A Dybbuk premiered on November 16, 1997 at the Joseph Papp Public theater and was an adaptation of S. Lansky’s 1914 play of the same name. This adaptation was written by playwright Tony Kushner and directed by Brian Kulick.
Cover art of Kushner's published adaptation. Published by Theatre Communications Group, first edition December 1, 1997. Image source: http://www.amazon.com/A-Dybbuk-Other-Tales-Supernatural/dp/1559361379
Kushner was born on July 16, 1956 in New York City and grew up in Lake Charles, Louisiana . He returned to New York for his education and graduated from Columbia University with a B.A. (Bachelor of Arts) in medieval studies and graduated from New York University with an M.F.A (Masters of Fine Arts) in theater directing. Kushner's plays typically contain themes based in his political views but his interpretation and adaptation of S. Ansky's play was not drastically different than the orginal work. Kushner has won both a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award for his 1991 play Angels in America. Eleven years later, Angels in America was transformed into an Emmy Award winning television miniseries. In addition to A Dybbuk, Kushner has translated two plays by Bertolt Brecht, Good Person of Setzuan in 1994 and Mother Courage and Her Children in 2006.
Image source: http://barclayagency.com/kushner.html
. Brian Kulick, Image source: http://arts.columbia.edu/theatre/faculty/brian-kulick
Brian Kulick began his theater career at The Public Theater where he worked from 1996 until 2001. During his time at The Public Theater he was an Artistic Associate and later became an Associate Producer. A Dybbuk was produced earlier in Kurlick's time at The Public Theater. While at The Public Theater, Kurlick directed numerous shows in addition to Kushner's A Dybbuk. Kurlick directed plays which ranged from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and A Winter's Tale to works by contemporary playwrights like Nilo Cruz and Charles Mee. Kurlick went on to work with Classic Stage Company (CSC) where he became Artistic Director in 2004 and currently teaches directing at Columbia University's Graduate Theater Program.
The cast of A Dybbuk included: Ron Leibman (Rabbi Azriel), Ed Shea (The Messenger), Marin Hinkle (Leah), Michael Stuhlbarg (Chonen), Robert Dorfman (Sender), Stuart Zagnit (Nachman), Hillel Meltzer (Menashe, The Scribe), Bernie Passeltiner (Michl), Christopher McCann (Rabbi Shimshon), Lola Pashalinski (Fradde). From a contemporary perspective, the most notable actors of the cast include Ron Leibman and Michael Stuhlbarg. Leibman had a successful career on both stage and screen before and after appearing in A Dybbuk and has been consistently working since the 1960’s. In 1993 he earned a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play, Angels in America  and earned an Emmy Award in 1979. Stuhlbarg made the leap from stage to screen and began working in television starting in 1998. After numerous small appearances in many television shows Stuhlbarg starred in his first film, 2009’s A Serious Man.
A Serious Man, Media source: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi4150658329?ref_=ttvi_vi_imdb_3
A Dybbuk, 1997. From left to right: Marin Henkle as Leah; Leah (Henkle) lays possessed by the a dybbuk; Ron Leibman as Rabbi Azriel, Michael Stuhlbarg as Kohen. Image Source: http://www.proofsheet.com/public_theater/dybbuk/index.htm
Although Kushner, Kulick and some of the cast would go on to bigger projects and receive various forms of critical acclaims, A Dybbuk was not well reviewed or received by major news outlets in November 1997. Reviews from both the New York Times and Variety magazine claimed that the production was lacking in artistic cohesion. Kushner’s historical perspective added aspects of anachronism as he foreshadowed the Holocaust. Furthermore, the acting was deemed inconsistent with one critic claiming that Stuhlbarg portrayed Kohnen with the flare of a Victorian melodrama. Martin Hinkle was criticized too, for her uninspired portrayal of possession. However, the original score for the show created by The Klezmatics helped to fill an emotional void left by the seemingly stylized, classic production .
The Klezmatics' Dybbuk suite. Media source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MW5g_aL4do0
While critical success of the production might have been fleeting, A Dybbuk certainly had a legacy of history. Not only was Kushner attempting to restage the seventy-two year old show but the production used Joseph Papp Public Theater (The Public). The Public was established at its current location in 1967 with the world premiere of Hair but the theater group had been performing Shakespeare since 1954 under a different name.
The Public prides itself on being the “only theater in New York that produces Shakespeare and the classics, musicals, contemporary, and experimental pieces in equal measure” and is one the nation’s first nonprofit theaters. Although, The Public claims to be much more than just a theater; it attempts to be a leading cultural force by framing its shows and dialogues around important contemporary issues. Moreover, there is a history of giving under-represented voices a platform for expression. It only seems natural that a writer like Kushman, who writes plays with strong political undertones and felt alone and unheard in childhood , to choose such a venue.
The Joseph Papp Public Theater. Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Public_Theater
1 "Kushner, Tony". In The Columbia Encyclopedia. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013. http://ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/login?qurl=http%3A%2F%2Fliterati.credore... (accessed November 7, 2014.)
1. Brantley, Ben. "The New York Times Theater Reviews 1997-1998." The New York Times Theater Reviews 1997-1998. November 17, 1997. Accessed November 6, 2014.Page 158
2. Columbia University School of The Arts Theater. Accessed November 7, 2014. http://arts.columbia.edu/theatre/faculty/brian-kulick.
3. "Internet Broadway Database." Ron Leibman. Accessed November 7, 2014. http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=68084.
4. "Internet Movie Database." Michael Stuhlbarg. Accessed November 7, 2014. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0836121/?ref_=nv_sr_1.
5. Isherwood, Charles. "Review: ‘A Dybbuk, or Between Two Worlds’." Variety.com:Review. November 29, 1997. Accessed November 7, 2014. http://variety.com/1997/legit/reviews/a-dybbuk-or-between-two-worlds-111....
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7. "Overview, Tony Kushner (Playwright)." Gale Biography in Context. December 19, 2012. Accessed November 7, 2014. Http://ic.galegroup.com.ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/ic/bic1/ReferenceDetailsPage/ReferenceDetailsWindow?failOverType=&query=&windowstate=normal&contentModules=&display-query=&mode=view&displayGroupName=Reference&limiter=&u=columbiau&currPage=&disableHighlighting=true&displayGroups=&sortBy=&source=&search_within_results=&p=BIC1&action=e&catId=GALE|POGZWC313641190&activityType=&scanId=&documentId=GALE|K1618002398.
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