Mes­si­ahs of 1933: How Amer­i­can Yid­dish The­atre Sur­vived Adver­si­ty Through Satire

Joel Schechter
  • Review
By – August 24, 2011

JoelSchechter con­tributes to our knowl­edge and under­stand­ing of Amer­i­can Yid­dish The­atre of the 30’s in link­ing high­ly pop­u­lar enter­tain­ers of the com­mer­cial stage such as Leo Fuchs, Menasha Skul­nik, and Yet­ta Zwer­ling with social activist drama­tists of the Artef The­atre Col­lec­tive and the Yid­dish Unit of the Fed­er­al The­atre like Yosl Cut­ler, Moishe Nadir, David Pin­s­ki, and the Mod­i­cut Puppeteers. 

What unites these seem­ing­ly dis­parate the­ater artists, Schechter demon­strates, is how unique­ly and effec­tive­ly they employ satire — espe­cial­ly of the failed mes­si­ahs” of the time — to expose and con­demn the eco­nom­ic and social ills of the Great Depres­sion and make them bear­able through laugh­ter. The author pro­vides us with exten­sive analy­ses of promi­nent Yid­dish pro­duc­tions of the peri­od — such as Moishe Nadir’s Mes­si­ah in Amer­i­ca, Sin­clair Lewis’ It Can’t Hap­pen Here, and Sholem Aleichem’s 200,000 — as well as of the per­for­mance skills of Fuchs, Skul­nik, and Zwer­ling. Includ­ed are pho­tographs, posters, and com­ic strips (with words by Schechter and illus­tra­tions by Spain Rodriguez) of the fea­tured material.
Nor­man J. Fed­der, Ph.D., is dis­tin­guished pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of the­atre at Kansas State Uni­ver­si­ty. He is cur­rent­ly on the fac­ul­ty of the Inter­dis­ci­pli­nary Arts Pro­gram at Nova South­east­ern University.

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