By September 20, 2008 0 Comments Read More →

Play’s the Thing to Talk About

Discussing plays in a reading group is challenging fun. It’s even more fun when it’s theatre with cultural images and commentary and populated with supernatural creatures. Thursday night I was treated to a full table of informed, articulate and vocal seniors discussing S. Ansky’s masterpiece of Yiddish drama, The Dybbuk.

They certainly didn’t need me for a table facilitator. This short play is about two young lovers who are have been betrothed through a covenant made between their fathers while yeshiva students. Years after the death of one of the fathers, the covenant is ignored when the girl is given in an arranged marriage to the son of a wealthy family. The girl’s soul mate, a Talmudic scholar who has fallen in love with her while dining at her home, dies in anguish at the news. On the girl’s wedding day, the lovelorn scholar’s spirit enters her body as a dybbuk, bent on righting the wrong done to him by her father. This possession, done out of a desire for love and justice, leads to the bride’s death and ultimately the lovers are reunited in the afterlife.

Pretty heady stuff and the participants had a field day with it. One pointed out similarities between this short play and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Another stated that parts of the play “read better than they’d be performed. The speeches are too long. There’s too much explication.”

Other conversation mused over the character of the dybbuk (good or evil); the play (horror story or love story); and why women were always the ones possessed by spirits for good or ill. One reader is certain that the bride took one look at her intended and opted for the dybbuk instead of getting married.

This selection was one of the offerings from ALA’s Let’s Talk About It: Jewish Literature—Identity and Imagination series. Libraries looking for a ready made discussion group with a little more organization and substance should explore the many themes available at the LTAI website.

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About the Author:

Kaite Mediatore Stover refuses to give up her day job as director of readers' services for The Kansas City Public Library to read tarot cards professionally or be the merch girl/roadie for her husband's numerous bands. Follow her on Twitter at @MarianLiberryan.

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