Yiddish Theater Lab

Theater J’s new initiative is dedicated to preserving and reviving the forgotten literature of the Yiddish Theater. Join us as directors and playwrights uncover and re-interpret nearly-forgotten Yiddish classics in new English language readings, workshops, commissions, and eventually productions.  

All of the readings in this first year are free and open to the public, though reservations are required. Still to come: details of a new commission from playwright Alix Sobler and a reading of another Yiddish classic.

The Jewish King Lear 
By Jacob Gordin, translated by Ruth Gay
Directed by Craig Baldwin
Produced in partnership with The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s ReDiscovery Reading Series

January 8, 2018 at 7:30 PM
at The Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7 St., NW, Washington, DC

Reserve seats now!

Jacob Gordin’s masterpiece is a free adaptation of Shakespeare’s familiar classic and ushered in the first golden age of Yiddish theater in New York. It’s Purim when Reb Dovidle decides to give extravagant gifts to his daughters—but when his youngest daughter refuses the gift, he sends her away. Will Reb Dovidle follow the downward spiral of Shakespeare’s tragic King, or will he find forgiveness and redemption? Filled with characters at once archetypal and hilariously, achingly human, this classic is a fresh twist on a familiar tale.

Jacob Gordin (1853 – 1909) is among the most notable Yiddish theater playwrights of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Born in the Russian Empire, in modern-day Ukraine, Gordin immigrated to the United States in 1891 where he moved from the field of journalism to theater at the prompting of several influential friends including Yiddish theater star, Jacob Adler. Gordin was considered a reformer of the Yiddish stage because he brought the realism of writers like Anton Chekhov, Henrik Ibsen and Leo Tolstoy to Yiddish theater, intending to shift the tone of Yiddish theater from frivolous spectacle to serious drama. While many of his plays were commercially successful in his time – most notably The Jewish King Lear (1892), Mirele Efros (1897) and God, Man, and Devil (1900) – he was known for berating audiences who didn’t respond as enthusiastically to his work as he expected. “Truth is the teacher,” he once lectured an audience, “and therefore, I will continue to provide serious plays until you acquire a taste for them.” Although Gordin wrote nearly 80 plays, only a handful of them have ever been published.

Theater J thanks the Yiddish Theater Lab sponsors:
The Marinus and Minna B. Koster Foundation, for making the launch of this project possible.

Additional  support comes from
The Leshowitz Family Foundation/Terry Singer
Howard Menaker and Patrick Gossett
Elaine Reuben

God, Man, and Devil 
By Jacob Gordin, translated by Nahma Sandrow
Directed by Rachel Grossman
Produced in partnership with Tifereth Israel Congregation

April 22, 2018 at 7:30 PM
at Tifereth Israel Congregation, 7701 16 St., NW, Washington, DC

A portrait of the eternal struggle between good and evil, God, Man, and Devil is Jacob Gordin’s most famous play. With a little bit Faust and a little Book of Job, this 1920’s play begins with a debate between God and the Devil about the nature of man’s goodness. Soon, the Devil must walk among men as he tries to corrupt one good man to prove his point. Tragic and timeless, God, Man, and Devil is a cautionary tale of epic proportions.

Jacob Gordin (1853 – 1909) is among the most notable Yiddish theater playwrights of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Born in the Russian Empire, in modern-day Ukraine, Gordin immigrated to the United States in 1891 where he moved from the field of journalism to theater at the prompting of several influential friends including Yiddish theater star, Jacob Adler. Gordin was considered a reformer of the Yiddish stage because he brought he realism of writers like Anton Chekhov, Henrik Ibsen and Leo Tolstoy to Yiddish theater, intending to shift the tone of Yiddish theater from frivolous spectacle to serious drama. While many of his plays were commercially successful in his time – most notably The Jewish King Lear (1892), Mirele Efros (1897) and God, Man, and Devil (1900) – he was known for berating audiences who didn’t respond as enthusiastically to his work as he expected. “Truth is the teacher,” he once lectured an audience, “and therefore, I will continue to provide serious plays until you acquire a taste for them.” Although Gordin wrote nearly 80 plays, only a handful of them have ever been published.

Bronx Express 
By Ossip Dymov, translated by Nahma Sandrow
Directed by Natsu Onada Power

June 18, 2018 at 7:30 PM
at Theater J, 1529 16 St., NW, Washington, DC

One of the more inventive and surprising plays of the Yiddish theater, Ossip Dymov’s Bronx Express tells the story of one working class Yid who dreams of something more. When he falls asleep on a New York subway, he’s shocked to meet the characters from the train car’s advertisements coming to life. With cameos from Aunt Jemima, the Nestle’s Baby and the Arrow Collar Man, this story explores the true costs of the American dream.

Ossip Dymov (1878 – 1959) is the pen name used by Yosif Isidorovich Perelman, a prolific writer, journalist and Yiddish playwright. Born in the Russian Empire, in modern-day Poland, Dymov began publishing stories, plays and articles in St. Petersburg at the age of 16. Dymov adopted his pen name, taken from a character in Anton Chekhov’s short story “the Grasshopper” (1892), as a teenager and continued to use it throughout his career. In 1913, at the age of 35, Dymov immigrated to the United States at the invitation of Yiddish actor and theater director Boris Thomashefsky where he sought to improve the artistic quality of Yiddish theater. His play, The Bronx Express (1919), was so successful that it was translated into English and produced at the Astor Theatre on Broadway in 1922. Over his career, Dymov published more than 25 plays, a short story collection, a book of selected works, two volumes of memoirs, and dozens of essays and newspaper articles.