Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Epigraph, Acknowledgments

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pp. i-xii

Contents

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pp. xiii-xiv

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Prologue: The Sun Never Sets on the Yiddish Stage

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pp. 1-18

Consider an unlikely scenario. In the midst of World War I, a motley group of Jewish refugees in their teens and early twenties becomes obsessed with the idea of creating a Yiddish art theater, modeled upon Stanislavsky’s famous Russian company. By day they work as laborers, storekeepers, and...

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1. Spectacular Failures: Jewish Theater as Cultural Frontier

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pp. 19-43

Baruch Lumet was a cantor’s son who planned to follow in his father’s footsteps. But when he was just six years old, his father died suddenly in an accident.1 The boy was sent to live with his uncle in Warsaw and apprenticed to a tailor. Baruch was too little and clumsy to do much in the tailor’s shop...

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2. Jargon Art: From Refugees to Artistic Visionaries

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pp. 44-82

While Peretz fretted over the failures of his theater campaign in Warsaw, while Hirschbein sold his beloved writing desk, while Mukdoni burned his lecture notes from Peretz’s symposium, the first stirrings of something new were brewing hundreds of miles away in the mind of a young housepainter...

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Interlude I: Rogues and Rebels

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pp. 83-86

Why would a Jew choose to become an actor in a theater tradition that virtually ensured lifelong itinerancy? The actors of the Vilna Troupe followed many paths to their careers, but they had one thing in common. They were all rebelling against someone or something.
Avrom Bell’s parents wanted...

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3. Between Two Worlds: The Dybbuk Goes Global

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pp. 87-134

A few years ago I sat down with Dan Ben-Amos, a professor of Jewish folklore at the University of Pennsylvania, to listen to some old records. Ben-Amos happens to be the great-nephew of the Yiddish actor Noah Nachbush, the man who originated the role of the enigmatic Messenger in the...

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Interlude II: Love and Romance on the Road

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pp. 135-140

Acting in the Vilna Troupe was a full-time job and then some. Every day there were rehearsals all through the morning and afternoon, followed by evening performances and late-night discussion sessions. The actors lived in close quarters and spent nearly all of their time together. There were...

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4. Nomadic Chutzpah: The Vilna Troupe’s Accidental Avant-Garde

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pp. 141-190

When Joseph Buloff attended his first Samuel Beckett production decades after the Vilna Troupe’s dissolution, he was not impressed. “Modern style, my foot!” Buloff trumpeted. “I pioneered Theater of the Absurd back in the twenties!”1
By its nature, the infant Jewish theater had to be...

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Interlude III: A Family Affair

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pp. 191-194

It wasn’t just actors, directors, and designers who traveled with the Vilna Troupe. There were also spouses and children, nephews and nieces, cousins and grandchildren. Many joined their relatives onstage, first as extras, then as actors themselves. The Vilna Troupe was just as much a group of families...

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5. The Vilna Troupe Nexus

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pp. 195-230

What happened to the Vilna Troupe? Why did it come to an end prior to World War II? And perhaps more importantly, why did it disappear so thoroughly from the historical record?
In the 1930s the Vilna Troupe was subject to the same fate as every other Yiddish theater of the period...

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Interlude IV: The Dybbuk in Auschwitz

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pp. 231-234

In the fall of 1939 hundreds of Vilner lived in countries that would soon come under Nazi rule. Of the 290 Vilna Troupe members, at least 45 were murdered during the Holocaust. They died in the Warsaw Ghetto and the Lviv Ghetto, in Ponar and Majdanek, in Belzec and Auschwitz. Shmuel...

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Epilogue: Jewish Theater, World Theater

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pp. 235-242

In the archives of Vilna Troupe cofounder Alexander Asro, there is a pile of handwritten notes marked “Plan for the History of the Vilna Troupe.” It is an outline for a book that Asro never wrote. The chapter outline is as follows:
Foundations of the Troupe...

Notes

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pp. 243-286

Bibliography

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pp. 287-310

Index

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pp. 311-328