The Russian immigrant on
the East Side has the help of his family in his work,
and his family usually shares his pleasures. He has
little inclination in the direction of sprees, and while
some of his countrymen frequent the coffee houses where
they play games and smoke, and others go to the clubs of
which there are many in the district, nearly all the
toilers of the sweatshops go to the theatre; and they go
not singly or in pairs, but in family groups. For that
reason, a Yiddish theatre audience is unlike that of any
other playhouse in the city. In some instances, the
children are not old enough to appreciate the play, and
are taken along only because there is no one at home to
care for them. Mothers must frequently divide their
attention and miss the poetic pictures on the stage
while ministering to the material wants of the little
On Friday and Saturday
nights and Saturday matinees the houses receive the
greatest patronage. The storekeepers close their places
of business on Friday at sunset, and after coming from
the synagogue they look for amusement. The strictest
Sabbatarians see no wrong in going to the theatre. On
these nights the best plays are produced, and the
highest prices are realized; at the matinees the regular
prices are cut in two. On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and
Thursday evenings the houses are turned over to
societies, lodges or to religious organizations at
prices ranging from $100 to $250. The prices are graded
in keeping with the play and the number of people in the
The troupes in
these theatres are composed of people who
come from Russia, Rumania and Galicia, and
they all speak the corrupt German which is
known as Yiddish. The plays in which they
appear range from Shakespeare and Goethe to
those with local color, which are written by
the "house author," for each theatre has its
own playwright and composer who write
several plays each season.
plays are a mixture of religion and New York
life, in which the author always shows how
the poor Russian may become a valuable
American citizen. In these plays the
comedian usually makes his greatest hits by
using a jargon which is a mixture of Yiddish
and Bowery English.
One of the
most popular of these plays, "Chaim in
America," was performed at the Thalia
Theatre last week, and another, "The
Ghetto," by Thomashefsky, had a long and
successful run at the People's Theatre.
Thomashefsky, author-actor-manager and
writer of "The Jewish Ghetto."
The East Side pushcart
man, the little shopkeeper and the prosperous merchant,
the sweatshop worker and the Divisionist milliner, the
jewel and gold bedecked wife of the successful ward
politician, are all represented in their true colors in
these plays; but behind all, pointing a moral and
reminding them of their duties as citizens and men, is
the rabbi or the religious teacher, pointing out the
ills that follow sin, and in some of the popular plays
laying particular stress on the crime of apostasy. The
"bad man," the "scheming villain," is often an apostate,
whose career in the part is made unusually burdensome by
the hisses which greet him every time he appears.
These plays are popular
and draw large houses, but as the business manager of
one of the theatres says, "These people want
philosophical works, and a manager who would try to palm
off trash on them would soon learn that he had made a
mistake. And what is more, they want morally clean
plays, and would not bring their families to listen to
works like some that are produced on other stages."
plays that have been produced at the
People's Theatre this season are "Hamlet,"
"The Merchant of Venice" and "Romeo and
Juliet," and the same company performed "The
Bohemian Girl," "Carmen," "Der Freischütz"
and "Bluebeard." Bertha Kalich, the star at
the Thalia Theatre, has appeared as Ophelia,
Fedora, Magda, and as the heroine in a
number of religious plays. To gain a
correct idea of the Yiddish theatre one must
see it, and that it may be thoroughly
appreciated other senses than that of sight
must be drawn upon. The crowds in the lobby
resemble those which are seen in the
clothing district when a strike is on, and
the air is thick with cigarette smoke.
Inside, men and women are talking and
visiting and paying little attention to the
orchestra. Boys with trays of candy, cakes,
fruit and "soft drinks" do a paying
business, and sell their wares in the body
of the house.
Bertha Kalich, star of the Thalia Theatre.
The opening lines of the
actors are usually lost, except to those people who sit
far in front, and demands for silence come from all
parts of the auditorium. Sometimes these are in the form
of the hissing "Pst! pst!" which one hears in all
European theatres, and sometimes the more imperative "Ruhig,"
" 'Smaul halten!" or "Still!" are heard. Then comes the
play, and close attention on the part of the audience,
frequent applause and boisterous laughter and sniffles
are sure to reward the efforts of the actors.
On the nights when the
theatres are run by the management and not by private
societies, the prices of admission range from $1 to 25
cents. The boxes are rarely sold to one party, but seats
in them are for sale to any one who wishes to pay a
little more than for chairs in the orchestra.