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  YIDDISH THEATRE 101 > THE YIDDISH PLAYS > THE PLAY IN HISTORY  >  YEKATERINA IVANOVNA                                                 

 

YEKATERINA IVANOVNA1, by Leonid Andreyev

 

Here is the cast from the Yiddish Art Theatre production of this play when it opened at the Yiddish Art Theatre in New York City, on January 12, 1927:

Ben Zwi Baratoff, Bertha Gerstin, Lazar Freed, Anna Appel, Sonia Radina, Luba Kadison, Wolf Goldfaden, Joseph Buloff, Morris Silberkasten, Abraham Teitelbaum, Abraham Kubansky, Bernard Gailing, Miriam Bobov, Rachel Goldstein and Minnie Paulinger.

So, here is the synopsis of Andreyev's "Yekaterina Ivanovna." The name of the actor or actress who portrayed a particular role is indicated in parentheses:
 

SYNOPSIS
 

INTRODUCTORY NOTE

In this drama of a pure and noble woman gone wrong through her husband's unfounded suspicions, Andreyev paints  vivid picture of Russian life in the years following the abortive revolution of 1905--years of disillusionment, apathy, religious vagaries, and sexual looseness. He depicts the spirit of the time, a spirit of triumphant pettiness and vulgarity, as typified by the parasitical Mentikov (Joseph Buloff), who worms his way into the best circles, sponges on his numerous acquaintances, and even succeeds in bringing about the ruin and degradation of Yekaterina Ivanovna (Berta Gerstin), once so beautiful a spirit. The play likewise shows the moral bankruptcy of Russia's intelligentsia during the period in question, as Alexander Kaun points out in his work on Andreyev. As depicted in the present drama, the Russian intellectuals are, in the words of Mr. Kaun, "devoid of chivalry, they lack fastidiousness, they have cheapened life's values. They all tolerate Mentikov, though he steals their wives and their drawings... They observe the decaying process of Yekaterina Ivanovna, they watch her sink ever deeper, some of them make use of her weakness and accessibility, but not one of them possesses enough moral stamina to save her, to bring her back to her exalted place from which she once slipped."

"Yekaterina Ivanovna," according to Herman Bernstein, the English translator of the play, was first produced by the Moscow Art Theatre in the season of 1912-1913, with Germanova as Yekaterina, Katchalov as the husband, Voronov as Mentikov, and Moskvin as the artist Koromislov. The play created a sensation and gave rise to heated discussions throughout Russia. Mock trials were held in various cities where it was presented, and Yekaterina Ivanovna was hotly denounced by some, and staunchly defended by others. As a rule, the men blamed her, while the women took her part. Decidedly, these Russians take their drama seriously.

* * *


The plot of the play is briefly as follows:

Georg Stibelev (Ben Zwi Baratoff), Member of Parliament, and his beautiful wife Yekaterina Ivanovna, have been happily married for over five years and have two children. They are both persons of culture and refinement and mingle with the flower of St. Petersburg's intelligensia. Yekaterina is admired by many, including Georg's puritanical brother Alexey (Lazar Freed); yet such is her purity that her friends have nicknamed her "Touch Me Not." One day Georg receives an anonymous letter informing him that Yekaterina is having an affair with Arcady Mentikov, a low fellow and parasite who sponges on Georg and others, simply because the latter, though they despise him, have not the energy to shake him off. The very idea seems absurd to Georg; and even when he trails her one morning to Mentikov's apartment, where she stays over two hours, he is inclined to treat it as a joke. That night, however, when he casually asks her where she was in the morning and she lies to him, his suspicion is aroused. A day or two later he takes her to task for it. Yekaterina admits she was at Mentikov's that morning, but insists she had gone there in order to thrash that fellow for the annoying letters he had been sending her. Georg does not believe her and tries to shoot her. He misses aim, and Yekaterina leaves the house, taking the children with her.

Six months later.  Yekaterina and the children are now living with her mother at the latter's country estate, where the unabashed Mentikov has installed himself as Yekaterina's "business manager." She ignores the letters of her repentant husband, who now realizes his error and implores her to return to him. One day Alexey and Georg's best friend Paul Koromislov (Wolf Goldfaden)--an artist with the savoir faire of a ladies' man--arrive and plead with her on behalf of her husband, who has also come but prudently waits outside. Yekaterina agrees to receive Georg. He enters, and on his knees acknowledges his mistake and begs her to go back to him. To his amazement, she tells him that she did deceive him, though not before but after the shooting affair, having by a curious mental twist which is nevertheless so characteristically Russian, given herself, though only once, to Mentikov out of contempt for a husband who could think so little of her as to accuse her of misconduct with so contemptible a nonentity as Mentikov. Though stunned by the news, Georg is willing to forget everything, and Yekaterina agrees to go back to him, though not without misgivings.

But alas! "ever more shall the blasted oak blossom, nor the stricken eagle soar." Though Yekaterina returns to her husband, she cannot recapture the old tenor and rhythm of her life. The double ordeal she has gone through has wrenched her soul from its accustomed groove. She becomes a veritable bacchante, an insatiable Emma Bovaris who gives herself to all, a Salome with a bleeding heart who longs, not for a prophet's head, but for a prophet's warning voice to lift her out of the mire in which she is rapidly sinking. Neither Koromislov with his savoir faire, nor Alexey with his Puritanism, can reclaim her. And her husband, partly from a sense of guilt, and partly from that irresolution which is the bane of all Russian intellectuals, chooses to suffer in silence.

The last act of the play shows Yekaterina at the lowest stage of her degradation, when after posing half-naked at Koromislov's studio before a large party which included Alexey and her husband, she sets out half-drunk on a joy ride with her latest paramour, leaving behind both Georg and Mentikov The play ends on a note of mordant irony, as the brazen parasite offers the deceived husband a cigarette by way of consolation for their common disappointment.

 


 

 


 


Ben Zwi Baratoff,
who plays
Georg Stibelev

 

Lazar Freed
who plays
Alexey,
Georg's brother

 



Joseph Buloff, who plays
Arcady Mentikov

 

Wolf Goldfaden,
who plays
Paul Koromislov, an artist

 

Morris Silberkasten,
who plays
Fomin, a student
 

Berta Gerstin,
who plays
Yekaterina Ivanovna
 

Anna Appel,
who plays
Vera Ignatyevna, Georg's mother
 

Luba Kadison,
who plays
Tatyana Andreyevna,
Georg's daughter
 



Abraham Teitelbaum,
who plays
Jacob Teplovsky,
a pianist
 

Ben Gailing,
who plays Shura, a nephew of Koromislov

 

 

1 -- From the playbill for the "Yekaterina Ivaonova" production. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

2 -- Synopsis prepared by Maximilian Hurwitz.

 

 

 

 

 




Photographs courtesy of the Yiddish Forward, the New York Public Library, and the Yiddish Theatrical Alliance Archives.

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