The Yiddish Art Theatre

      By Wolf  (William) Mercur
in the "Playgoer," February 1947.


In 1918, aware that this country offered liberty and unlimited scope for self-expression and every personal or group endeavor, in industry as well as in the arts and sciences, Maurice Schwartz gave free rein to the dreams he had carefully nurtured since childhood--passionate, relentless dreams that accumulated constantly and progressively. They were dreams of great things for his and succeeding generations. The Jew had always contributed his share to industry, to culture and to art. Now Maurice Schwartz was able to turn his dreams into a reality, and during that historic period in the history of the world, the Yiddish Art Theatre was formed.

With the first production, "Dos Fervorfen Vinkel" by Peretz Hirshbein, came conclusive proof that there was no room for shoddy, noisy melodrama nor vapid musicals or pseudo reveries which was then, as now, grotesquely bachanallian. There was abounding material in the drama and comedy of daily life, and in history, penned by such classicists as J. L. Peretz, Shalom Aleichem, Sholem Asch, S. Ansky, and many other great young playwrights, such as Ossip Dymov, Harry Leivick, Moishe Nadir, J. Rosenfield, I. J. Singer, and Leon Kobrin. All of these, and others too numerous to mention here, found expression in the Yiddish Art Theatre.

As is usual with creative people, Maurice Schwartz was following an intuitive pursuit which revealed his ultimate purpose. Today, after thirty-one years, the Yiddish Art Theatre and Maurice Schwartz are synonymous.

The Yiddish Art Theatre has been the great citadel of the genius of the Jewish people with the development of serious theatrical enterprises of our generation. It has not confined itself, but has brought to its crowded houses Shakespeare and Moliere, Oscar  Wilde and Gorki, Strindberg and Andreyev, George Bernard Shaw and Romain Roland, Feuchtwanger and Ernst Toller. It is most important to note that not once has the essence of the play been lost, for acting, like music, transcends language.

But the main strength of the Yiddish Art Theatre has always been derived from authors whose genius is rooted in the phenomenon of Jewish life: Sholom Aleichem, who gave the theatre "Tevye," "Hard to be a Jew," "Stempenyu," and "Wandering Stars"; Sholem Asch, who wrote "God of Vengeance," "Three Cities," "Uncle Moses," "Kiddish Hashem," and "Salvation"; and I. J. Singer, whose "Yoshe Kalb" is an extraordinary landscape of movement and form, and who is responsible for those great epic chronicles, "The Brothers Ashkenazi" and "The Family Carnovsky"; and Leon Kobrin, the author of "Der Dorfsyung" and "Riverside Drive."

Maurice Schwartz is actively engaged in every possible phase of every production -- from selecting the play and casting to the merest details. He sees to the lighting and the costumes, he directs, he acts in almost every play, and the makeup and scenery receive his personal attention.

Under his auspices, such famous people as Paul Muni and Stella Adler have stepped to fame from behind the footlights of the Yiddish Art Theatre. Those who remained throughout the years are no less famous -- Dina Halpern, Muni Serebroff, Yudel Dubinsky, Anatole Winogradoff, Frances Adler, Gustave Berger -- they are the pillars of the Yiddish Art Theatre. And among the newcomers is the native Charlotte Goldstein, who, despite her youth, has already achieved success. With his usual keen eye for new discoveries, Mr. Schwartz has chosen for outstanding parts such artists as Morris Feder, Morris Strassberg, Sam Josephson, Lisa Silbert and the talented Marvin Schwartz.

But the actors alone do not make the play. It must have music, which is usually provided by such famous composers as Achron, Rumshinsky, Chernyavsky, Olshenetsky, and Secunda, as well as others. There must also be scenic and architectural construction and design, and these have been handled by such artist as Van Rosen, H. A. Condell, Mordecai Gorelick, Boris Aaronson, Sam Leve, and others.

It was not a paved road that the Yiddish Art Theatre travelled. There was heartbreak as well as elation, but Maurice Schwartz's integrity has never faltered. Thus he has been the greatest influence in the Jewish Theatre Arts. His volcanic energy, his foresight, his artistic sensitivity, his never resting ambition have converted even his vacations into artistic excursions to other countries, where he has reproduced most of his hundred and fifty plays which first saw "light" on the stage of the New York Yiddish Art Theatre.







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