The Moscow Yid­dish The­ater: Art on Stage in the Time of Revolution

Ben­jamin Har­shav; Ben­jamin and Bar­bara Har­shav, trans.
  • Review
By – February 20, 2012

This book is a pot­pour­ri of infor­ma­tion about the renowned mul­ti-media Moscow Yid­dish The­ater, from its cre­ation in 1918 through its demise in 1949

Part I, writ­ten by Ben­jamin Har­shav, is an overview of the Theater’s his­to­ry and aes­thet­ics, fea­tur­ing the cen­tral roles in its devel­op­ment of direc­tor Gra­novsky, actor Solomon Mikhoels, and painter Marc Cha­gall. Part II con­sists of mem­oirs and essays about the the­ater by con­tem­po­rary observers and par­tic­i­pants, as well as two brief scripts by Sholom Ale­ichem from the first Moscow production. 

Hos­tile to reli­gion, Gra­novsky was equal­ly con­temp­tu­ous of the Gold­faden school of Yid­dish melo­dra­ma and the real­is­tic, text-based the­ater of Stanislavsky. Through his work with leg­endary Ger­man direc­tor Max Rein­hardt and influ­enced by Euro­pean avant-garde move­ments, Gra­novsky devel­oped his com­mit­ment to stag­ing mass scenes in a pro­duc­tion where text, actors, scenery, light­ing, cos­tumes, music, and acro­bat­ic move­ment are inter­wo­ven to cre­ate one total effect,” painstak­ing­ly pre­pared and exten­sive­ly rehearsed by the omnipo­tent director. 

He achieved great suc­cess with his inter­pre­ta­tions of the work of clas­sic Yid­dish authors Mendele, Peretz, and Ale­ichem, espe­cial­ly in the stun­ning per­for­mances of Mikhoels — pro­duc­tions which, per­haps, can best be described as the­atri­cal ren­der­ings of the paint­ings of Chagall.

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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