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Wednesday, April 01, 2020

A Bowery beer hall served as the venue for the first American production of acclaimed Yiddish playwright Avrum Golfadden’s “The Sorceress,” originally known as “Di Kishefmakherin.” Fourteen-year-old Boris Thomashevsky, a recent immigrant to the U.S. from his native Ukraine, learned the lyrics of this classic Yiddish work from his fellow workers in a cigarette factory. A born performer, he put together a troupe and in 1882 performed the role of the female heroine Mirele. Thomashevsky went on to become a matinee hero of the Second Avenue Theater for many decades.

In 2017, Teaneck’s Zalmen Mlotek, National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene’s (NYTF) artistic director, together with Motl Didner, associate artistic director, embarked upon the Folksbiene’s Global Restoration Project.

“‘The Sorceress’ was one of the earliest Yiddish operettas to cross the Atlantic Ocean, and the first piece brought to life under our Global Restoration Initiative. After receiving an overwhelmingly positive response to its initial no-frills workshop performance in 2017, we decided to present this cultural gemstone on a grander scale this season, with exquisite orchestrations and magnificent performances,” shared Mlotek.

Didner added, “‘The Sorceress’ opened the door to Yiddish theater in America, where it has thrived for more than 150 years. It is a uniquely Jewish fairy tale that is delightful, charming and historic, with a timely message.”

The Folksbiene invites theater-loving audiences to come and delight in its latest production housed at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. The production, featuring easy-to-follow subtitles in English and Russian, will run through December 29. Creative staging and costumes, the acting and musical renditions and humorous antics will provide a first-class entertainment experience.

“It’s a Jewish fairy tale,” Didner explained.” It was actually quite popular for Jews to go to tarot-card readers, fortune tellers and tea readers in the era in which the operetta was first performed. Golfadden wrote the play as a cautionary tale not to engage with people like that because they were ultimately manipulating you out of your money. The secondary message to this fairy tale was clearly the Jewish message of poetic justice, which comes through loud and clear. ‘He who digs a grave for another ends up falling into it himself.’”

Now celebrating its 105th season, the NYTF is the world’s oldest continuously operating Yiddish theater company. Its ongoing mission is to create a living legacy through the arts, connecting generations and building communities. It brings history to contemporary audiences through reviving and restoring lost and forgotten works as well as commissioning new work for the 21st century. It serves diverse audiences comprising performing arts patrons, Yiddish-language aficionados and the general public through musicals, concerts, educational workshops and community-building activities.

For tickets to “The Sorceress” which runs through December 29 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, Edmond Safra Plaza, 36 Battery Place, New York City, visit NYTF.org or call 866-811-4111. For group sales and membership call 212-213-2120, ext.204.