Vast number of books, plus a few films detail story of Jews in theater

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

In recent years there has been a virtual explosion of numerous books that deal with various aspects of Jews in American Theater, as well as a few excellent films that deal with the subject.  In putting together this bibliography and filmography on Jews and Theater, nearly all of the books and films listed below can be found at the Saul Brodsky Jewish Community Library.  We are grateful to the library, its director Barbara Raznick and its helpful staff for their assistance in gathering the books and films listed below.

“Great Jews on Stage and Screen,” by Darryl Lyman, Jonathan David Publishers.  Part of Darryl Lyman’s superb series on Jews in various walks of life, this volume contains a comprehensive list of major (and some minor) Jewish actors, directors and writers of American plays, from Luther Adler, the only actor to have in his career to have portrayed both  Tevye the Dairyman in “Fiddler on the Roof,” and Adolf Hitler in “The Magic Face,” through Bert Lahr, Leonard Nimoy, Phil Silvers and St. Louis  native Shelley Winters.

“Great Jews in Entertainment,” also by Darryl Lyman, Jonathan David Publishers, an expanded volume which includes Jews active in all areas of American entertainment–stage, screen, TV, music and all other areas of American  popular culture.

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“Great Jews in the Performing Arts,” Ory N. Mazar, general editor, International Book Corporation, part of the International Hebrew Heritage Library, similar to  the above two volumes, but written by a team of scholars who are experts on various branches of the entertainment world.

“Timebends:  A Life,” by Arthur Miller, Grove Press.  Acclaimed as America’s premier 20th century playwright, whose “Death of a Salesman”, “The Crucible,” “The Price” and “Incident at Vichy” are all-time classics, Miller shares the details of his long career through 1987, the year of its publication.  Included are back  stories to “Death of a Salesman” and other plays and candid comments on his traumatic marriage to Marilyn Monroe, who converted to Judaism before their wedding.  A superb resource on all aspects of Miller’s life and unmatched career.

“Arthur Miller’s Collected Plays,” Viking Press.  Volume One includes the full scripts of “Death of a Salesman,” “All My Sons,” “The Crucible,” “A Memory of Two Mondays,” “A View from the Bridge and an essay on his dramatic technique.  This volume is dedicated to Marilyn Monroe.  Volume Two includes an introduction by Miller, along with the scripts of “The Misfits,” “After the Fall,” “Incident at Vichy,” “The Price,” “The Creation of the World and Other Business,” and the TV screenplay for “Playing for Time,” based on the true story of Fania Fenelon, part of an orchestra of Jews forced to perform for the Nazis at Auschwitz to “buy time” and prevent their murder.  “The Misfits” was Marilyn Monroe’s last film and the last for Clark Gable.

“The Collected Plays of Neil Simon,” Volumes One and Two, Plume Books.  Neil Simon is the most prolific and successful of all American Jewish playwrights of the past century before he retired from writing at age 85.  His work has recently been receiving the critical and artistic acclaim that often alluded him in the past.  Volume One includes:  “The Odd Couple,” “Plaza Suite,” “Come Blow Your Horn,” “The Star-Spangled Girl,” Last of the Red Hot Lovers” and “Promises, Promises.”  Volume Two includes “California Suite,” “The Sunshine Boys,” “Chapter Two,” “Little Me,” “The Prisoner of Second Avenue,” “The Gingerbread Man,” “The Good Doctor,” and “God’s Favorite.” Simon’s “B” trilogy of autobiographical plays, “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “Biloxi Blues” and “Lost in Yonkers” appeared after publication of this set, and are also available in Plume Books paperbacks.  Some critics have written that “Brighton Beach Memoirs” is Simon’s best play.

“New Jewish Voices:  Plays Produced by the Jewish Repertory Theatre,” edited by Edward M. Cohen,  SUNY Press.  This book is the first anthology of modern Jewish-American drama.  The highly acclaimed plays were produced by New York City’s renowned Jewish Repertory Theatre.  Cohen, an associate director of the theater, who directed and produced plays there for 10 years, writes the introduction.  Among the plays included in this volume are “Benya the King,” by Richard Schotter, “36” by Norman Lessing and “Friends Too Numerous to Mention,” by Neil Cohen and Joel Cohen.

“Making a Scene:  The Contemporary Drama of Jewish-American Women,” edited and with an introduction by Sarah Blacher Cohen, Syracuse University Press.  Sarah Blacher Cohen, professor of English at the University of Albany, SUNY, a leading American scholar on American-Jewish literature and humor (author of “Jewish Wry,” on that subject, includes plays by accomplished Jewish women, i.e. “Isn’t It Romantic” by Wendy Wasserstein,  Barbara Lebow’s “A Shayna Maidel” and her own “Ladies Locker Room.”  Some of these plays have been produced locally by the New Jewish Theatre.

“Shared Stages:  Ten American Dramas of  Blacks and Jews,” edited by Sarah Blacher Cohen and Joanne B. Koch, State University of New York (SUNY) Press.  This volume brings together ten of the best contemporary American play that dramatize the explosive relationship of two tightly-knit peoples–Blacks and Jews—in American society. Included in this book are such familiar works as “Driving Miss Daisy,” and “I’m Not Rappaport,” s well as “Medal of Honor Rag,” dealing with various aspects of the shared Black and Jewish experiences–the civil rights movement, the Vietnam  War and various other areas.

“Woody on Rye:  Jewishness in the Films and Plays of Woody Allen,” edited by Vincent Brook and Marat Greenberg, Brandeis University Press.  Hot off the presses, this excellent collection of insightful essays explore the Jewish elements not only in Woody Allen’s familiar films, such as “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan” and “Radio Days,” but also of Allen’s incredible theatrical output which almost equal in number and quality his film work.  Among the plays discussed in this comprehensive volumet are “From A to Z,” “Don’t Drink the Water,” “Å Second Hand Memory,” and most recent, “Speaking,” one of a trilogy along with Ethan Coen’s “Talking Cure” and Elaine May’s “George Is Dead.”

“Plays of the Holocaust, An International Anthology,” edited by Elinor Fuchs, Theatre Communications Group.  This is the first major anthology of Holocaust drama.  It makes available some of the most important dramatic works of five decades that confront the mass murders of Jews during World War II.  Included are “Eli:  A Mystery Play of the Sufferings of Israel,” by Nelly Sachs; “Auschwitz,” by Peter Barnes and “Cathedral of Ice,” by James Schevill.

“Fruitfull & Multiplying:  9 Contemporary Plays from the American Jewish Repetrore,” and “Awake & Singing:  7 Classic Plays from the American Jewish Repertoire, edited and with introductions by Ellen Schiff.  These two comprehensive collections include plays produced between 1920 and 1960 (“Awake & Sing”)  and  during the 1980s and 1990s.  Included are Clifford Odets’ “Awake and Sing!” and “The Tenth Man” from the earlier era, and Herb Gardner’s “Conversations With My Father,” and “Goldberg Street,” by David Mamet in the more recent era.  Schiff is also co-editor, with Michael Posnick, of “9 Contemporary Jewish Plays,” University of Texas Press, which includes “God of Vengeance,” by Donald Margulies and “The Last Seder,” by Jennifer Maisel.  Taken together, these three volumes make up a superb collection of Jewish-content plays.

“From Stereotype to Metaphor  The Jew in Contemporary Drama,” by Ellen Schiff, SUNY Press.  In this scholarly work, Ellen Schiff explores how images of Jews on stage have evolved over the years, including chapters on “The Tradition of the Stage Jew,” “Modern Heroes of Biblical Drama,” “The Jew as the Other,” and “The Jew and Other Outsiders.”  All of the essays are interesting, informative and thought-provoking by this leading scholar on Jews in theater.

“The Schlemiel as Metaphor:  Studies in the Yiddish and American Jewish Novel,” by Sanford Pinsker, Southern Illinois University Press.  This volume explores some of the same areas as Schiff’s book, above.  Pinsker examines the works of both Yiddish and American writers and traces the evolution of the “schlemiel” from the comic butt of Yiddish jokes to a literary figure which speaks to the problems of the moment.

“In Their Own Image:  New York Jews in Jazz Age Popular Culture,” by Ted Merwin.  Merwin is an assistant professor of religion and Judaic studies at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., and a theater reviewer for the New York  Jewish Week.  In this engaging book, Merwin explores the 1920s in New York, the Jazz Age, from the vaudeville routines of Fannie Brice, Eddie Cantor, George Jessel and Sophie Tucker, to the large number of comedies about Jewish life.  He explores the early images of Jews on stage, film and popular culture.

Film/Videography

“Broadway Musicals–A Jewish Legacy,” a PBS documentary.  This entertaining and informative PBS film explores in depth the unique role of Jewish composers and lyricists in the creation of the modern American musical.  The film showcases the work of legends such as Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, George and Ira Gershwin, Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and others.  Included are interviews with songwriters and luminaries including Harold Prince, Arthur Laurents and Mel Brooks.  PBS also has produced “Mel Brooks:  Make a Noise,” about the comedian-turned-filmmaker turned Broadway Producer, as part of its American Masters Series.  Explored are the stage successes of “The Producers” and “Young Frankenstein,” among others.  Another American Masters film features the works Woody Allen, placing more emphasis on his films than on his plays.