Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


M. L. Meyerson


M. was born around 1860 in Odessa, Ukraine. His father was a hat maker. At the age of sixteen he joined under the name of Mark Lazarovitsh Meyerson with the Russian dramatic troupe, under the auspices of N.K. Miloslavsky. In 1879 he saw Goldfaden's troupe play, "Nye be, nye me," and although the production had made a bad impression on him, he however thanks to the good material conditions of the then Yiddish theatre, through Spivakovski, he became taken into Goldfaden's troupe, where he played in some small roles, and soon went over to hoy?t-n ln. When Goldfaden's troupe became divided into three provincial troupes, M. went with the part under the auspices of Spivakovski, where he also became stage director. Soon, however, he returned to the troupe, on Goldfaden's roof, to Odessa. From here M. went over to Morris Finkel's troupe, and for several years he traveled with Yiddish theatre across Russia, and he came back in 1887, due to the ban on Yiddish theatre, to the Russian stage, where he played for several years.

In 1895 he was invited through his young friend Jacob P. Adler to New York, where he became very warmly taken with the Yiddish actors and of the troupe.

About the impression that the Yiddish theatre made on him, M. wrote in his memoirs (found in the Yiddish newspaper of Y.M. Leiptsiker in the archive of the "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre"): "Here in America I became acquainted with a new method of acting. The actors when acting used to shriek, tearing up the

wings of the theatre, pushing to get ahead of each other, so that for me, who was unaccustomed to such a 'cacophony of sound,' which was painful in contrast to the marvelous decorations and costumes that were so rich. But the impression was never the less frightening because of the most unnatural 'noises.'

However, according to information that veteran actors in America had passed on to Z. Zylbercweig in the United States, M. had a large following as an actor: He was greatly appreciated by the public and had every opportunity to one day become as famous as Adler, Kessler or Thomashefsky. But because of the awful political crisis in those days, and due to the loneliness for the old haunts and of course for his family, he left for America in 1898.

Returning to Russia he once again played for several years upon the Russian stage. However, during the Fast days in the Russian Orthodox faith (when it was absolutely forbidden to perform on the Russian stage), he would appear with a Yiddish troupe.

Later when it was officially sanctioned to perform in the Yiddish (Judeo-German) theatre, M. returned to the Yiddish stage. He traveled to Warsaw where he played for a few seasons, thus keeping himself occupied. During this time he was particularly popular in "Shloymke charlatan," "The Wild Man" by Jacob Gordin, and in "Meyer chalant." He also played in Sholem Aleichem's "Sowed and Scattered," "De Silva" in Nutzkov's "Uriel Akosta," "Franz Meyer" in Schiller's "The Robber," "Yankl shabshovitch" in Sholem Asch's "God of Vengeance," "The Cardplayer" by Shomer, and "Leyzer Koval" in Thomashefsky's "Dos pintele yid."

In 1911-12, M. played in Lodz's "Big Theatre" (director Y. Sandberg), where he staged several of his own plays.

When the First World War erupted, M. found himself in Russia where he and the Yiddish theatre fell under heavy police scrutiny. From 1922-1927, he played in Kiev's "Kunst vinkl," "Mayer" in Ansky's "Dybbuk," "Katzav" in Peretz's "Bay nakht oyfn altm mark," "Shmuel" in Hebel's "Yehudis," "R' Baruckh der nogid," in Fifel's "Dem rebin's moyfes," "Menachem Mendl" in Sholem Aleichem's "Tevye der milkhiger," "Pasternak" in Sholem Aleichem's "Yachne's, Nochman Kosher" in Bimko's "Ganovim," and "Poylisher yid." In MIller's "Di moyd fun gas," "Katzav" in Chone Gottesfeld's "G'vald, Ven Shtarbt Er," "Bukhhalter levita" in Litvinov and Avin's "Ten teg in trieste," "Kohsn" in Itzik Feffer and Noti Fiddel's "Chimney Sweeper," "Layzer" in Leivick's "Shop," "Geistlekher" in Rinde-Alekskeyeve's "Iron Walls," "Rov" in Sholem Aleichem's "Kozodoyevka." "Ayzik Noftali" in Sholem Aleichem's 'Stepenyu," "Statski" in Sholem Aleichem's "Lekh lekha," "Ketzele pristov" in Sholem Aleichem's "A Bloody Joke," "Itzikin" in Yanovsky's "Hayntiker tog," un "Klient" in Georg Kaizer's "Fun fartig biz halbe nakht."

On 5 May 1926 the Kiev "Kunst vinkl" celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of M.'s theatrical activity. It was decided to dedicate in M.'s name a permanent loge in the theatre. The Jubilee took place as a scene from "The Robber" with the character of "Frantz Moore" and "The Dybbuk" in the persona of "Mayer."

In 1927 M. fell ill and could not perform for an entire year. On 13 May 1928 he passed away in Kiev. The funeral, which was arranged for by the "Kunst vinkl" theatre, and with the assistance of the "Kiev Union of Actors" was attended by over a thousand people.

M.'s two sons were also actors: Lyusa Meyerson performs on the Yiddish stage ("Gezkult"), and his other son Markov performed on the Russian stage.

M. wrote many songs, monologues, stories, one-act plays, and the play, "The Hammer of Life," a play in four acts, produced by Shreberg, "Vilna 1909" (which was based on Mendl Elkin's adaptation of Titkovski's "Silnye Ey Slabieh"), "Sodom and Gemorrah," a comedy in three acts (manuscript of this play can be found in Lipovsky's archive in YIVO's Theatre Museum), "The Cardplayer," a drama in four acts. "Two Fathers," a drama in four acts, "A Sacrifice for a Sacrifice," a drama in three acts, "The Bride's Inn," a comedy in three acts, "So, This is a Wife," a comedy/farce in three acts. All of these were organized by M. himself.

M. also translated and reworked for the Yiddish stage: "The Happy Youth," a comedy in three acts, "Fresh, Healthy and Crazy," a comedy in three acts (never performed on stage), and "To the Old Street," a drama in four acts by Piserarevski, "Light Souls," a comedy in four acts by Yvette Raytzis, "Hell," a drama in five acts, a reworking of the Russian play, "Krushtshina," "The Great Shmuel," a comedy, and Shakespeare's "Othello."

In Lipovsky's archive in the YIVO museum, one can find a manuscript, "The Singer From Polima," a comic opera i three acts by M. Meyerson (probably a translation), with music by Alfred Zamora.

A so-called companion tells us that M. was director and leading comedian in the famous Ivanov-Novikov's Russian operetta troupe. He was generally considered to be one of the best Russian operetta directors.

Dr. A. Mukdoni characterizes M.'s activities in such a manner At that very time (1905), Meyerson the actor appeared, bringing with him the first of his so-called "literary productions." This very same Meyerson was the most intelligent Yiddish actor, he came from the Russian theatre bringing with him a bit of "theatre culture." The audience, which felt the new winds of freedom, allowed itself to accept this "literary experiment." ...At that time, in 1910-13, the "educated" actors were writing their own plays. Mostly they were rewritten renditions of existing Russian, French, or English melodramas. Such a writer was the talented actor and director M. Meyerson.

M. Mayorovnik tells in his memoirs: "In Warsaw (1909) many actors used to occupy themselves teaching amateur actors who admired certain stage artists. Meyerson and Oscar Titzelman also took part in such activities. Many awkward actors, for example, Shtrasfogel, were among their students. Meyerson and Oscar used to teach these admirers how to grimace and gesture. They gave lectures showing them how to speak in front of an audience. Many fine actors emerged from these lessons: Libert, Lebediev, Schildlover and Jalbonski et al.

Noakh Prilutski wrote "It is sufficient to see M. two or three times on the stage in order to notice that this is an actor with his own unique and original, personality, which renders him to e a true artist. One side of his nature--strong and therefore his own exotic temperament, which embodies itself elegantly in the difficult roles in the play, "Wild People," a play y Gordin one of the most beloved in his repertoire. A special uncontrollable energy breathes through in his every movement upon the stage. An even wider field can be found in Meyerson's temperament in Schlller's "Robber." In the role of Franz Moore he became famous among Warsaw intellectual circles. The second characteristic of Meyerson's personality is a good, soft, still, subtlety that runs throughout his entire performance. This actor appears to have been born for such a wild role as the "idiot" in Gordin's play. However, he has no comparison upon the Yiddish stage as in the role of an old man, or as a loving father or grandfather. Goodness, love--this too is an aft form. Goodness and love limited by self-control. In Meyerson's acting one feels this ability. The personas that he creates on the stage do not run like oil, nor is it soft like cotton, but as mild as a strong heart in a fencer's body, from having overcome troubles and from inborn goodness. So we see him in the role of "Meier Shalant" ("Sowed Far and Wide"), and in his own play, "Who is Guilty?" There is one more quality that Meyerson possesses that makes him an outstanding singularity in the Yiddish theatre aristocratic culture. He cultivated it in the Russian theatre. ...He demonstrates it on the stage in a very natural manner. Every movement is soft, svelte, polished and intelligent. He doesn't act; he lives the drama, creating a character on the stage, not only for the eyes of the audience alone, but in every one of his innermost processes. M. was also the most intelligent and experienced of all the Jewish directors.

According to Zalmen Zylbercweig, M. was a master of makeup. he would prepare his own. He would coat his fingers with different colors and actually with one smear he could create any shade or color. By the way, he was short, chubby and with a a melancholy air, almost Mongolian in appearance. with a remarkable ability he would transform his external appearance in a sea of chalk. Exactly as if it was so easy for him to change into a comic character. He would often achieve a caricature affect, and yet he was able to also present himself in the most serous roles that he played. He possessed a silky chest-tone and graceful feet with which he could dance across the stage and a delightful voice. He could lift his voice when called upon, to the highest registers and could express in music, the highest temperament in jest or in drama. His repertoire was not selective, but was taken from the world of shund to the most sophisticated artistic plays.

However, he played in each genre with the utmost sincerity. His method of directing was not stereotypical "direction" of the Yiddish theatre at that time. Frequently he would pay special attention to the decorative side of a play, or of the actors, many of whom looked upon his as their Rebbe and even the other directors under whom he sometimes performed, would relate to him as to an intellectual, and a Russian-trained actor and director." They embellished him with respect and followed his advice. M. was mythical due to his appearances on the Russian stage--or due to his renown. Even later on, when he returned to the Jewish world, he would frequently out of habit before entering the stage, cross himself.

Sh.E. from Y.M. Leiptsiker and M. E. from A.G. Kompanayets and Mendl Elkin.

  • Z Reisen -- "Lexicon of Yiddish Literature," Vol 2, pp. 395-6.

  • B. Gorin -- "HIstory of Yiddish Theatre," Vol. 1, p. 234.

  • [--] -- Naye yidishe shoishpiler, "Di arbeyter tsaytung," N.Y., 21 Dec. 1895.

  • Noakh Prilutski -- M. Meyerson, yidish teater," Bialystok, 1921, Vol. II, pp. 68-69.

  • M. Myodovinik -- Mayne teater zikhroynes, "Der shtern," zhurnal, Minsk, 4, 1926, p. 36.

  • Rudolf Zaslavsky -- Mark lazarovitsh meyerson, "Ilustrirte vokh," Warsaw, 25, 1928.

  • Jacob Botoshansky -- Tsvishn forhang un leyvnt, "Di prese," Buenos Aires, 27 August 1928.

  • Emilia Adler -- Dos leben fun yidisher akterise, "Di yidishe velt," Cleveland, 21 October 1930.

  • Dr. A Mukdoni -- Zikhrones fun a yidishn teater-kiritiker, "Archive," Vilna, 1930, pp 344, 387.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 2, page 1302.
Translated by Shaul Azaroff and Steven Lasky.

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