May 23, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
May 23, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene Production Explores Spiritual Resistance

As part of their season’s theme of “Spiritual Resistance,” the National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene (NYTF) will present the 2015 David and Clare Rosen Memorial Play-Writing Contest winning entry, “When Blood Ran Red,” written by Montreal-based playwright Ben Gonshor. The two performances will take place at the company’s venue, The Museum of Jewish Heritage.

“When Blood Ran Red” humanizes the sordid story of the post-WWII Stalin purges by portraying the relationships among several key historic figures of the period. The acclaimed African-American singer/actor of the 1930s and 1940s, Paul Robeson of “Showboat” fame, is one of these players as he was lured to the Communist Party line seeking a model of equality for his fellow African-Americans. Despite being accused of Communist affiliations by the McCarthy witch hunts, he traveled to the Soviet Union to visit his friends who were involved in the Soviet Jewish Movement. Disillusioned by the dishonesty of what he saw, Robeson soon found himself at the center of a genocidal KGB conspiracy during which his friend Solomon Mikhoels, the head of the Moscow State Jewish Theater and chairman of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, was assassinated. In protest, for the encore concluding his Moscow Concert, Robeson robustly sang the iconic Holocaust Partisan’s Song in Yiddish, to the consternation of the Communist audience in attendance.

Director Kenneth Ferrone commented, “Although the historical facts are available, the playwright has taken the impersonal story and personalized it for the audience. Ben Gonshor has written a story about Truth in an age and environment when the government, media and powerful people were spreading an agenda to benefit the state at the expense of the people. It is the story of journalists for Pravda, Russian for ‘truth,’ who were courageous enough to tell the true narrative of the attempt to obliterate the culture and very existence of the Jews in the Soviet Union.”

Only after the passing of Robeson was the backstory of his “musical protest” revealed to the public. Playwright Ben Gonshor became aware of the event while listening to a radio broadcast featuring Robeson’s son in 1999 marking the 50th Anniversary of the Moscow concert. While studying film and TV production in Los Angeles, Gonshor was moved to write a screenplay about Robeson’s “spiritual resistance.” Based upon the historic events and real personalities involved, Gonshor wove a fictionalized story and added fictionalized characters. Moving on to other pursuits, he was surprised but very complimented when the Folksbiene informed him that his screenplay was in the running for the top award.

Gonshor commented, “In 2015, when the play was accorded its first reading, it was about people doing the right thing in the face of tyranny. Who could have imagined that a mere four years later, in 2019, it would read like the news event of the day! My hope is that the screenplay will be expanded into a full production seen by large audiences who will not only react to its message but reflect seriously upon it.”

At the two performances, the dialogue will be in English but key phrases and songs, including the famous encore of protest, will be recited and sung in Yiddish with accompanying subtitles. This is in keeping with the mission of the NYTF to make performances relevant to audiences of all ages and backgrounds.

Now celebrating its 105th season, Tony Award nominated and Drama Desk Award-winning NYTF is the longest consecutively producing theater in the U.S. and the world’s oldest continuously operating Yiddish theater company. Under the artistic direction of Teaneck resident Zalmen Mlotek, NYTF is dedicated to creating a living legacy through the arts, connecting generations and bridging communities. Through its productions it has brought history to life through revivals and restorations of lost and forgotten works, as well as commissioning new works. Serving a diverse audience, the company presents plays, musicals, concerts, lectures, interactive educational workshops and community-building activities in English and Yiddish, with English and Russian subtitles accompanying its performances.

The NYTF performances of “When Blood Ran Red” will take place on Sunday, June 16, at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, Edmond J. Safra Plaza, 36 Battery Place, New York City. Tickets are $25 and available at www.nytf.org.

By Pearl Markovitz

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles