rescue! Perhaps we shall be saved!" she cries. "Then I shall really marry -- have money -- have a few pleasant days in my life!" All turn as the noise is repeated. O'Neil suggests that it is merely the sound of a wall falling in. Yet their hopes are roused. They all go down into the cellar.

"Hurray! The floor of the cellar has dried up!" Rescue is near. Perhaps they can send a telegraphic message for help. But the telegraph is not yet completely working.

"Fraser, unable to wait, drinks to their return to life. "The flood taught us how to live," says O'Neil. "I drink to the health of Stratton, who has treated us so royally!" says the actor. Stratton does not know what to reply. Charlie has figured out the cost of all that was drunk during this time. "All right, let's figure it out together." They reckon aloud. Beer ignores Lizzie. He calculates as to the amount of his gains on bread. The telephone rings. Beer answers. The station announces that the wire is in order again. There is an argument as to whether it is safe to open the door now. O'Neil opens the window. A bright light is seen. All hurry to go. Stratton presents a bill for the drinks. "A new day comes, with its new vileness," says O'Neil. "That bond of brotherhood is shown to have been weak." "And it's a fine day for a nice walk," concludes Fraser. Nordling reminds Beer or his invention. "It's a crazy notion," snorts Beer. Stratton calls for order in the bar. All go out except O'Neil. "Life has begun anew," he soliloquizes. "Stock exchange, marriages, money... People have returned to their everyday existence."

The flood is over.


1 -- From the play program for Habima's "The Dybbuk", 1927-8. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.





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

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