Yiddish Art Theatre program of The Dybbuk, by S. An-Sky. Illustrated by A. Godel.
The Dybbuk, written by S. An-sky nearly a century ago, is the most renowned work of the Jewish dramatic canon with a storied and international stage history. It was first produced in Warsaw in 1920 by the Yiddish Vilna Troupe, then presented in 1921 in New York by Maurice Schwartz' Yiddish Art Theatre; in 1922 The Dybbuk’s Hebrew version was performed in Moscow by the Habima players in a production that is regarded as the cornerstone of the nascent modern Hebrew theater; and in 1925 its first English-language version was presented by The Neigborhood Playhouse in New York. The play has been frequently revived and adapted, and has inspired important musical and dance pieces, as well as several feature films, of which the best known is the 1937 Yiddish-language feature produced in Poland.
The Dybbuk was first published in Hebrew translation in Moscow in the March 1918 issue of the Hebrew periodical Hatkufa. The translation, prepared by poet Chaim Nachman Bialik marked the very first publication the play. It was commissioned in 1917 by Hillel Zlatopolski, a wealthy supporter of Hebrew cultural activities, who intended it to be produced by the recently formed Habima dramatic group. The play has since been translated into numerous languages including English, French, Polish, German and Esperanto.
It made theater history in 1922 when it opened in Moscow, where it was staged in Hebrew by the Habima Theater, directed by Evgeny Vakhtangov), Stanislavsky's brilliant protege. In 1937 it was given its first and most successful cinematic adaptation in a Yiddish-language feature produced in Poland. It had been the most ambitious Yiddish talkie to date, and was inspired to a large extent by the Vilna Troupe interpretation. This heavily expressionistic film has become the lens through which many in North America visualize the famous play.
1. Although audiences have been captivated by the play since its premiere, some cultural critics of the 1920s and 30s were highly critical of it. Try to explain their ideological objections.
2. The play presents a colorful tapestry of various themes: romance, eroticism, class antagonism, religious piety, mysticism, folklore, and pure exoticism. Discuss why different productions have particularly emphasized some of these elements but not others. In what way did they address current social and ideological issues?
Nahshon, E. (1992) Hebrew, Jewish, Russian: Habima’s production of "The Dybbuk" (1922). Jews in Russia and Eastern Europe 2 (51), pp. 56-68.
Kaynar, G. (1998) National theatre as colonized theatre: the paradox of Habima. Theatre Journal, 50(1), pp. 1-20.
Serper, Z. (2001) "Between Two Worlds": the Dybbuk and the Japanese Noh and Kabuki ghost plays. Comparative Drama, 35(3,4).
Spitz, S. (1977) The dance of the Dybbuk. Judaism 104,26, pp. 467-474.
S. Ansky, The Dybbuk, Jewish Heritage Online Magazine.
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