YIDDISH THEATRE 101 > THE YIDDISH PLAYS > THE PLAY IN HISTORY  >  HUMAN DUST                                                 

HUMAN DUST1, by Ossip Dymov

(Yiddish: Menshn shtoyb)


Introductory note: "The present play is an attempt to reproduce the body and pressure of our age, with its breathless tempo and eternal noise, the ugliness and brutality, its mechanical pleasures and joyless gayety."

"Human Dust" is a comedy in three acts and eleven scenes. Scenes by Ossip Dymow. Directed by Maurice Schwartz. Settings designed by Boruch Aronson. The scenery for the play painted by Alexander Chertoff. Music by Vladimir Heifitz.

The play was first performed by the Yiddish Art Theatre on 25 March 1927. The play itself takes place in New York, at "the present time".

Here is the cast list from the 1927 production of "Human Dust" (in alphabetical order):

Bina Abramowitz, Celia Adler, Anna Appel, Ben Zvi Baratoff, Joseph Buloff, Izidore Casher, Lazar Freed, Berta Gerstin, Wolf Goldfaden, Luba Kadison, Abrham Kubansky, Esther Lateiner, Boruch Lumet, Sonia Radina, Isaac Rothblum, Simeon Ruskin, Maurice Schwartz, Pincus (Philip) Sherman, Morris Silberkasten and Jeanete Zemell.

photo: Playwright Osip Dymov. From the "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre", Vol. 1, New York, 1931.

The following is the synopsis of Dymov's "Human Dust". The name of the actor or actress who portrayed a particular role is indicated in parentheses:



Betty (Celia Adler), a young and pretty working girl, is the daughter of the consumptive janitor (Lazar Freed) of one of Manhattan's skyscraper apartment houses. One of the tenants of the house is a young bond sharp and merry blade named Teddy Washburn (Morris Silberkasten), who has a way with women, and whose shady business and riotous parties have attracted the attention of the police. He has little difficulty in luring Betty to his bachelor apartment, where he seduces her, as he previously seduced her friend Lizzie (Berta Gerstin), at the very moment her consumptive father drops dead beside the furnace in the basement below. Having had his way with Betty, Teddy abandons her, though not without providing her with some money for a criminal operation.


At Lizzie's advice Betty goes to a certain abortionist, who pockets her money, performs the operation, and throws her out of his office. Unable to walk she sinks to the pavement, where she is presently found by Joe (Maurice Schwartz), a mooncalf conductor on the "L," who has often had her for a passenger and fallen in love with her, and for whose sake he frequently delayed the train at a certain station in the hope that she might board it. She tells him that she was knocked down by an automobile. Joe hails a taxi and takes her to the home of the eccentric old aunt (Bina Abramowitz), whose life is devoted to her numerous feline pets. The old woman, who soon surmises the real nature of Betty's illness, does not take kindly to her. However, the same evening she dies from heart seizure, and the bed-ridden girl passes a night of horror to the accompaniment of weird caterwaulings.


The five thousand dollars which Joe inherits from his aunt enables him to go into business and to marry Betty. Follow three months of prosaic bliss, then Teddy reappears on the scene. Having heard of Joe's good fortune, Teddy tries to sell him some fake bonds, but an anonymous letter warns Joe not to buy any. Being desperately in need of money so he can leave town and thus evade the police who are hot on his trail, Teddy visits Betty during Joe's absence and insists that she either give him money or else make her husband buy bonds from him, otherwise he will expose her to the latter. As she cannot satisfy his demand, Teddy writes a letter to Joe wherein he tells him of his former relations with Betty. The infuriated husband, after learning from obliging gossips that Teddy has been in the habit of visiting Betty while he was away, drives her out of the house, though she is in a family way. In her plight, Betty appeals for aid to her blind brother Edward (Wolf Goldfaden), a veteran who lost his eyesight in the World War. The latter insinuates himself into the confidence of Teddy and his pal Oliver (Joseph Buloff), at the same time tipping off the police of the gang's plans and movements. One day Edward and Joe enter Teddy's apartment and hide in the inner room. Presently Teddy arrives, followed by Betty. She implores him to tell Joe the truth, so that her husband might know she was not guilty of misconduct after her marriage. Teddy reuses to do so, and in a fit of passion tries to attack her, whereupon she shoots and kills him. Joe and Edward rush in from the other room, and presently the police arrive. The latter pretend to be satisfied when Edward informs that it was he who shot Teddy in order to save his sister's honor. Soon photographers and reporters flock into the room, and Betty is started on the road to Tabloid fame.


1 -- From the play program of "Human Dust", Yiddish Art Theatre, 1927. Courtesy of YIVO.

2 -- Synopsis prepared by Jacob Cooper.





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

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