SONG OF THE DNIEPER1,
dramatized and staged by David Licht (adapted by
a novel written by Zalman Shneour)
Maurice Schwartz, Joseph Rumshinsky, Zalman
Schneour, and David Licht holding
a copy of "Song of the Dnieper", cir 1946.
Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.
Licht directed, the sets were by
was the twenty-seventh season of
productions by Schwartz's Yiddish
Song of the Dnieper, by David Licht,
Courtesy of the New York Public
photo: Maurice Schwartz (rt.), as
Noah Pandre, and Mark Schweid
(lt.), as the Rabbi, Song of the Dnieper,
by David Licht, cir 1946. Courtesy
of the New York Public Library.
Here is the
synopsis of Shneour's "Song of the Dnieper". The
name of the actor or actress who portrayed a particular
role is indicated in parentheses:
In the Ukrainian
town of Shklov on the Dnieper River, under the
Czarist regime, a Jewish teamster, Noah Pandre
(Maurice Schwartz), is distinguished for always
springing to the defense of the maltreated as
well as for his great physical prowess. Once he
saved from certain death the local lady of the
manor (Frances Adler), a Gentile woman of
breeding and affluence, by stopping the runaway
horses of her carriage at the risk of his own
life. On another occasion, when a pack of wolves
attacked his team of horses, he fought them off
The lady of the
manor often entertains him at her house, and
there is talk in the town that he might change
his religion for her sake.
But Noah Padre
falls in love with Mary (Ola Shlifko), the
daughter of his employer.
He is eager to
fight the evil spirit that often overpowers him
and involves him to sinful pursuits. Troubled by
his conscience he visits the rabbi (Mark Schweid)
one night and begs for guidance. He curses his
own great strength, which seems to him the cause
and source of his sins. But the old rabbi
restrains him from condemning the physical
prowess with which he was endowed by Providence.
The rabbi reminds Noah Pandre of the biblical
Samson and of the new Philistines who rise
against the Jews again and again and
oftentimes must be fought on their own terms --
with sheer physical force.
Noah is profoundly
impressed by the old rabbi and vows to embark on
a life of piety and virtue. His new conduct
brings a great and prompt reward. Mary, the girl
he loves, accepts his hand in marriage.
On the night of
Noah Pandre's wedding, the town of Shklov is
ravaged by a fire. The chief-of-police (Isaac
Arco) accuses the owner of the stables, where
the fire started, of having put the building to
the torch in order to collect fire insurance. He
lunges forward to beat up the suspect, and as
Noah Pandre intercedes to stop the hand of the
police chief, a struggle ensues during which one
of the epaulets is torn loose from the officer's
uniform. Noah Pandre is arrested. At the trial
the chief-of-the-police produces false witnesses
who testify that Noah Pandre attacked and beat
the official. Pandre is sentenced to prison for
eighteen months. During the court proceedings,
Noah Pandre remembered the admonition of the old
rabbi about the new Philistines who rise against
the Jews again and again, and oftentimes must be
fought on their own terms, with sheer physical
While serving his
prison term, Noah Pandre learns a great deal
about the ways of the world and its struggles
from a fellow inmate, Chatze the revolutionist
(Abraham Teitelbaum). By the time he is
released, the enlightenment he received from his
talks with the revolutionist has changed his
entire outlook on life. Meanwhile his wife's
family had been impoverished. Mary had borne him
a child, and the poverty-stricken household is
unable to provide the necessary food for it. On
his way home from prison, Noah calls first on
the rabbi, who receives him as a father would
his own son and reveals to him that hard times
are in the offing, and that pogroms are to be
expected. The rabbi entreats Noah to stand up in
defense of his brethren, because his body and
soul were endowed with the irresistible powers
of a Samson. The rabbi blesses Noah.
At home his wife
and her family receive him with joy. But on that
very night he learns that a pogrom is about to
break loose at the instigation of the police
chief. Noah Pandre is resolved to forestall a
massacre of his people by risking his own life.
Meanwhile, the inhabitants of the town have
formed an organization for self-defense. The
lady of the manor, out of gratitude and
affection for Noah, is endeavoring to protect
the Jews. She invites the Chief-of-Police to her
home and pleads with him not to permit
bloodshed. But he is adamant. He has made up his
mind to exterminate the race he hates. Noah
Pandre arrives at the manor and is about to
murder him, but the dexterous Pandre batters the
official to death in self-defense.
At dawn the
organized Self-Defense awaits the pogrom attack.
The Chief-of-Police was to give the signal for
the onslaught. But Noah Pandre has already done
away with the pogrom leader and has saved his
And the sun rises
over the town of Shklov from which the fear of
massacre has lifted.
OF "THE SONG OF THE DNIEPER"
New York Post,
Tuesday, 29 October 1946, by Richard Watts, Jr.
Colorful Playing in 'Song of the Dnieper"
cannot be denied that when the English-speaking
theatre decided to go in for naturalism,
something went out of it. The spectator without
a knowledge of Yiddish, who attends a
performance of "Song of the Dnieper", finds
himself rather in the traditional position of
the blind man, who, deprived of his sight, finds
his other senses strikingly sharpened. Not being
able to follow the intricacies of the dialogue,
he can concentrate on details of the production
and acting, and the result can be surprisingly
rewarding. One reward at the Yiddish Art Theatre
last Friday night lay in observing the richness
of non-naturalistic acting.
is not that the playing in the Maurice Schwartz
presentation of this dramatized novel of
pre-Bolshevik Russia is highly stylized or
frantically extravagant. It is merely that Mr.
Schwartz's actors enter into their assignments
with such delight in the color, the detail, the
sweeping gesture, and the resounding phrase
inherent in their roles, that their work takes
on a fascinating quality of vitality and relish.
Each player offers a hearty one-man show of his
own that never fails to fit in with the spirit
of the occasion.
There is, for example, one actor -- whose name,
I believe, is Menachem Rubin -- impersonating an
ancient, one-legged veteran of the Czarist army.
To see him rise laboriously on his one foot,
thrust forward his wooden leg and go into the
most elaborate of salutes is to watch a
performer giving not only his audience but
himself a fine time. When he has a comic line,
you don't have to understand it t enjoy the
humorous delight that seems to bubble out of
Then there is Mr. Schwartz himself, playing the
strong man of the Dnieper village and not being
all together comfortable about the more romantic
aspects of his role. The word "authority" has
almost passed out of the critical vocabulary
these days, but when you watch Maurice Schwartz
exhorting his fellow villagers standing up for
his oppressors in a court room or destroying the
pogrom leading Police Commissioner, you know
that this is just the quality he brings to his
show what such vividness of detail can add to a
scene, there is the episode in which the
neighbors celebrate with the hero when he
returns to his bride following his unjust prison
sentence. To the accompaniment of a stirring
theme song which Joseph Rumshinsky has provided,
the villagers enter into the festivities with
such spirit, such mingling of rejoicing and
relief, that the celebration takes on a
strangely moving quality of dramatic excitement.
The last time I had seen Mr. Schwartz's players
was in the distant pre-Pearl Harbor days when
they were doing "The Brothers Ashkenazi" uptown.
Even to one unfamiliar with Yiddish, it was
obvious that they were then acting in a play of
distinction and dramatic power. My impression is
that "Song of the Dnieper" has no such vital
quality, that it is a rather undistinguished and
easy-gong work which possesses at best a
modest kind of narrative interest.
The most striking thing about its story telling
is its insistence that the Jew must resist his
oppressors with force and relentlessness, but
even that ardent plea is not too passionately
made. What is important is that Mr. Schwartz's
theatre even in a routine drama brings a welcome
note of color and vividness to the stage.