In 1920, The Dybbuk, Or Between Two Worlds, a play written by S. Ansky (Figure 01) premiered in Warsaw, Poland. Since then, it has been staged many times and filmed in many different versions.
(Figure 01) S. Ansky
In 1948, The Dybbuk, directed by Eugene Vakhtangov, was staged in New York’s Broadway Theater at 53rd Street. The play was played by the Habimah players and ran for 16 shows. The play was sponsored by American Fund for Palestinian Institutions. Habimah (“The Stage”) was founded Nahum Zemach (Figure02 ) in Moscow in 1917 as a theater company. Habimah’s plays were in Hebrew. The company aimed to portray the problems of the Jewish people. The company toured aboard in 1926. The Habimah split in 1927. Zemach and several actors stayed in America and others settled in Palestine. Tel Aviv later became the new home for Habimah. In 1945, Habimah ((Figure 03) moved into the building in which it now resides in Tel Aviv and later became the National Theater of Israel. (1)
(Figure 02) Nahum Zemach
(Figure 03) Habimah Theater 1950
The Playbill, a monthly U.S. magazine for theatregoers, depicted the Habimah Theater from Tel Aviv in its advertisement for the play The Debbyk in 1948 in New York. (Figure 04) The modern Habimah Theater looks quite different from the poster and the Playbill. (Figure 05)
(Figure 04) The Playbill (Figure 05) The Habimah Theater 2010s
Hanna Rovina and Ianna Govinska played Leah, the main feminine role of the play, alternately in the 1948 version. The play, along with Hanna Rovina’s picture, was featured on the “At the Theatre” column of the New York Times on May 03rd 1948. (Figure 06) The list of actors and actress was provided. (Figure 07) The play was re-advertised in May 23rd 1948 on the New York Times. (Figure 08)
(Figure 06) Hanna Rovina as Leah (Figure 07) The Dybbuk in 1948 (Figure 08) Re-advertisement
It is interesting to look at the materials that were used to advertise the play in New York. The first artifact is a pen and ink illustration board painting by George Wachsteter. The painting depicted the 1948 Broadway presentation by Israel's Habimah Company of 'The Dybbuk' in rep with 'David's Crown', 'The Golem' & 'Oedipus Rex'. (Figure 09) The painting is currently put into auction at the Thomaston Place Auction Galleries (2)
(Figure 09) George Wachsteter’s painting
(Figure 10) Mr. Hirschfeld’s painting
The second painting above by Mr. Hirschfeld was featured on the New York Times advertisement on May 23rd 1948. (Figure 10) The painting depicted one of the most famous scenes in the play: the Dance of the Beggars. It is a ritual before Leah’s wedding. The scene was so feverish and novel at the time that Brooks Atkinson praised that: ‘No one who saw the dance of the beggars in 1926 has forgotten it,’ in his critic for the New York Times in 1948. (3) Moreover, the dance was also praised by Andre Levinson, the distinguished ballet critic, who left Russia after the October Revolution, settled in Paris and there saw Habima's Dybbuk, wrote:
“Likewise, the general movement tends to turn into saltation or dance. The burlesque "ballet" of the beggars invited to the feast is a nightmarish vision. This "court of miracles" becomes a meeting-place of all human miseries worthy of Breughel's hell. The mob of ungrateful beggars surrounding the white bride, the sly, angry and servile crawling; the appearance of the blind man, and the paralytic, leave a haunting picture of a monstrous caricature witches' sabbath. The exaggeration breaks the horror.” (4)
Below are scenes from The Dybbuk staged by the Habimah Theatre group in the first half of the twentieth century.
(Figure 11) The Dybbuk, 1948
(Figure 12) Hanna Rovina, who played Leah in both The Dybbuk in 1922 utill 1948
(Figure 13) The Beggar Dance from The Dybbuk, Habimah Theatre.
Even after almost a century, the play is still getting a lot of attention and is staged and filmed throughout time. It becomes a classic of the Yiddish culture.
Figure 06, Figure 07, Figure 08, and Figure 10: http://media.proquest.com.ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/
Figure 11: http://skaibook.com/89/page50.html
Figure 13: http://www.israeldance-diaries.co.il/
- M. Kohansky, The Hebrew Theatre (1969), 76–85, 113–26 and index.
- Thomaston Auction,” Lot 860”, http://auctions.thomastonauction.com/asp/fullCatalogue.asp?
salelot=302++++++860+&refno=+1000184, Web 07 Nov 2014.
- Brook Atkinson, Review of The Dybbuk, New York Times 1948
- Andre Levinson, Review of The Dybbuk, Paris June 30 1926.