YIDDISH THEATRE 101 > THE YIDDISH PLAYS > THE PLAY IN HISTORY  >  REVOLT                                                 

REVOLT1, by I. B. Zipor

(Yiddish: Oyfshtand)


"Revolt" is a dramatic poem in three acts with a prologue and five scenes, which opened on 11 January 1933 at the Yiddish Art Theatre, 189 2nd Avenue (at 12th Street) in New York City. It was directed by Maurice Schwartz.

"The present day – a historical drama in verse – depicts an uprising of serfs against their feudal lord, who robs 'their skin from off their flesh,' takes away part or all of their possessions if they fall behind in the payment of taxes, flogs them to death at the least sign of insubordination, and most revolting of all, asserts his right (variously known as Jus Primae Noctis and Droit du Seigneur) to the virginity of his vassals' daughters on their wedding night. Like all Bourbons, this cruel noble is deaf alike to the voice of prudence and to the plea of humanity, thereby bringing about his own undoing. For when the cup of their bitterness is filled to overflowing, and their suffering passes the bounds of human endurance, the serfs rise up in rebellion and kill their brutal master, who, by the timely exercise of a little consideration and kindness, might have saved himself and his power. The author of 'Revolt', I. B. Zipor (pen name of Dr. Isaac Sterkman), is a native of Bessarabia who was brought up in Paris, where he attended public school, night school, and university, ultimately receiving the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. When his school days were over, he settled in Poland, where he has lived ever since, engaging in literary and journalistic work." 

The cast of this Yiddish Art Theatre production included:

Izidore Casher, Wolf Goldfaden, Lazar Freed, Louis Weisberg, Maurice Schwartz, Morris Silberkasten, Anatole Winogradoff, Charlotte Goldstein, Michael Rosenberg, Philip Sherman, Morris Belavsky, Robert H. Harris, Gustave Schacht, Leah Naomi, Morris Strassberg, Solomon Krause, Noach Nachbush, Isaac Rothblum, Isaac Swerdlow, Uri Kagar, Hyman Buchwald, L. Isenberg, M. Baisin, A. Bernatzky, Michal Gibson, Abraham Margolith, Eli Mintz, Wolf Mercur, M. Steinfeld, Sol Fruchter, N. Erlich, B. Zion, Liza Varon, Sonia Gurskaya, Zelda Gould, Ida Garber and Taobi Stenman.

So, here is the synopsis of Zipor's "Revolt". The name of the actor or actress who portrayed a particular role is listed in parentheses:



St. John's Day. The serfs are ordered out to build a well and have it all ready for christening by tomorrow, their lord's (Izidore Casher) birthday. They are bitter because they have to work and stay away from church on a holy day, but only the younger peasants dare voice their resentment. Chief among the latter are Maciej Cham (Maurice Schwartz), whose wife is seriously ill from the flogging she has received for some minor offense; and the fiery young Witek (Anatole Winagradoff), who is about to marry the fair Magda (Charlotte Goldstein), and who is tortured by the thought that on their wedding night she will first have to submit to their overlord's embraces. Witek's father Grzela (Morris Silberkasten), who has already lost one son through flogging, and who is fearful of losing the other, tries to silence him by ridiculing youth's presumption in trying to change the established order of things. The steward (Wolf Goldfaden) appears on the scene, and overhearing Cham's grumbling, he strikes him with a whip and vows to visit worse punishment upon him. After the day's work, the peasants go away to seek solace in the cup that cheers. Witek alone remains behind, brooding upon the serfs hard lot. Not even Magda, decked out in her wedding dress, can rouse him out of his melancholy and bitterness. Finally, a band of revelers arrive and persuade him to drown his sorrow in drink. 


The lord of the manor is sipping wine and listening with bore amusement as his chaplain (Lazar Freed) reads aloud from the Bible for his edification. The steward enters with important news: Witek and Magda have just been married. The lord gives orders that Magda be forthwith brought to him. Maciej Cham forces his way in and, falling on his knees, begs his master to restore to him his sole possession, a cow, which has been taken away from him because of his insubordination. The lord laughs at him and calls him a horse. When Cham, in his inarticulate way, protests, "I not horse, I man, I believe in God," - the lord has him flogged until he admits he is a horse. Thereupon he forces Cham to drink and dance with him until the exhausted serf sinks to the floor in a faint. Magda is now dragged in by the steward, whereupon the lord orders the servants to remove the carcass (meaning Cham), and to leave him alone with the young bride. Magda implores him on her knees not to force her to break her, marriage vows, and resists his advances. This annoys him, and his annoyance turns to fury when Witek breaks in through the window and demands his bride. The lord orders Magda to be taken forcibly to his chamber, and Witek to be mercilessly flogged. 


Grandpa Yoshe (Gustave Schacht) and Grandma Devoshe (Leah Naomi) live at the mill [that] they have leased from a neighboring noble, Theirs is an idyllic life of quiet and contented labor, of hospitality to Jew and Gentile, of peace with the world and themselves. Grzela arrives and asks for food, which is gladly given. He tells them that his son Witek has been flogged to death, and that he himself has been driven out of his home to become a beggar in his old age. Magda comes in, having escaped from the castle where she had been detained to minister to her lord's comfort and pleasure. From her words it is apparent that, Ophelia-like, she is crazed with grief. Maciej Cham, carrying a scythe, rushes in and asks for a drink. From him we learn that his wife and child have perished of hunger and disease, and that he is organizing a revolt of the serfs. He hurries away, followed by Grzela and Magda, and the old couple are left alone, their peace disturbed by dark foreboding. Presently the feudal lord, accompanied by the steward and servants, breaks in and questions the old couple about the sentiment which prevails among the serfs, as the Jew is known to share their confidence. Yoshe and Devoshe profess absolute ignorance. The lord then informs them that he has just purchased the mill from the neighboring noble, and orders them to vacate the premises, as he does not tolerate Jews on his estate. When Yoshe protests that the lease still has some years to run, he cynically tells him to sue him. When the lord and his retinue leave, Yoshe takes up a scythe and goes to join the rebels.

Shortly afterwards the insurrection breaks out. It begins when during the night the serfs destroy the well they had been forced to build on St. John's Day. In vain the lord's spiritual mentor pleads with him to make some concessions, or at least promises, to the serfs. The lord knows only one way to put down discontent, and that is to drown it in blood. But they who live by the sword shall perish by it. With a courage born of desperation, the rebels, led by Maciej Cham, storm the castle and capture it. Deserted by his servants in the hour of danger, the lord meets his death at the hands of Cham. Thereupon, to the beating of tom-toms, the victorious rebels sing: "Without a master is the cham (peasant)!"


Settings by Alex Chertov; Music by Leo Kutzin. Executive Staff: Leon Hoffman and Milton Weintraub, Managers; Gertrude R. Wagner, Treasurer; Martha Drieblatt, English Publicity. Stage Staff: Maurice Schwartz, Director’ Ben Zion Katz, Stage Manager; Jos. Schwartzberg, Librarian; Leo Kutzen, Musical Director; Bennie Spitzer, Master of Wardrobe. Technical Staff: Irving Levy, Master Carpenter; Morris Shapiro, Master Electrician; Sam Wolinsky, Master of Props; Alex Chertov, Scenic Designer.

1 -- Maximilian Hurwitz. Playbill for the Yiddish Art Theatre's production of "Revolt", 1933. Courtesy of YIVO.





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

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