The Dybbuk Comes to Broadway: Nahum Zemach's Dybbuk Production at the Mansfield Theatre

Submitted by elb2152 on November 9, 2014 - 12:30am

The 1926 performance of “The Dybbuk” opened at the Mansfield Theatre on December 13, 1926. [1] The theater, now known as the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, is located on west 47th street in Manhattan and seats 1,069 guests. [4]

The Dybbuk playbill from 1926, image source: www.playbillvault.com

This production was the first time that the Habima Players, a group from Europe, performed in the United States. Before this, they performed Ansky’s acclaimed piece, translated into Hebrew by Chaim Nachman Bialik, on a successful tour throughout Europe. [1] The group started in Moscow and performed solely in Hebrew. As they gained experience and popularity, they travelled around Russia, eventually throughout Europe, and finally arrived in the United States for one hundred and eleven performances of “The Dybbuk” from December 1926 to March 1927. [2]

According to the New York Times article from days before opening night, the troupe arrived with forty members: fifteen women, eighteen men, seven machinists and property men. Their costs of entry into the United States were covered by their impresario, Sol Hurok. [2]

Habima impressario, Sol Hurok, image source: www.quotecollection.com

The play was directed by Nachum Zemach, the founder of the Habima Theatre, [2] and performed by the following cast: 

Chava Adelman ........................
A. Baratz ...................................
Bat-Ami .....................................
Raikin Ben-Ari ..........................

Ben-Chaim ................................ 

J. Bertonow .............................. 

Shlomo Brook ...........................

Efroti-Chechik ...........................
Elisheva Factorowitch .............
Zwi Friedlander ........................ 

Miriam Goldin ...........................
E. Golland .................................

Ina Govinskaya ........................
Ch. Grober................................. 

Chana Hendler ..........................

D. Itkin ....................................... 
F. Lubitsch ................................ 
Aharon Meskin .........................

Anna Paduit ...............................
A. Prudkin ..................................
L. Pudalower .............................
Tamar Robins ............................
Hannah Rovina ..........................
Benno Schneider ...................... .

B. Tschemeritsky .......................

L. Warshawer .............................

E. Winiar ....................................

Winiar-Katchur ...........................
Tmima Yudelwitch .....................
Benjamin Zemach .....................

Naum Zemach ............................
 

Yachna 
Chassidim 
Sender's Relative 
First Batlan 
Dalfon 
Third Batlan 
Schulem 
Chassidim 
Nachman 
Berchik 
Chassidim 
Chassidim 
Rivke 
Michael 
Sender's Relative 
Sender's Relative 
Chassidim 
Voice Off Stage in Third Act 
Elke 
Gnessia 
Dresl 
Chassidim 
An Old Woman 
Sender 
Batia 
Raphael 
Chassidim 
Nechame 
Messenger 
Sender's Relative 
Gittel 
Leah 
Second Batlan 
Mendal 
Meir 
Rabbi Shamshon 
Channon/Hanan
Chassidim 
Asher 
Zundel 
Dwossia 
Frieda 
Henoch 
Menashe 
Rabbi Anzriel 

[1]

Furthermore, the play was performed in three acts.

Scene from act two of The Dybbuk performance in 1926, image source: www.museumoffamilyhistory.com

Scene from act three of The Dybbuk performance in 1926, image source: www.museumoffamilyhistory.com

Aside from this being the introduction of the Habima troupe to New York, it was also the first time that “The Dybbuk” appeared on Broadway. It was performed twice before in New York, at the Yiddish Art Theatre and at the Neighborhood Playhouse (in English), but this production was unique in terms of both the players’ interpretation and their acting of Ansky’s work. One difference between this production and those that New Yorkers had experienced previously concerned the balance between realism and mysticism. While some scenes correctly depicted the mysticism of authentic Chassidic life, others were ineffective representations because they were too grounded in realism. Moreover, this rendition of “The Dybbuk” was striking to the audience because of its Russian elements (due to the origin of the players). For example, the Chassidic Rabbi was presented more like a Russian saint, and Sender, a Chassid, seemed more like a Russian landowner clothed as a Chassid. Finally, the actual acting in this production was significant because even those who were not fluent in Hebrew were able to follow the storyline due to the exceptional skills of the players, such as their physical motions and their accentuations of the Hebrew text and traditional chants. [1]

The scenery was also dynamic. According to a New York Times review by J. Brooks Atkinson, the actors’ faces were made up to look as if they were wearing masks and the costumes were authentic Chassidic garb. The scenery was also authentic in that it was not positioned symmetrically and was modest overall. [3]

Images of characters from The Dybbuk 1926, image source: www.museumoffamilyhistory.com

All in all, “The Dybbuk” on Broadway was received quite well. The players succeeded in their time on Broadway, and some even stayed in America after the production was over. [2] The audience at opening night consisted of both Jews and non-Jews of many professions, such as artists, writers, and journalists. [1] All were mesmerized by the surprising production, which proved to be “as unreal as the mystical legend of the play, as profound in its searching of the emotions, supple, resilient and varied…” and was hoped to be able to influence American theater. [2]

 

Sources:

1. http://www.jta.org/1926/12/15/archive/habima-players-present-original-version-of-dybbuk-to-new-york-audience

2. http://www.museumoffamilyhistory.com/habima-01.htm

3. http://www.museumoffamilyhistory.com/moyt/pih/habima-dybbuk.htm

4. http://brooksatkinsontheater.com