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The Yiddish King Lear
The Yiddish King Lear

                                                  The cast of The Yiddish King Lear

The Yiddish King Lear                                            

A Historical Gem                              

It's a shame the play only ran for 2 nights. Luckily for me, I got to see it on their last night of the performance. I wasn't sure what to expect but - as it is often with theater - it was a delightful surprise. 

First, there was the theater, at The Orensanz Center, the former Ansche Chesed Synagogue (1849), with all its architectural glory, in the tradition of the German Reform Movement of the mid 19th century. The building is beautifully restored and is home to The Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts, established in 1992 as an artistic and cultural resource open to artists, writers, thinkers and leaders from all over the world, and to the community. Over the years they have welcomed and been inspired by Philip Glass and Spike Lee; Arthur Miller, Alexander McQueen, Salman Rushdie, Maya Angelou and Alexander Borovsky; Elie Wiesel and Chuck Close.

They also collaborate with PS1/MoMA; The Goethe Institute and the Whitney Museum, New York; The Italian Cultural Institute, New York University; Columbia University and Princeton University; the National Russian Museum of St. Petersburg and the Royal Shakespeare Co. of London; The World Council of Peoples for the UN, the United Jewish Council and the American Academy in Rome, between others. The Foundation has just opened a digital department of cultural and artistic projects with a strong educational basis in the community. They also publish a quarterly magazine, Artscape; 


 The Orensanz Center

The Play

Written in 1892, Jacob Gordin's the Yiddish King Lear is a legend of Yiddish theater. It was the signature role of the great actor Jacob Adler (father of Stella Adler). Gordin’s adaptation of the Shakespeare tragedy was a fresh interpretation of the story. Following the original plot, a patriarch has three daughters, two of whom are unkind and disloyal to him. In Gordin’s retelling, the hero is Reb Dovidl Moysheles, a Russian-Jewish merchant whose two evil daughters abandon their filial love and duty towards him. Only one will show him her true love.


David Serero directed and produced this English version of Jacob Gordin's play,  featuring 6 actors: David Serero (plays the father Reb Dovidl Moysheles). The 3 daughters: Arielle Beth Klein (Taybele, the youngest daughter), Arielle Flax (Etele, the eldest daughter) and Sarah Feinmark (Gitele, the middle daughter). The servant: Ross Kugman and Husband of Taybele : Alexander Chilton.

He had the actors line up at the front of the stage, reading their parts, rather than move about in a somewhat cold, cavernous space. His English adaptation also added classic Yiddish songs, turning it into a joyful musical. Some of the songs were well known and several people in the audience joined in the singing. This was a clever strategy, giving breaks to the story and involving the audience, making it more like a story with pleasant musical interludes. David Serero is a well known Baritone, he gave his character depth, purpose and my-what-a voice! There were no set or costume changes. The simplicity of the dialogue and talented actors gave all the emotion needed. The story unfolded gracefully to a happy ending, but David held the audience (with his usual wit and humor) after the performance, to introduce the great-granddaughter of the the playwright Jacob Gordin:  Beth Kaplan. He invited her onstage to speak about her book: Finding the Jewish Shakespeare: "The Life and Legacy of Jacob Gordin" (available on her website: http://bethkaplan.ca/book/ or on Amazon). She spoke of her great-grandfather's creative achievements as a playwright and icon of the Yiddish stage. Beth Kaplan knew little of her Judaic roots and even less about her famed great-grandfather until she began to research his work, more than twenty years ago. Shedding new light on the author and his world, she described his life in Russia and later, his popularity among Jewish New York's literati. Known as one of the foundational works of the “Golden Age” of American Yiddish theater, The Jewish King Lear is the most popular work of Jacob Gordin. He Transposed Shakespeare’s timeless tale to the 19th-century Russian steppe and shows us generational gaps, cultural changes and traditional values: duty, education, wealth and family. It is interesting to note that in his play, the youngest daughter stubbornly pursues a medical education against her father's wishes but ultimately saves his life since in the end, she became a Physician. Jacob Gordin was ahead of his time, as he makes the youngest daughter a heroine and liberated woman. 

                       David Serero introducing Beth Kaplan, great granddaughter of Jacob Gordin

I hope "The Yiddish King Lear" will run again. It was a most pleasurable performance, not to be missed!

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