WAIT OVER FOR THE YID­DISH GODOT

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE -

IR­ISH THEATRE-GO­ERS at­tend­ing a fes­ti­val cel­e­brat­ing the life and work of Sa­muel Beck­ett, one of its great­est play­wrights of the 20th cen­tury, would ex­pect to see a pro­duc­tion of his most fa­mous work, Wait­ing for Godot. What they might not an­tic­i­pate is a ver­sion of the play be­ing per­formed in Yid­dish. Those at­tend­ing the Happy Days En­niskillen In­ter­na­tional Beck­ett Fes­ti­val will have that op­por­tu­nity as New York’s New Yid­dish Rep com­pany will be per­form­ing Vartn af Godot with English sub­ti­tles.

Its direc­tor feels that the play and the lan­guage are a per­fect fit. Ro­ma­nian-born Moshe Yas­sur, whose own mother tongue is Yid­dish, ex­plains that Beck­ett — who fought in the French Re­sis­tance — was haunted by the chaos of life dur­ing and af­ter the Sec­ond World War. His ex­pe­ri­ences in­spired him to write his mas­ter­piece about two char­ac­ters, Vladimir and Es­tragon, who are wait­ing for a man who never ar­rives.

“No one ex­presses the deso­la­tion of the Sec­ond World War like Beck­ett did,” Yas­sur says.

“Beck­ett wrote this play in 1947 and 1948, so with his sen­si­bil­ity it is im­pos­si­ble to be­lieve that he was not moved by what was hap­pen­ing in the world. In an orig­i­nal script Beck­ett has writ­ten the name of Es­tragon as Levi.

“We know that Beck­ett had a Jewish friend in the French Re­sis­tance. He sur­vived the war, was lib­er­ated from Mau­thausen but died from mal­nu­tri­tion on the way to Switzer­land. This in­flu­enced Beck­ett very much. He saw the dis­place­ment of the peo­ple who had no home, in the camps and in the fields. It’s very dif­fi­cult to think of him not be­ing in­flu­enced by that.”

Yas­sur be­lieves that the new Yid­dish trans­la­tion, which so im­pressed New York crit­ics last au­tumn, adds some­thing to the ex­pe­ri­ence — even for those who do not speak the lan­guage. “Peo­ple who had seen the play many times be­fore said the Yid­dish lan­guage per­for­mance gave them an ex­tra di­men­sion. They were laugh­ing and cry­ing at the same time. Peo­ple came to me af­ter the show and said they un­der­stood the play now in a way they didn’t be­fore.”

Yas­sur adds with a chuckle that there is another type of res­o­nance in the play for Jews. “We don’t know who Godot is but we are wait­ing as the Jewish peo­ple have been wait­ing for 2,000 years for some­one or some­thing which is maybe com­ing and maybe not. We are ex­perts in wait­ing.”

The New Yid­dish Rep’s artis­tic direc­tor David Man­del­baum both pro­duces the play and takes the part of Es­tragon. He says, laugh­ing, that the dual re­spon­si­bil­ity is “ter­ri­ble”, ex­plain­ing that he would much rather just act but that in a small com­pany every­one has mul­ti­ple roles to per­form.

Es­tab­lished in the summer of 2007, it en­deav­ours to show that Yid­dish is a vi­brant lan­guage that can ex­press mod­ern thought. “It was a re­sponse to a need to ex­pand the hori­zons of Yid­dish theatre here and to try to do some se­ri­ous theatre as well as the preva­lent mu­si­cal and nos­tal­gic theatre,” Man­del­baum adds.

He thought Wait­ing for Godot would be a per­fect play to trans­late into Yid­dish. “Some­one ob­vi­ously had that idea be­fore me be­cause there was al­ready a trans­la­tion pub­lished in Is­rael in 1980. But as far as we know this is the first time any­one has at­tempted a pro­duc-tion. And this trans­la­tion by Shane Baker [ who

‘WE KNOW THAT BECK­ETT HAD A JEWISH FRIEND IN THE FRENCH RE­SIS­TANCE’

plays the part of Vladimir] is a mas­ter­piece.”

Man­del­baum also em­pha­sises that per­form­ing in Yid­dish makes it clear that this is a play which re­flects a holo­caust, though not nec­es­sar­ily the Nazi one.

“The fact it is in Yid­dish makes it pretty ob­vi­ous what this play is about. It could be Rwanda, it could be Sara­jevo, it could be the Deep South. It speaks to every­one.”

He adds that he and his com­pany have been made to feel very wel­come in North­ern Ire­land.

“The fact we are do­ing it in Steele Hall, a place where Beck­ett him­self spent many hours, makes this more sig­nif­i­cant. He gave us the gift of a mas­ter­work and I will try to do it credit.” The Happy Days En­niskillen In­ter­na­tional Beck­ett Fes­ti­val runs un­til Au­gust 10. www.happy-days-en­niskillen.com

PHOTO: RON­ALD L GLASS­MAN

David Man­del­baum ( right) and Shane Baker in the play — and ( in­set, bot­tom) direc­tor Moshe Yas­sur

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