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Joseph Dorman… Kanfer’s book solidly conveys the excitement and impact of Yiddish theater, not to mention its long shadow.
— The New York Times
The Yiddish Theater’s star seems to have burned out. The venues in New York City have all gone. So have the performers and their immigrant audiences. But in ...
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The Yiddish Theater’s star seems to have burned out. The venues in New York City have all gone. So have the performers and their immigrant audiences. But in Stardust Lost they live again as Kanfer brings the colorful stage roaring back to life. Meticulously unraveling the history of Jewish theater, he begins with the drama of the Old Testament and moves through time and space to the cultural explosions of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, the oppressions of nineteenth-century Eastern Europe, and the pogroms of early twentieth-century czarist Russia. Fleeing anti-Semitic edicts, the Jews of Eastern Europe push westward, migrating first to England and then to America. With them come the extravagant personages who bring drama—in every sense of the word—to Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Stardust Lost invokes the energy, belief, and pure chutzpah it took to establish and run the thriving, influential theaters. En route, Kanfer reveals the nightly drama and comedy that played out behind the scenes as well as onstage, and introduces all the players—actors, divas, playwrights, directors, designers, and producers—who made it possible. Along with the beating pulse of the Yiddish tradition come the larger-than-life stars: Boris Thomashefsky, Jacob P. Adler, Molly Picon, Paul Muni, Bertha Kalisch, David Kessler, Maurice Schwartz, and many others, most with libidos to match their oversized egos. The book grants us views of genuine artistic achievement along with tales of cutthroat competition, adulterous liaisons, and hilarious wrangles. As we see in detail, assimilation, world events, and great shifts in American entertainment—the very entertainment that the Yiddish Theater encouraged by providing talent to uptown stages and film studios—lead to a poignant finale.
From the daring Yiddish interpretation of The Merchant of Venice to Stella Adler’s influence on young actors to John Garfield’s and Marlon Brando’s impact on the screen, Kanfer traverses lower Manhattan, Broadway, and Hollywood to give us the tumultuous birth, flourishing, and decline of a great art form. It is a richly evocative chronicle that resurrects the forgotten landmarks and the vital personalities of the Yiddish Theater, whose work has gone but whose achievements can never be lost.
Excerpted from Stardust Lost by Stefan Kanfer Copyright © 2006 by Stefan Kanfer. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted April 8, 2007
As I was reading this book, I thought I might be able to give it a 2, but it really doesn't merit that. Anyone who has EVER read a book about the theater will quickly see how odd this work is! Don't take my word for it--just read Kanfer's account of how the Yiddish theater came about, and ask whether it makes any sense at all. Answer: it doesn't. For more plausible explanations, see works by pretty much anyone else who has written on the subject (like Nahma Sandrow). Kanfer's book, by contrast, is a real turkey.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.