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Romanian Theater

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The first depictions of the Jew in Romanian theater in the nineteenth century were influenced by the contemporary view of the Jew as a threat to Romanian national identity. While at first the Jew was represented as a burlesque and often grotesque character, stereotypically “Jewish” traits were gradually incorporated under pressure from rising nationalistic feelings in society as a whole as well as among intellectuals. Thus, in Lipitorile satului (The Village Leeches; 1863) by Vasile Alecsandri (1818–1890), the main character Moise is presented as a venal usurer.

The end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century witnessed a Jewish struggle for civil rights, a development that led to sympathetic Jewish characters like Doctor Şmil in Apus de soare (The Sunset; 1909) by Barbu Delavrancea (1858–1918) or the soldier Ştrul in Curcanii (The Turkeys; 1908) by Grigore Ventura (1840–1909). In certain plays of this period, Jewish identity becomes a central theme. Manasse (1900), a play that earned the Jewish writer Moise Ronetti-Roman (1853–1908) a place in Romanian literary history, focused on the effort to preserve Jewish traditions in the face of assimilatory currents. The comedy Take, Ianke, and Cadâr (1938), by Victor Ion Popa (1895–1945), considers, within a broad humanist vision, the likelihood of coexistence among Romanians, Jews, and Turks. Noted for their strong dramatic quality, both plays received excellent performances by some of the most celebrated actors of the Romanian theater.

Romanian directors, set designers, and composers worked in Yiddish theater both before and after World War II, and Romanian critics have written with great enthusiasm about Yiddish theater, both early in the twentieth century (responding, for example, to the Vilner Trupe when it toured Romania in the 1920s) and in recent years. The Romanian actors of Jewish origin Maria Ventura (1886–1954) and Jean Yonnel (1891–1968) contributed to the success of Romanian theater on the Parisian stage. Jews also constituted a significant portion of the audience for Romanian theater.

In the autumn of 1940, when General Ion Antonescu came to power, the new racist legislation stipulated the removal of Jewish artists from institutions of the performing arts. Had he not signed his work under a pseudonym, the Jewish writer Mihail Sebastian (1907–1945) would not have seen his play Steaua fără nume (A Nameless Star) staged for the first time in March 1944.

On 1 March 1941, following a request submitted by a group of Jewish artists banished from the theaters, the Romanian-language Baraşeum Jewish Theater was established. The performances at the Baraşeum, which attracted an audience of both Jews and Romanians, encouraged a moral stance against injustice and intolerance. By the autumn of 1944, when performances in Yiddish were resumed, the Baraşeum Theater had staged 40 plays of various genres. Contributing artists included the actresses Jeni Şmilovici (1912–1965) and Agnia Bogoslava (1916– ), both of whom had performed in Yiddish theater; the dramatic actors Alexandru Finți (1901–1972), Beate Fredanov (1913–1997), Leny Caler (1904–1992), and Dida Solomon-Callimachi (1898–1974); directors Moni Ghelerter (1905–1979), Sandu Eliad (1899–1979), and Lică Grunberg (1914–2000), who specialized in children’s theater; the comic actor and director N. Stroe (1906–1990); the composer and conductor Haim Schvartzmann (1897–1982), the composers Elly Roman (1905–1996) and H. Mălineanu (1920–2000); set designers W. Siegfried (1909–1982) and M. H. Maxy (1895–1971); playwrights Nicu Kanner-Nican (d. 1976) and Eugen Mirea (1908–1973); and others.

After the installation of the Communist regime, most of these artists joined the Romanian-language state theaters, along with other Jewish artists who rose to prominence after the war, including the directors Gyorgy Harag (1925–1985), Valeriu Moisescu (1932– ), and David Esrig (1935– ); playwrights Mihail Davidoglu (1910–1987), Aurel Baranga (1913–1979), Alexandru Mirodan (1927– ), Dumitru Solomon (1932–2003), Ana Novac (1929– ), Dorel Dorian (1930– ), Aurel Storin (1937– ), and Radu F. Alexandru (1943– ); actor and director Constantin Anatol (1921– ); and actors Gyorgy Kovacs (1910–1977) and Maia Morgenstern (1962– ).

A remarkable attempt to raise awareness of Jewish issues was made by the playwright Alexandru Mirodan in Contract special de închiriat oameni (Special Contract for Renting People; 1971), a play about the effects of antisemitism in an imaginary town where only one Jew is left. The Communist censors prevented the play from being staged in Romania; it was published in Israel in Romanian and Hebrew. After the fall of communism, Victor Ion Popa’s Take, Ianke, and Cadâr remained a presence in the Romanian theater repertoire; Jewish themes have also occasionally emerged in adaptations of plays such as Yehoshu‘a Sobol’s Ghetto,Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Taybele un hurmiza (Taibele and Her Demon), and Martin Sherman’s Rose.

Suggested Reading

Yisroel Berkovitsh, Hundert yor yidish teater in Rumenye, 1876–1976 (Bucharest, 1976), also published in Romanian translation (Bucharest, 1982); Nicolae Cajal and Hary Kuller, eds. Contribuția evreilor din România la cultură şi civilizație (Bucharest, 1996).



Translated from Romanian by Anca Mircea