Maiden, Sorceress and Stepmother on Stage, Yiddish-Style

Image courtesy of National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene

Image courtesy of National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene

I was a little skeptical when I learned that the National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene—the company that brought us the excellent Yiddish “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Hannah Senesh”—was going to present “The Sorceress,” an operetta that was the first formal Yiddish theatrical production in America.  Written in 1878 by Avrom Goldfaden, it centers on an innocent young woman suffering at the hands of a devious stepmother and her cohorts, led by the evil title character, traditionally played by a man, as it is here. 

I suspected it would not be feminist. But, I thought, maybe the director and others who restored the play (a massive effort) and created this version find ways to make demeaning stereotypes more palatable for modern audiences.  

Or did the play (“Di Kishemakherin” in Yiddish) actually already depict strong Jewish women in a powerful and provocative way? Was it feminist in 1878 and is it feminist in 2019?

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