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 YIDDISH THEATRE 101 > THE YIDDISH PLAYS > THE PLAY IN HISTORY  >  THE WITCH                                                

THE WITCH1, by Avraham Goldfaden

(Yiddish: Di kishefmakherin)
 

Here is the listed cast from the Yiddish Art Theatre production of this play when it opened at the Yiddish Art Theatre in New York City, on March 11, 1925:

Mark Schweid, Bertha Gersten, Izidore Casher, Maurice Schwartz, Wolf Goldfaden, Boris Weiner, Jacob Mestel, Anna Appel, Leon Seidenberg, Anna Teitelbaum, Morris Strassberg, Lazar Freed, Abraham Fishkind, Munie Weisenfreund, Morris Apteiker, L. Koenigsberg, M. Neumann, Ben Zwi Baratoff, G. Goldman, Abraham Teitelbaum, Moses Kubansky, L. Teffel, W. Gold, Minnie Paulinger and Philip Sherman.

So, here is the synopsis of Goldfaden's "The Witch." The name of the actor or actress who portrayed a particular role is indicated in parentheses:
 



Full-page ad in the "Forverts"
newspaper for "The Witch," 1925.

 

INTRODUCTORY NOTE

The present play is one of the earliest written by Abraham Goldfaden. Like all operettas, it has a slight and stereotyped plot and, with one exception, stock characters; its humor, moreover, is mostly horseplay. What then has so endeared it to Jewish theatre goers? The answer is to be found in the immensely amusing character of Hotzmakh--peddler, charming rogue, man about town, and shrewd fool, a kind of Jewish Figaro--and in the lovely, haunting music.

For the father of the Yiddish stage, though wholly ignorant of the theory of music, was a gifted composer of popular tunes, which have become genuine folksongs, thanks to their tunefulness, simplicity, and the truly Jewish spirit which pervades them.

This is particularly true of the songs interspersed in "The Witch," which have been favorites with the Jewish masses of the last two generations.

 

 


Index
Program cover for
"The Witch," 1925.

The play begins with an engagement party. Mirele (Anna Teitelbaum), Avremtsi's "sweet-sixteen," gentle and refined daughter by his first wife, is betrothed to the handsome Marcus (Lazar Freed). All are happy and gay; Mirele alone is sad, because her mother has not lived to share her happiness. Marcus, Avremtsi (Jacob Mestel), and the false Bassye (Anna Appel), Mirele's stepmother, try to cheer her up, but without success. Hotzmakh (Munie Weisenfreund) bursts in on the assembled guests and tries to hawk his wares. He is persuaded to desist and to regale them with one of his renowned songs. Hotzmakh sings, and then they play blind-man's bluff. The game is interrupted by the arrival of a police official (Wolf Goldfaden) and two soldiers, [who] come to arrest Avremtsi. He is led away, and Mirele is left heartbroken.
 

 
Lazar Freed, as the handsome Marcus.   Anna Teitelbaum, as Mirele, Avremtsi's Daughter.

We soon learn the cause of Avremtsi's arrest. Bassye, his second wife who ingratiated herself with him by feigning kindness toward Mirele, and her handsome but wicked uncle Eliakum (Ben Zwi Baratoff), have upon the advice of Grandma Yakhne (Maurice Schwartz), the witch, counterfeited money, "planted" it on Avremtsi, and then informed the authorities against him, so as to get rid of him and gain possession of his estate. She now sends for the witch and asks for another charm to help her get rid of Mirele as well. The old hag, who is enamored of Eliakum, advises her to give money to Mirele for shopping purposes and then steal it from her, as Mirele would be afraid to return home without money or purchases.

Bassye follows her advice and sends Mirele off to the market place, not however, without first stripping her of her shawl and shoes, though it is bitterly cold outside. The market place swarms with people and is a hum with all the cries of shopkeepers who hawk their wares to tuneful numbers. Acrobats, jugglers, and hurdy-gurdy men entertain the people, but are soon shorn of their earnings by the grafting police. The crafty Hotzmakh alone, who knows the uses of palm grease, is left unmolested to spread out his goods in the middle of the square and to fleece his customers. Mirele comes upon the scene and is about to buy something when she discovers that her money is gone. She cries bitterly, but is quieted by Grandma Yakhne who happens along, assures her she is a relative of hers and leads her off to her house.

The witch's den is filled with girls who give every sign of being not only Grandma Yakhne's assistants, but also pliers of the oldest trade in the world. Hotzmakh enters and asks for a charm that would enable him to silence his shrewish wife and to cheat his customers still more. The girls blindfold him and cut off one of his side burns. Hotzmakh bewails the loss of the side burn ("hair costs money," he says), and confesses that he merely came to see whether Mirele was not there, whereupon he is thrown out.
 


Grandma Yakhne arrives accompanied by Eliakum, who at once proceeds to make love to one of the girls. The jealous with orders the girls out of the room. When the two are alone, Eliakum informs her that he has found a buyer for Mirele, who is kept [as] a prisoner in the witch's house, and that he intends to ship Mirele the next day to Constantinople, where the buyer is located. There is a knock at the door and Marcus enters. On seeing him, Eliakum slinks away, not however before he has managed to inform the witch that Marcus wears a picture of Mirele encased in a gold medallion Marcus tells Grandma Yakhne that heretofore he never believed in fortune tellers, but that now he is driven by despair to consult her, as to the whereabouts of his betrothed. Needless to say, the only result of his visit is the acquisition of the medallion by the witch, from whom however, it soon passes into the possession of Eliakum.

In his search for the lost Mirele, Marcus wanders from city to city. We now se him seated in a large coffee house in Constantinople, where the guests are entertained by dancers, musicians, acrobats, and jugglers. Hotmakh comes in and sings out his wares, but finds no purchasers. He soon comes upon Marcus, who informs him that Avremtai has been exonerated and released from prison. Presently an organ grinder enters accompanied by a girl who sings to the guests. In going from table to table to collect pennies, she happens upon Marcus, whose joy knows no bounds. The organ grinder refuses to give up Mirele unless he is given ten times the amount he has paid for her. Marcus gladly gives him the sum asked, and the lovers are reunited at last. Hotzmakh rushes off to wire the news to Avremtsi, and to ask him to meet them at a certain inn not far from their hometown.

 


Bassye and Eliakum know the jig is up and taunt Grandma Yakhne about the worthlessness of her witchcraft. Eliakum makes a final appeal to her to save them, promising to marry her if she does. The witch advises Bassye to accompany Avremtsi to the inn where he is to meet his daughter and put a certain potion into the wine served on the occasion which will cause them to all asleep. Once asleep, Bassye, aided by Eliakum and herself (who would also proceed to the inn), would ascend to the hayloft and set the inn on fire, following which the three of them would flee to a foreign country.

The lovers, chaperoned by Hotzmakh, arrive at the inn late at night and are presently joined by Avremtsi and his spouse, who excuses her conduct, by saying, "We all make mistakes sometimes." To Hotzmakh's disgust, it turns out there is no liquor in the house, the innkeeper (Morris Strassberg)having dispatched his younger brother to town to fetch a fresh supply. Bassye offers them a bottle of wine she has brought along, and all sit down to drink it. All save Bassye are soon fast asleep. She now signals to Eliakum and the witch who have been lurking nearby. Eliakum fastens the door on the outside with a rope fetches a ladder, and the three ascend to the hayloft. They are foiled, however, by the timely arrival of the innkeeper's younger brother (W. Gold). He becomes suspicious on seeing the ladder propped up against the wall and removes it. He then unfastens the door and opens it. At this moment flames burst out. He arouses the sleepers, and they rush out. Presently, the desperate cries of Bassye and her accomplices are heard coming from the attic, where they are caught and destroyed in their own trap.
 


1
-- From the theatre program for "The Witch," Yiddish Art Theatre, 1925.

2 -- Synopsis prepared by Maximilian Hurwitz.

 




Photographs courtesy of the New York Public Library.

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