Theater in Keidan

Children of Keidan’s Yiddish Folkshul in theatrical costume.

By Julius Lee

Julius Lee

Originally published in “The Keidaner” bulletin of the Keidaner Assn. of New York, No. 19, 1936.

Of all the old memories that are engraved on my mind I want to share one episode. This was in that era when I and my friends were emerging from our boyish years, growing weary of adventures such as fighting wars between one side of town and the other, wrestling with our enemies while swimming underwater in the Skongale, entertainments with the young misses near Totleben’s castle and the Borer Woods and so forth. Feeling that we had outgrown these former pastimes, we decided to turn our hands to the field of drama.

Since Keidan had never seen much beyond Biblical pageants such as “The Sacrifice of Isaac” or “The Selling of Joseph,” we elected to perform one of Goldfaden’s plays, namely “Kabtsenzon un Hungerman” (“Pauper’s Son and Hungry Man”). The ensemble consisted of me, Motke Rabinovich, Tzemke Pick, Yankele Feinberg and Tzemke Romm. My teacher (now Dr. Pick) helped us with the sets, music and stage-managing. We used Wolfowitz’s lumber warehouse as a theater.

The evening of the performance arrived. The house was so packed people could scarcely breathe. Dovid’s orchestra launched into an overture, “Ata Khanan”. The curtain (made from a bed sheet) went up. We performed the first act, which met with plenty of enthusiastic applause. We began the second, which featured Rabinovich and me in the leading roles. I, dressed as a lady, and he as a tramp, together had to seduce and swindle a rich man. We were singing a duet when suddenly – crash! – an uproar and a scream. A tumult in the crowd, which nearly caused catastrophe as a spectator fell from the upper boards. The crowd could barely be contained. But it soon emerged that the interruption had been caused by Rabinovich’s little sister. Seeing her brother made up as a tramp, with old clothes and a dirty face, had so upset her that she began making a spectacle of herself.

When things calmed down we continued the play, but soon another disaster unfolded. Romm’s family, on learning that their son had turned into an actor, had armed one of his brothers with a stick to come and chase him, creating a scandal. Luckily, we were able to warn him in time to hide between the boards under the stage, from where he made a dramatic escape.

Thus overcoming all obstacles, we finally finished with more than passing success, and were invited to put on another performance for all the biggest wheels in town at the home of Miss Zhupovitz, the lady dentist in German Street.

I especially received rave reviews from members of the fairer sex, who insisted that I would undoubtedly develop into a major talent. I thus should have ended up in Hollywood, competing with Paul Muni and the other stars! What a chance missed!

Translated by Andrew Cassel.