VAGABOND STARS: A Worm History of Yiddish Theater by Nahma Sandrow

VAGABOND STARS: A Worm History of Yiddish Theater

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Unlike personally involved Lulla Rosenfeld (Bright Star of Exile, p. 403), who embraced and celebrated the Yiddish theater by following one theatrical family's fortunes, Sandrow stands back, achieving far greater scholarship and scope yet missing that certain sense of naches (pleasure-plus-pride). Geographically peripatetic, mixing literary criticism, textbookish groupings, excerpts in translation, and more dramatic helpings of history, she analyzes every imaginable performance in ""the rejected daughter"" language-from improvised Purim plays and parades to Avrom Goldfadn's cabaret-to-theater revolution in Rumania to America's love affair with low-class shund (""a song, a jig, a kiss, a quarrel"") to the esthetically ambitious efforts of realist Jacob Gordin and ""art theaters"" in Manhattan, Vilna, Warsaw, Moscow. The Soviet Yiddish State Theaters require a separate chapter to track the quick changes--abundance and vigor (designs by Chagall) to nitchevo in 30 years--as Party policy moved from an appreciation of Yiddish's proletarian associations to a hostile awareness of the art form's unshakeable sectarianism. But other potentially absorbing arcs--theatrical family sagas, the blazing, flickering, vanishing lights of Second Avenue--are broken by Sandrow's earnest attention to completeness and chronology. And the entire project suffers from a need to legitimize, from a slightly patronizing lilt, and from glib, often defensive, sometimes strained cross-cultural analogies (hillbilly songs, commedia dell'arte, She Stoops to Conquer, I Love Lucy) that deny singularity and unveil a half-repressed academic impulse: ""Nobody could call this intellectual entertainment, nor is it sensitive to character. But from a stage or a cabaret floor, it keeps you laughing."" But there are moving touches--makeshift, wartime ghetto playlets, a visit to the memory-nourished Hebrew Actors Union of today--and, assuming a masterful index that will lead researchers to the international dozens of plays, players, and playwrights, this should become a vital reference work if not the heart-warmer that lovers of shund--Yoshe Kolb too--would welcome as a substitute for the real thing.

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 1977
Publisher: Harper & Row