The pots are boiling, the ovens baking, the brilliant lamps of Broadway are lighting the way for the newly created Jewish theatre manager who is emerging from the melting pot with a new outlook on Jewish life and with new plans to entertain those Jews who still attend the Jewish theatre.
The immigration evil has brought a new kind of Jew into our playhouses: the kind who goes there slumming, much as one goes to the Russian Art Restaurant or to the Chinese joints. There are ever fewer theatregoers for whom the auditorium was as sacred as a place of worship, no more of those productions by Adler, Kessler and Bertha Kalish which were discussed at home, in the office and in the workshop.
The Goldfaden and Gordon periods are past; the nationalist feeling that once dominated the stage has been driven away. Strange types are now being exhibited, superficial ones that contribute nothing to Jewish lie in America. The Potash and Perlmutters and the Abie's Irish Rose specimens are on display in both melodrama and musical comedy because they proved successful on Broadway... and Jewish managers are slavishly following these uptown.
Into the Jewish theatre there has come a new kind of playwright, one who avails himself of the same material which has proven effective on the Broadway stage and in the talking pictures.
Our producers are desperate; expenses are three times higher than they used to be. People grow more and more Americanized and attend the English shows. To lure them back, fifty percent English is spoken in Jewish plays; English songs are sung; the music smacks of the same jazz rhythms that you hear on Broadway. Entering any of the playhouses on Second Avenue, you promptly feel yourself on a Jewish version of Broadway. Young girls, half dressed, wiggle around just as they do uptown. Everything is fine and everybody's happy. But will the slumming audience stay? Being so consistently reminded of Broadway, won't they eventually want Broadway itself?
It is an extremely distressing situation; no future is being built; the easiest way has been chosen and it is sure to develop pitfalls of its own. The better playwrights refuse to cook up spicy dishes and choose to leave it to the bright young men who write successes to order. This is a serious predicament. We have remarkable actors and musicians -- all of them victims of the melting pot.
At a time when so many national organizations are striving to teach Jewish children their own language, the downtown stages feature more English than ever. Why don't they speak Yiddish or some other language in the Broadway plays? For twelve years the Yiddish Art Theatre has been bitterly resisting the easy temptation of the melting pot. We have presented eighty-five plays of world-renown and refused to let Broadway affect us. In fact, it may be suspected that Broadway has been beneficially influenced by us. We attract a clientele, thirty percent of whom are non-Jewish. The percentage is even higher now with "Jew Suss" because of the wide familiarity with Feuchtwanger's novel, "Power," which is a development of the original play.
In Russia, France and Germany the greatest dramatists have written of Jewish life and their plays were presented at the Government theatres. Such plays as "The Jew and the Pope" or "The Merchant of Paris" or "Nathan the Wise," "Jephtha's Daughters," "The Jewess of Castile" were played with great success. In Russia the entire Gordon repertoire was done by the best Russian actors. But here a Jewish lay must be about cloak-and-suit manufacturers, cheap politicians, gangsters. The American example is followed: more electric chairs, more jazz babies. Many critics have commented on this deplorable imitativeness. They have begun to ridicule such stuff as "Poppa" and "Abie's Irish Rose" and "The Jazz Singer" for their placing of the Jew in fantastic and unnatural situations. They should be thanked for this.
The success of "The Dybbuk" in English proved that the better Jewish plays can be done in both Yiddish and English and be appreciated by Jew and non-Jew. New York, with its two million Jews, should be represented on the English and Jewish stages -- but no melting pot pieces, no sketchy characterizations: only clear truths and not echoes of successful ideas, only originality and not imitation.
Thus the American Jew will attend both theatres. Let American and Jewish producers keep this well in mind as Jewish culture develops in America, for it is intricately bound to American culture; and we are tired of seeing ourselves distorted and caricatured on the stage.
To prove the American response to Jewish plays, an English producer has offered to put on several plays of the Yiddish Art Theatre's repertoire with American actors, while the Yiddish Art itself is playing in its own tongue: and then we shall learn just how ready the American public is for real and honest Jewish plays. This experiment should more closely interlock the English and Jewish theatre worlds.
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