Yiddish Theater Lab

Theater J’s on-going initiative is dedicated to preserving and reviving the forgotten literature of the Yiddish Theater.

Join us as directors and playwrights uncover and re-interpret nearly-forgotten Yiddish classics in new English language readings, workshops, commissions, and eventually productions.

The Yiddish Theater Lab is supported by The Marinus and Minna B. Koster Foundation, Natalie Wexler and James Feldman, and The Leshowitz Family Foundation, Terry Singer.

Past Readings

Yankel Boyla

By Leon Kobrin
English Version by David S. Lifson
Directed by Kevin Place, Theater J Associate Producer

In-person Reading on Wednesday, May 25 at 7:30 pm | Cafritz Hall at the Edlavitch DCJDCC

Haunted by his father’s last words, “be a Jew,” Yankel is torn between faith and desire. Must he marry a girl chosen for him? It is summertime, he is young, romance is in the air, and his heart yearns for the girl next door. The world is supposed to open up as a person matures; so why does Yankel feel like it is closing in? Set in Ukraine, Yankel Boyla is a timeless coming-of-age story about conflicts between commitment and family, duty and passion.

Book Talk: Nahma Sandrow’s Yiddish Plays for Reading and Performance

Moderated by Adam Immerwahr, Theater J Artistic Director
Live Zoom Event on Tuesday, May 17 at 7:30pm (US ET)

Part interview, part conversation, part performance. Join Theater J’s Artistic Director, Adam Immerwahr, in conversation with librettist, theater historian and translator, Nahma Sandrow about her recently published collection of Yiddish plays and scenes (including Mirele Efros, the basis of Theater J’s Yiddish Theater Lab production of The Jewish Queen Lear). Engage with forgotten masterpieces as actors perform excerpts—in their first ever English translation—that span the dramatic to comedic. Hear anecdotes from Yiddish theater’s past and get inspired for Yiddish theater’s future.

A First Look Reading: Leah and Her Dybbuk by Lila Rose Kaplan

By Lila Rose Kaplan
Directed by Eleanor Holdridge
In-person Reading on Thursday, May 5 at 7:30 pm | Goldman Theater at Theater J

In a first draft of her Yiddish Theater Lab commissioned play, Lila Rose Kaplan shines light on gender and identity as she reimagines Ansky’s classic Yiddish play, The Dybbuk. Her new play is a comic drama about a photographer and a Rabbi and their history with The Dybbuk. With a female ensemble, they revisit key moments from this classic story as they grapple with understanding a woman’s role in Jewish life and Jewish lore. What they discover is that new storytellers and new heroines are needed for love to truly flourish. Be the first audience ever to hear this early draft of a queer feminist take on the play that has haunted audiences for centuries.

Rabbi Doctor Silver

By Sholem Asch
Translated by Caraid O’Brien
Directed by Rex Daugherty, Solas Nua Artistic Director

Live Zoom Reading on Sunday, May 1st at 7:30pm (US ET) | Recording Available On-Demand from May 2 to May 4

Sholem Asch’s fascinating Rabbi Doctor Silver gets its first-ever English translation by playwright Caraid O’Brien. The US is on the verge of depression, and women’s rights are still a contested issue. Into this milieu arrives a young rabbi ready to shake up what it means to build and grow a congregation in the ever-changing landscape of the American Midwest. What can a rabbi do to change the times while also changing with the times? Be a part of history as you listen to this play in English for the first time ever, written by the author of G-d of Vengeance and other Yiddish theater classics.

The Red Beads Audio Play

By Rinne B. Groff
Based on The Singer of His Sorrows by Osip Dymov
As adapted by Adrian Guo-Silver and Rinne Groff
From a translation by Adrian Guo-Silver
Directed by Johanna Gruenhut

Access ended August 31st, 2021.

When a father’s bedtime story magically comes to life, his young daughter is plunged into the world of a poor shtetl poet, desperately in love with a woman who spurns him. With great wit and even greater heart, The Red Beads explores the beauty – and the pain – of letting love triumph over logic. This charming, comical, and stirring fable is presented as a three-part audio play.

G-d of Vengeance 

By Sholem Asch
Translated by Caraid O’Brien
Directed by Shawna M. James
Associate Directed by Adam Immerwahr

Live Zoom Reading: Thursday, June 24 at 7pm (US & Can ET)
Available on-demand: June 25 to 11:59pm June 27. 

Yankl has commissioned a Torah scroll, which he hopes will bring great respect to his family, especially to his young and marriageable daughter, Rivke. But these Orthodox Jews have unorthodox problems, not the least of which is the brothel that Yankl has been running in the basement! When Sholem Asch’s G-d of Vengeance was performed on Broadway in 1923, the actors and producers were arrested for obscenity—an event which later inspired Paula Vogel’s acclaimed play, Indecent. It’s been 20 years since we produced Caraid O’Brien’s sparkling translation of G-d of Vengeance. Join us as we revisit one of the landmark dramas of the Yiddish Theater.

Christmas at Grossinger’s 

By Renee Calarco
Directed by Joe Calarco
May 11 – May 16, 2021

Cast: Maria Rizzo, Susan Rome, Chris Stezin, and Dani Stoller.

Christmas at Grossinger’s tells the story of Ava and Joan Carroll, two of the greatest Jewish entertainers of the 20th century you’ve never heard of. Join us for the first chance to hear a new play still in development by local playwright Renee Calarco, inspired by the lives of the Barry sisters, the famous singers who combined Yiddish and the Great American Songbook on US radio, TV, and stage for three decades. And remember, what happens in the Catskills stays in the Catskills!

MONEY, LOVE, AND SHAME!; or, Tsuris Galore
The Melodramatic Smash of 1910

by Isidore Zolotarevski
Translated by Allen Lewis Rickman
Directed by Adam Immerwahr
August 27 – 30

Cast: Andrea Goss, Jeremy Keith Hunter, Anne L. Nathan, Tracy Lynn Olivera, Allen Lewis Rickman, Jon Norman Schneider, Todd Scofield, and Frank X.

Everyone knows marrying for money can be a shaky proposition. Throw in a tacky landlord, a philandering chauffeur, an unplanned pregnancy, and a shocking courtroom reunion, and you’ve got a marriage that never stood a chance!

Originally written in 1910, this hilarious theatrical romp serves up some of the most popular themes of serious 19th century Yiddish drama with a heaping spoonful of irreverence. The result is an appealingly appalling melodrama you won’t want to miss.

One of Those

By Paula Prilutski, adapted and translated by Allen Lewis Rickman
Directed by Kevin Place
June 18-21 online

Cast: Lise Bruneau, Sarah Corey, Felicia Curry, Megan Graves, Jeremy Hunter, John Keabler, Jackie Renée Robinson, Susan Rome, Michael Russotto, Thom Sesma, Dina Thomas, Kathryn Tkel, and Chani Wereley.

When Judith, still reeling from the loss of her mother, clashes with her father’s new wife, she rebels against the patriarchy and is thrown out of her home. With no options available, the strong-willed Judith makes choices she will forever regret; and despite her best efforts and the help of family and friends, Judith finds herself unable to escape the chains of her history.


By Alix Sobler
Freely adapted from the play Miryam (aka Downhill) by Peretz Hirschbein
Directed by Laley Lippard
June 7-10 online

Cast: Felicia Curry, Dane Figueroa Edidi, Kimberly Gilbert

A gripping and provocative retelling of a 19th century sexual morality tale, Miriam explores the way in which women police each other, even while they are still being haunted and hunted by external forces. Three sex workers with very different backgrounds, histories, and outlooks on life share stories of their pasts and hopes for their futures. In doing so, they begin to find a common ground from which they can support one other.

A Hidden Corner

By Peretz Hirschbein, translated by David S. Lifson, directed by Brendon Fox
February 3, 2020

Noah, the son of the miller, and Tzirl, the daughter of the gravedigger, are in love. But when a newly constructed mill drives a wedge between their families, their future together looks grim. In this Romeo and Juliet tale set in a shtetl, can young love overcome dueling families, an arranged marriage, physical violence and even ghostly spirits?

Golem Stories

by Edward Einhorn
Directed by Jenna Duncan
Monday October 28, 2019, 7:00 PM

It’s the season for a spooky Jewish fable! It’s 1590 in the city of Prague, and the Jewish community is under attack. When Rabbi Lowe creates a Golem to help protect his people, the line between stories and reality is blurred. Part love story, part ghost story, this play is a new take on the legend of the golem, put in the context of other Jewish legends of the supernatural. The cast includes Temidayo AkibuSarah CoryMaboud EbrahimzadehMcLean FletcherTimotheus GermanMichael RussottoChris StinsonKatie Tkel, and Nathan Whitmer.

Post-show discussion guests are Alyssa Quint, Senior Scholar, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research; Miriam Isaacs, independent scholar, linguist, and retired Yiddish faculty member at University of Maryland, College Park.

The Red Beads

By Rinne Groff, based on The Singer of His Sorrows by Osip Dymov, as adapted by Adrian Silver and Rinne Groff from a translation by Adrian Silver, directed by Johanna Gruenhut
December 2, 2019 at 7:00 PM

An encore reading of the next draft of a play read last season under the title The Rented Bridegroom.

When a father’s bedtime story magically comes to life, his young daughter is plunged into the world of Yoshke, a poor shtetl poet, desperately in love with a woman who doesn’t love him. Through the story, the daughter learns the pain – and the beauty – of letting love triumph over logic.

The Rented Bridegroom

A Play by Rinne Groff
Based on The Singer of His Sorrows by Osip Dymov
As adapted by Adrian Silver and Rinne Groff
From a translation by Adrian Silver
Directed by Johanna Gruenhut
May 6, 2019 at 7:00 PM

Tickets: Pay-what-you-choose (advance purchase encouraged)
Community Commons Room at the Foundry Church, 1500 16th Street, NW

A feisty young woman, caught in a love triangle between the highbred son of her employer and a poor but adoring klezmer-player, must decide whether to stoop for love or money. And why is stooping the only choice anyway? Set in a shtetl of romanticized memory, this heart-breaking comedy is based on the classic Yiddish play The Singer of His Sorrows by Osip Dymov.

Presented in partnership with CrossCurrents Festival.

Yankl the Blacksmith

By David Pinski, Translated by Nahma Sandrow
Directed by Adam Immerwahr
May 20, 2019 at 7:00 PM
Goethe Forum, Goethe-Institut Washington, 1990 K Street, NW (enter on 2 St. NW)

When Yankl, the town drunk and a notorious philanderer, gets married, everyone predicts that it won’t last. Everyone, that is, except Yankl’s young wife. Can her faith in him stop Yankl from falling back into his old way of life? Can people change? And if they can, is there any guarantee that they won’t change back? This sensual exploration of the power and limitations of relationships rings just as true today as it did when it was written over 100 years ago. The cast includes: Tonya BeckmanHelen HedmanDonna MigliaccioSasha OlinickMaria Rizzo, Alexander StrainCraig Wallace, and Elan Zafir.

Presented in partnership with JxJ

The Jewish King Lear

By Jacob Gordin, translated by Ruth Gay
Directed by Craig Baldwin
Produced in partnership with The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s ReDiscovery Reading Series

January 8, 2018 at 7:30 PM
at The Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7 St., NW, Washington, DC

Jacob Gordin’s masterpiece is a free adaptation of Shakespeare’s familiar classic and ushered in the first golden age of Yiddish theater in New York. It’s Purim when Reb Dovidle decides to give extravagant gifts to his daughters—but when his youngest daughter refuses the gift, he sends her away. Will Reb Dovidle follow the downward spiral of Shakespeare’s tragic King, or will he find forgiveness and redemption? Filled with characters at once archetypal and hilariously, achingly human, this classic is a fresh twist on a familiar tale.

God, Man, and Devil

By Jacob Gordin
Translated into English by Nahma Sandrow

Directed by Rachel Grossman
Produced in partnership with Tifereth Israel Congregation

April 22, 2018 at 7:30 PM
at Tifereth Israel Congregation, 7701 16 St., NW, Washington, DC

A portrait of the eternal struggle between good and evil, God, Man, and Devil is Jacob Gordin’s most famous play. With a little bit Faust and a little Book of Job, this 1920’s play begins with a debate between God and the Devil about the nature of man’s goodness. Soon, the Devil must walk among men as he tries to corrupt one good man to prove his point. Tragic and timeless, God, Man, and Devil is a cautionary tale of epic proportions.

Yiddish Shorts: An Evening of One-Act Plays from the Yiddish Theater

Translated into English by Yermiyahu Ahron Taub
Directed by Adam Immerwahr

May 29, 2018 at 7:30 PM
at Theater J, 1529 16th St., NW, Washington, DC

Explore the full range of the Yiddish theater in this collection of short plays, drawn from the rich tapestry of Yiddish theater. Performed in English translations by Yermiyahu Ahron Taub, these strange and beautiful plays take us from 19th century European town life to the tenements of the Lower East Side. S. An-ski’s Father and Son tells the story of revolutionaries and police in a Jewish town in 1905 Lithuania. Khaver-Paver’s Romeo and Juliet: A One Act Play takes us to the tenements of lower east side New York, where Dave woos Suzy from his window across the tenement alley. In Solem Ash’s With The Current, the family of a rabbinical court rabbi grapples with the younger generation seeking new forms of religious observance. And in Peretz Hirschbein’s famous Raisins and Almonds, a mysterious older woman appears at the house of Freydele Gdayle, offering unexpected gifts. Join Theater J for an evening of delightful exploration as we hear some of DC’s finest actors bring these forgotten classics to life. Starring Nancy Robinette.

Bronx Express

By Osip Dymov
Translated into English by Nahma Sandrow

Directed by Natsu Onoda Power

June 18, 2018 at 7:30 PM
at Theater J, 1529 16 St., NW, Washington, DC 

One of the more inventive and surprising plays of the Yiddish theater, Osip Dymov’s Bronx Express tells the story of one working class Yid who dreams of something more. When he falls asleep on a New York subway, he’s shocked to meet the characters from the train car’s advertisements coming to life. With cameos from Aunt Jemima, the Nestle’s Baby and the Arrow Collar Man, this story explores the true costs of the American dream. Visiting Yiddish scholars: Nahma Sandrow and Miriam Isaacs.

full theater during production.

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