Exhibit offers look at Russian Jewish theater

Fri Mar 6, 2009 6:03am EST
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By Ellen Freilich

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - A vivid glimpse into the tumultuous history of the Russian Jewish theater is on view in a new exhibit at The Jewish Museum.

With more than 200 theater-related items, "Chagall and the Artists of the Russian Jewish Theater, 1919-1949" provides a window onto one of the Soviet Union's most important expressions of Jewish culture, a theater mostly hidden from the outside world after the 1920s by an Iron Curtain.

The Jewish theater movement included a Hebrew and a Yiddish-language theater. Habimah, the Hebrew language theater, proved less successful with Russian Jewish audiences because Hebrew was the language of prayer, not of everyday conversation. It toured Europe in 1926 and relocated to Palestine where it became the national theater of Israel.

The State Yiddish Theater, known as GOSET, flourished until it was crushed in the years after World War Two.

The exhibit runs until March 22 before moving to the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. It includes murals painted by Marc Chagall for the original home of GOSET, costumes, photographs and film clips of its most famous member, the actor Solomon Mikhoels, who became its director.

One clip shows Mikhoels playing King Lear. There is also a short film of his sham state funeral after his murder in 1948 by agents of Stalin's secret police.

Susan Tumarkin Goodman, the show's curator, talked to Reuters about how the show came to fruition.

Q. What led you to the subject of this exhibition?   Continued...