Friday, June 20, 2014

Amazon review of "Finding the Jewish Shakespeare"

Please forgive me, more horn-blowing in store. I can't help it - I was just checking the memoir on Amazon, just to make sure it's still there, bless its little heart, when my first book came up, and I saw to my amazement that a review had been posted there years ago that I'd never read. So I read it. And it's quite nice. And so I'd like to share it with you, because I'm a boastful show-offy sort of person.

I don't know Jeff B. Sultanof, but I like him, I really like him.

5.0 out of 5 stars Definitive - well-researched and beautifully written Nov. 14 2012
By Jeff B. Sultanof - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It would be easy to say that the author was driven to write this book because her great-grandfather was once very famous and is nearly forgotten today. Except that Jacob Gordin was one of the most important playwrights of the early twentieth century, and perhaps the greatest playwright of the Yiddish theater. His plays were commissioned by the finest actors and actresses of that world, which included Jacob Adler and Sara Adler, Boris Thomashefsky, Keni Lipzin and Bertha Kalish. In the early Yiddish theater world of songs and dances, he introduced contemporary drama. Audiences, initially reluctant to embrace this new 'controversial' theater, soon acclaimed the actors and the plays. The Yiddish theater became a magnet not only for immigrants, but for some of the most discerning theatergoers and critics from Broadway.

The more I read this incredible book, the more I realized that Adler was perhaps one of the first modern actors of the American theater, and that the dramas from the pen of Gordin later led to the contemporary realism of the Group Theater, which of course revolutionized the art of acting and playwriting. In a very real sense, Gordin was the grandfather of the theater of Clifford Odets, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, William Inge and Arthur Laurents (of course Adler's daughter Stella became one of the greatest acting teachers in the country). While Gordin's plays might be thought melodramatic today, they are still daring, deal with often difficult subject matter, and are often shocking. I was amazed at the excerpts presented in the book. These plays would 'play' today. Many of them still speak to us, even though the plots reflect the times and experiences of the Jewish immigrant.

Anyone interested in the history of the American theater must read this book to fully understand how plays and acting began their ascent from declamation to realistic portrayals. This book is a triumph, and I hope that it leads to Gordin's work becoming far more accessible. Even though a few of his plays have always been popular, more of his work deserves to be seen again.

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