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The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

The Yiddish stage was one of last century’s most amazing and diverse worldwide theatrical phenomena, encompassing every genre from operettas and literary dramas to marionette theater and political plays.

While histories are beginning to appear about the American Yiddish experience, little has been written on the Yiddish theater overseas. A new work focusing on the Soviet Yiddish stage, Jeffrey Veidlinger’s The Moscow State Yiddish Theater (Indiana University Press, $39.95) is the first full-length study in English on the rise and fall of this tragic and influential government-sponsored cultural institution.

Many of the plays produced by the theater were adaptations of Yiddish classics by the likes of Sholem Aleichem and others, although in later years a contemporary generation of Soviet Yiddish writers like Peretz Markish (most of whom were later killed by Stalin) created their own brand of proletariat drama. Veidlinger outlines their political ideology and Jewish nationalistic tendencies as well as their artistic ideals throughout the company’s 32-year run, from 1918 to 1950.

Densely yet clearly written, the book includes information on Marc Chagall (the ensemble’s first set designer) as well as descriptions of competing Jewish theaters such as the Hebrew language Habima and other Yiddish companies. Photographs of expressionistic sets and huge casts further illuminate the importance and scope of the group’s artistic achievements.  

Caraid O’Brien has translated several Yiddish plays into English.