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  • Eden Mendelsohn

An Interview with Bertha Kalish, by Aaron Rosen. Translated by Eden Mendelsohn.



Is the Yiddish theater growing since your absence, or no?” – This was the first question of the line of questions that the writer asked the great famous actor Madam Bertha Kalish who now stars at the Yiddish Theater in the Irving Place Theatre in “One of the People” This was on a Tuesday afternoon a few weeks ago, when I visited the great artist in her apartment in Central Park West. Raining outside, the whole town was wrapped in a dense dark cloud, and I already regretted the appointment that I made… but Madame Kalish’s entrance in the auditorium is like a bright sun-beam, and I forgot what is outside; the room became enjoyable and interesting even before the young lady Kalish began her very interesting analysis of the current situation in Yiddish theater.


“I knew that you would ask that question,” She answered with a smile, and I acknowledged that is very hard to speak, since not everyone understands me. “The Yiddish Theater is growing greatly, however it is only growing from outside. We are having greater and more comfortable Yiddish Theaters, the set, the performances are more contemporary these days, but the theater itself is from 24 years back. The stage stands now precisely on that rank that it stood when I left the stage for the first time… and perhaps even worse.”


“It is a psychological failure. For some reason the audience is estranged from the Yiddish Theater. I have starred in Yaakov Gordon’s brilliant dramas a few times, and I noted how people here laugh when they needed to cry; cry when they needed to laugh, gasp when they needed to simply smile. I felt that the Yiddish audience became estranged from the better things in the Yiddish Theater.”


“What has the foreign theater taught you?” – I asked – “Even though I know that no one should be able to give an answer on one foot one?” “You are correct. To answer this question alone, I knew dozens of studies to give. All that I want to say about the question, from them technical point of view, is that I learned from the English theater what not to do, and this was worth all money. I have consistently loved when an actor does less rather than more…and many of our actors suffer poorly from this. There is no limit here.


“When I left for the English theater I was a quite good “emotional actress,” but coming on that stage I saw that they needed something else.


“Well, and how do you feel about returning to the Yiddish theater? After you have experienced great success with the non-Jews?”


“How should I feel, I feel like a child that left from the small village from father-mother’s poor tiny house, was over seas and distant lands, in palaces, among gold and diamonds and went back home. There is no thing that should be as loved as the home, no theater warms me as much as the Yiddish Theater. I feel so happy, disregarding the pain I feel when I get a glimpse what the Yiddish Theater became.


“Will you stay with us?” – “That depends on two matters. Firstly, if my health will allow me. Second, if I will have suitable plays in which perform. Yeah, and another thing, if the audience will want to have me.

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