Dwain Richardson

Tuesday September 1st, 2015

by Dwain Richardson


The Dybbuk

The Dybbuk: Story about Religion, Superstition, and Spiritualism

From August 9 to 27, 2015, Montreal’s Segal Centre for the Performing Arts presented The Dybbuk, a play by author, playwright, researcher, cultural and political activist, and polemicist Shloyme Zanvl Rappoport, commonly known by his pseudonym S. Ansky. Although he had originally written The Dybbuk in Russian, he later translated it into Yiddish. Audience members followed the production in the latter language.

The play has four acts. Set in Brinitz, a Jewish town near Miropol, the story follows two main characters in their quest for love. Early in the play, we discover that Khanan is in love with Leah. While townspeople gathered to talk about Leah, Sender’s daughter, Khanan reads a religious book that eventually catches fire, killing him at the end of Act I. Months after Khanan’s death, Leah gets married. When Leah’s new betrothed Menashe attempts to remove her veil, she shoves him, screaming in a masculine voice. With the help of the Messenger, we learn that Leah had been possessed by a Dybbuk. It refuses to leave Leah’s body despite several requests from Rabbi Azriel, the supposed miracle-worker. The Dybbuk is eventually excommunicated; the spell has been broken. Do Leah and Khanan reunite in death?

What made The Dybbuk an interesting production was the mix of traditional dances and songs. The choreography was fluid, and some actors’ voices blended well with others. Josh Dolgin—aka Socalled—composed wonderful music, too. Another great moment in this performance was the actors’ excellent diction (they received coaching through one of the crewmembers). The Messenger highlighted the show: He was present in every scene, always ready to tell us a story—and give us a taste of what to expect.

Despite an excellent performance by all, a few factors either spoiled the show or could have made it better. For one thing, English and French surtitles constantly distracted audience members, especially when trying to focus on the action. No known copies of The Dybbuk are available in local libraries or bookstores, though we know that playwrights and composers have adapted the play in later years. Had this play been available, audience members would have been able to read the play in the original language and follow dialogue with respective translations. As set out in the play’s synopsis, The Dybbuk draws on many traditional religious symbols, superstitions, and historical figures. Because some audience members had no knowledge of Yiddish culture or language, it would have done the Segal Centre for the Performing Arts some good to organize pre-performance discussions on Yiddish traditions, history, or religion. Staff might have called on specialists in these sectors to outline specific topics. Such discussions would have made the play more accessible.





The Segal Centre for the Performing Arts presented five evening shows and two matinees.

August 16, 2:00 p.m.
August 19 and 20, 8:00 p.m.
August 23, 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.
August 24, 7:00 p.m.
August 27, 8:00 p.m.

Presented in Yiddish with English and French surtitles

Photo : Andrée Lanthier

Video : Segal Centre