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The Amphion Theatre

437 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, NY
Opened in 1925.


by S. Ansky


In her autobiography, "Celia Adler Recalls," the actress Celia Adler writes about the Amphion, and her partnership with the actor Samuel Goldinburg, circa 1925:

Right there on the island at Sea Gate that summer began a new theatrical partnership in the form of a firm that occupied a noted place in the theatrical provinces for several years, a partnership that was transformed into an intimate friendship for a number of years. That was the firm of Samuel Goldinburg and Celia Adler.

I had hardly known Samuel Goldinburg until that summer. We met each other and first got to know each other better at Sea Gate where he was spending that summer.

Right at the beginning of the summer, he told me about a theatrical business proposed to him by Mike Thomashefsky. Mike had a lease on the Garden Theatre in Philadelphia. He wanted him as partner. He proposed that I join up as a third partner. He very firmly believed that Philadelphia had possibilities. The business would gain greater strength if I, being so popular in Philadelphia, were to join the business. The firm of "Goldinburg and Celia Adler" was a "natural," as American slang would have it.

The following year, the Augenblick brothers rented a theatre on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg—the Amphion Theatre—and were looking for a theatrical combine which might possibly be financially successful in that region. They were impressed by the Samuel Goldinburg-Celia Adler combine. Our success in Philadelphia convinced them that we would be a good force of attraction for their theatre ... more below ...


"The Dybbuk" was written by Yiddish playwright Sh. Ansky, which is the pseudonym for Shloyme Zanvl Rappoport (1863 – November 8, 1920). It is described as being a "dramatic legend" in three acts. The manager of this production was Yiddish actor Samuel Goldinburg, who partnered with Yiddish actress Celia Adler, daughter of Yiddish acting great Jacob P. Adler, to run the Amphion. The rest of the cast included: Morris Dorf, Annie Shapiro, Yaska Frankel, Morris Braverman, Aaron Mentch, Irving Jacobson, Elihu Teneholtz, Samuel Cohen, Sigmund Zuckerberg, Morris Silverstein, Abe Gross, D. Sobel and Annie Augenblick.

Here is a synopsis of this famed play:


An old house-of-prayer. Students are studying Gemara2. At one side sits the Messenger. Three "batlonim," always half-starved but cheerful, pass the time singing a song, "For What Cause? For What Cause?" and telling each other stories of the greatness of the Zaddikim. One tells the other:

"At the house of the Zaddik of Rusin they had a band of twenty-five musicians!" "The Zaddik of Talna went about in golden shoes!" "The Zaddik of Nikolsburg conjured up the original serpent of Eden to frighten a stingy rich man."

"But Susya of Anapolia," puts in the Messenger, " was a poor man, and nevertheless worked just as many miracles." Hanan (one of the students) joins in the talk. "Were can one find such a miracle worker, such a Kabalist as you've been talking about?" he wonders.

"Hanan is a genius," the students tell the Messenger. "Hanan is the pride of the Yeshiva, and is already a great scholar in Kabalah!"2

A woman runs in weeping. She wishes to pray at the Sepher Torah3 for the health of her dying daughter. She gives a few coins to the batlonim, and they leave their table to go and pray for the invalid.

Hanan remains alone. His thoughts are concentrated upon Leah. They love each other, but Leah's father, Sender, wants a rich bridegroom for her. Till now, Sender has not found one. All his efforts have been in vain. Hanan thinks this failure is due to his (Hanan's) opposition. Even now, although absorbed in spiritual matters, Hanan thinks aloud about Leah: "To whom -- to whom will Leah belong? She must belong to me! If not through heavenly power, then -- What fearful thoughts!"

Hanan's companion, Enoch, rebukes him. "You have no more faith in the Gemara."

"The Gemara is cold and dry," answers Hanan. "It holds one down to earth. But Kabalah! That leads one into the mansions of mysticism, to the holiest mysteries. It lifts up a corner of the great Veil. But the road is perilous. It leads one easily into sin. But isn't sin itself created by God? No, surely not by God, but by Satan. But who made Satan? Did not God make him? Satan is the opposing side, the other side of God." And Hanan becomes more and more inflamed. "What is the most awful sin of all? What sin is most irresistible to man, and is the most difficult to overcome? Passion for a woman. But if one should purify this passion with flame, so that there should remain only a pure spark, then it is transmuted into holiness, a Song of Songs!" And from Hanan's lips there breathe the sounds of a verse of the Song of Songs: "Thou art fair, my beloved, thou art fair!"

Then something unusual happens. Leah comes into the house of prayer, accompanied by her old nurse, Freda, and her friend, Gittel. Leah has come to look at the Holy Curtain before the sacred Ark, planning to make a new one as a gift to the Synagogue on the anniversary of her mother's death. The beadle of the house-of-prayer shows them the old curtain. Leah sees Hanan. For a time he had lived in Sender's house, eating at the same time, where he was considered to be a future Zaddik. While Leah's companions kiss the Sepher Torah, Leah and Hanan greet each other, for the first time in their lives.1

"Sholom Aleichem (Peace be with you), Hanan! You are here again?"

"Yes," he replies. And that is all.

The women leaves. "I have won!" Hanan bursts out in joy. And one of his comrades, Asher, brings him the news that Sender's newest plan for Leah's marriage has also failed.

But this is not true. The prospective fathers-in-law have come to terms and the marriage will take place. This news is brought by Sender himself, who comes to the Synagogue to make the students rejoice with him. Hanan is stunned. How is this? All his fasts, all his penitential wanderings,2 all his prayers -- of no avail? He tries to find salvation in the book of the angel Raziel (one of the most sacred books of Kabalah), but his strength fails him. He dies.

Meanwhile, Sender sends out for wine and dainties. One must celebrate the betrothal of one's only daughter with one's brother Chassidim! They sing, they dance, more and more swiftly and gaily, "All must dance! Call the students! Hanan! Where is he? Hanan! Hanan!" Suddenly they stumble on the prostrate body.

The Messenger lifts up the book which fell from Hanan's hand as he died. "The book of the angel Raziel!"


Leah's wedding. According to custom, a meal has been prepared in Sender's home for the poor people, so that they may join in the celebration before the wedding. The beadle and Sender's relatives wait on the guests.

Sender appears, and the singing and dancing begin again in his honor. All are delighted with the meal. What rejoicing! What good cheer! At last the beggars are greeted by the bride herself.

All dance in her honor. Afterwards the women dance in turn with the bride. This honor is granted to all except the imbecile, Dresel. She insists on her right. For forty years she has not danced. For a moment everybody's attention is diverted by the distribution of money, but Dresel remains insistent. She suddenly seizes the bride, and begins again to dance. The bride is half-terrified, half-pleased. She feels that they are her friends. Soon her strength fails, but Dresel, together with the whole crowd of beggars, insist, "More! More!" There is wild confusion. Leah faints. The beggars set her down and run away, dismayed.

Leah gradually comes to her senses. "A kind of unearthly force seized me and carried me, far, far away," she tells her nurse. "Is it true that the souls of those who died before their time live among us -- surround us?" But instead of her nurse, there suddenly appear the Messenger. "The souls of those who died before their time return to earth in new incarnations," he says. "But it also happens that the straying soul takes possession of the body of a living person, assimilates that soul, and fulfills there his destiny. Such a spirit is called a Dybbuk."

The Messenger disappears. But his words have pierced Leah's heart. After receiving her father's blessing, Leah goes with her nurse to the cemetery, to invite her dead mother to the wedding." She extracts from her nurse permission to invite Hanan, too.

At this moment appears the bridegroom (Manassah), his father, and his rabbi. There is music. The fathers go away to make a final settlement as to the dowry and other important matters. The Rabbi tries to make the bridegroom rehearse the speech which he must make after the wedding meal.

The bridegroom, however, is all in a flutter. Everybody will look at him, he says, and worst of all she, too, will look, she whom he has never seen in his life.2  The Rabbi quiets him, and leads him away.

The beggars appear again. Their meal is over. They criticize everything. "What a wretched meal that was! So miserly! They tried to save money on everything! But it'll be quite different when it comes to the meal for the rich friends! A plague take them!?

And the crowd streams threateningly towards Sender's house. The master of the house himself appears. All step back, and, hiding their animosity, become silent. Sender is irritated. "Where is the bride?" At last she also appears, and goes to dress herself for the wedding. The beggars help to put things in order for the ceremony.

Now the melancholy strains of the wedding song are heard. The bride is solemnly led in and seated upon a chair. They lead the bridegroom to her. But when Manasseh prepares to cover the bride's face with the veil she springs up and thrusts him back.

"You are not my bridegroom!" she cries out. And from her very heart there bursts forth in Hanan's voice the melody of the Song of Songs.

"A 'Dybbuk' has taken possession of her!" cried the Messenger. The beggars receive the news with exclamations of triumph and satisfaction.


At the house of Rabbi Azriel, the Zaddik, in Miropol. The after-Sabbath meal.1 Rabbi Azriel is restless. He is troubled with a feeling that he is needed to bring salvation to a Jewish soul. The call has already come. Sender has has brought his daughter to him so that the Dybbuk may be cast out.

At first the Rabbi feels helpless, and pities himself. "Who am I that people come to me from the four corners of the earth to get relief? I alone am nothing." But, reminding himself of his great ancestors, his confidence is strengthened. "Call Sender!" he orders his attendant.

Rabbi Azriel examines Sender, asking whether he knew Hanan previously, and whether he had not put Hanan to shame. Sender answers: "I knew him; but I did not put him to shame, as far as I know. But who can be certain? We are only human beings."

The Zaddik and Leah remain alone. As long as Leah speaks herself she is weak and submissive; but when Hanan, hidden within her, begins to speak, her words are full of extraordinary perversity. To all the requests and pleadings of the Zaddik, the Dybbuk answers the same thing: "I will not go out of her. In the whole world my soul has found only this one home, and do you wish to drive me out of there also? I will not go out!"

The Rabbi of the town enters hastily, together with his two Dayonim (assistants). The night before, there had appeared to them three times in dreams Nisan, the dead father of Hanan, asking that Sender be brought before a religious court of law. Evidently this has a connection with the Dybbuk. Rabbi Azriel immediately calls the court of law before him. Rabbi Shimshon and his assistants beg the Zaddik to preside. On one side is the plaintiff -- the dead Nisan -- and on the other side the trembling defendant, Sender. The explanations make it clear that during their youth Nisan and Sender were friends. They married at the same time, and betrothed their children even before they were born. But, soon after, they parted and never met again. Sender who had become rich, had a daughter, Leah. Nisan, who died poor, had a son, Hanan.

When these souls, predestined for each other, met, Sender interfered, and opposed their union. In vexation of soul, Hanan fell into the snares of Satan, and passed away prematurely. His father, Nisan, thus remained cut off from both worlds without offspring, and without a Kaddish (a son to pray for his soul).

The court decrees that Sender shall say Kaddish all his life for Nisan and Hanan, and that he must give away half his wealth to the poor. Then the court asks the spirit of Nisan to forgive Sender because he had not known whose son Hanan was. The court also asks Nisan to command his son to leave the body of Leah. But when the question is asked as to whether the two parties accept the judgment of the court, Sender along answers yes, while Nissan disappears, without giving a reply.
This is regarded by all as an ill omen.

But Rabbi Azriel is determined to bring the matter to a conclusion. His plan is, in his opinion, a righteous on. Among living persons one must give first consideration to the living. The soul of the dead Hanan must be driven out of Leah, and Leah must be married to a living being. But the Dybbuk refuses to go of his own accord. Then Rabbi Azriel takes steps to pronounce excommunication upon the spirit. The assembly gives unanimous approval. They raise the Sepher Torah; black candles are lighted, the Zaddik blows the Shofar.1 Three times the Zaddik commands the Dybbuk to go out. Finally, after solemn excommunication is pronounced in its most severe form, Hanan's soul is compelled to leave Leah's exhausted body... She faints. Rabbi Azriel congratulates Sender, and bids him call the bridegroom at once, to prepare for the wedding. The Chassidim, with Rabbi Azriel at their head, march with joyful songs toward the bridegroom.

Leah remains alone, in the magic circle which Rabbi Azriel had drawn around her. A groan is heard from outside the circle, and then another one from within. "Who groans?" asks Leah, coming to her senses. For answer is heard the melody of the Song of Songs. "I hear your voice, but your face I do not see. Who are you?" she asks. "I have forgotten; but the memory of me lives in your heart." "Ah, it is you! I come to you, my bridegroom!"

The Song of Songs is heard from both. With the strength of her love, Leah breaks through the magic circle, with which Rabbi Azriel had surrounded her. Her soul unites with the soul of Hanan, and her body falls dead.

The Messenger covers her up just as he had formerly covered the body of Hanan. "Too late! too late!" he calls out, when the sounds of the wedding music are heard. It grows dark. "Blessed be the truthful Judge."

The curtain falls to the sound of the same melody: "For what cause, for what cause, did the soul descend from the loftiest height into the nethermost abyss?"

1 -- From the play program for "The Dybbuk", 1927-8. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.


That was a difficult season for us at the Amphion Theatre. The theatre was located at the very beginning of Williamsburg, near the East River. I lived in faraway Sea Gate. Thus, it is known to everybody, especially Brooklyn inhabitants, that traveling from Brooklyn to certain other areas in Brooklyn is more difficult than going to New York. You really first have to go to New York and from there first drag yourself to Williamsburg, unless you go in your own car or in a taxi. I didn't own a car, and I wasn't financially strong enough to spend thirty-five dollars a week on taxis. Thus, dragging myself from Sea Gate to the theatre and back home late at night was a hardship.

There were then about twelve or thirteen theatres playing in Greater New York. Three theatres were operating in Brooklyn alone. So the competition was strong. We had to change plays very often. I've counted more than twenty plays that we performed in the some thirty-odd weeks that season.

I am tempted to tell you that, for my "Evening-of-Honor" at the Amphion Theatre in Williamsburg, I chose one of the most famous plays and roles in world literature, to wit Dumas' "The Lady of the Camellias," a role that every actress who had risen to a noted position in her career wished and sought to master. Sad to say I haven't succeeded in finding even one of the fine reviews that were written about my "Evening-of-Honor." So you and I will have to be satisfied with my assuring you that I gave "The Lady of the Camellias" as much of myself as I had in me to give.

As a general summary of my season's work at the Amphion Theatre I wish to put in here only an excerpt from one of the very noted current journalists in "The Forward," namely my beloved friend Leon Chrystal who once sinned by his closer affiliation with the better Yiddish theatre. In October, 1925, under the heading, "Mostly About Actors," he wrote about a line of actors who were at certain times associated with the Art Theatre and better theatres in general and who are now dispersed far and wide over all sorts of theatres in New York and Brooklyn. He wrote about a stroll he took through these theatres and this is how he gave his impressions about the various plays in those theatres:

"Shadows, empty space, and pools of light—these fan out across your memory when you recall the performances in those theatres. The emptiness remains a dark void where the actor hasn't filled it in with his own personality, with his own art. But if an actor appears on the stage bringing some individuality, which is in itself and for itself alone something of a substantially artistic entity, it's as if a circled of light were radiating and beaming out across the atmosphere."

"Following Celia Adler's artistic career and sometimes thinking of that marvelous actress, I immediately recall her little Rebecca in Sholem Asch's 'A String of Pearls'. As tragedienne, Celia Adler engraved and pushed herself into my memory with fiery letters. Her masterful playing in Dymow's 'Eternal Wanderer,' in Hirshbein's 'Village Girls,' her Katie in Hauptmann's 'Lonesome People,' wherein she showed that she can be one of the most profound and finest dramatic actresses even on the best of stages—if you come across her at the Amphion Theatre you experience resentment at the fact that she and other comrades of hers roll around in such theatres where their main task is that they might as well observe the 'what's to be done if there's nothing to play'."

I would, generally speaking, have no quarrel with that season at the Amphion Theatre. Hard work in the theatre never frightened me ...

Neither Goldinburg nor I wanted to go out over the provinces somewhere for a season. We both sensed that our partnership would have to be dissolved for the time being ...






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