Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Unsophisticated View

One evening in the theater something very exciting happened: The play to be performed was Chasja, the Orphan. Chasja comes from a Ukrainian village, is young, healthy, and very pretty, and she tells people exactly what she thinks. Her poor village father brings her to her rich relatives in the city, where she works hard as a maid and waits on everyone. She falls in love with the son of the house, a good-for-nothing. Now they are all dressed up and in great excitement. They, on the stage, are going to the theater! Then Chasja sees the son of the house, with whom she is in love, steal a gold brooch and hide it. The aunt wants to wear the brooch, and everyone looks for it. There is great confusion. Suspicion falls on Chasja. Now the wicked aunt asks Chasja if she knows where the brooch is. She says, “No!” “Swear by your dead mother that you do not know where it is!” But Chasja will not swear by her dead mother. The aunt is now convinced that Chasja is the thief, seizes her by her two long blond braids, ties her to the bed with them, and screams, “Where is the brooch?” And Chasja says, “I don't know!” And now the aunt gives her a left and a right and repeats the same question and gets the same answer and goes on hitting the poor orphan again and again. Chasja kneels there, tied by her braids, taking the blows and looking proud. The house is in tremendous excitment. We all hate the aunt and sympathize with Chasja. Now the aunt bellows even louder: “Where is the brooch? Where is the brooch?” and boxes the poor orphan’s ears without ever stopping. And suddenly a man who is standing near me in the gallery pulls a revolver out of his pocket and shouts out louder even than the people on the stage: “Beast! Untie her this minute or I’ll shoot you down like a dog!”

The blows on the stage cease. The house is in tumult. Everyone turns and looks at my neighbor, a devil-may-care youth of about twenty, who now was white as a sheet, has pocketed his revolver, and is trembling with excitement. . . .

The cloth wall has already been lowered. The lights are turned on in the house now. Groups are quarreling, arguing, all at once;—the young man has disappeared! Chasja’s poor father—Motje Schtrachl, otherwise Jidl Guttman—is standing before the curtain; he raises his hand. Little by little the people quiet down, and he begins to speak very softly: “My dear listeners, may I say something?” Some clap, others call: “Speak up, Guttman, speak up, Motje! Quiet! Quiet!” Gradually there is silence. And he begins again: “My dear friends, it is a hard thing for me to step out of my character, but I must say a few words in explanation.” And he begins, gently and quietly, like a father explaining something to his children: “You know that Madam Fischler is married to the famous Dr. Fischler and has a father and mother—God be thanked, and may they live to be a hundred and twenty! But art demands that, for this evening, she is an orphan. You know too that Madam Rosenberg has six children and is the best mother in the world and has a heart of gold—but art demands that tonight she is the wicked aunt and hits Madam Fischler. I myself am the president of the Bnai Jakob Synagogue—but art demands that this evening I am Motje Schtrachl, Chasja’s poor father. And so I could go on and tell you who all of us are in real life, and who we are obliged to be for art’s sake. Every afternoon around five o’clock you can see us all sitting in the Cafe Abazia, and we are the best of friends. Even our children are friends. And Madam Rosenberg and Madam Fischler are particularly intimate friends. Now here’s a young man—I’m sure he has a good heart, but he doesn’t know all these things I have been telling you—he gets excited and threatens to shoot his revolver. I ask you: Is that right?” “No!” shouts the house. “Throw him out! Bravo, Guttman! Bravo, Fischler! Bravo, Rosenberg!” Again and again there are shouts and thunderous clapping. The poor old father, the actor and president of a synagogue, Jidl Guttman, raises his hand, and there is quiet again: “Well,” he says, “shall we go on?” And again there is a thunder of applause and agreement and cheers! And the house is darkened, and the play begins again where it had stopped. Chasja’s wicked aunt, Madam Rosenberg, who is a mother herself and has a heart of gold, again asks Chasja, the orphan, who is really the wife of Dr. Fischler and —thank God—still has her parents: “Where is the brooch?” And she answers more loudly and strongly than before, “I don’t know!” “What, you don’t know?” says the wicked aunt and the good mother, Madam Rosenberg, and grabs Chasja the orphan, Dr. Fischler’s wife, by her braids, ties her to the bed again, just as before, and shouts threateningly, “Where is the brooch?” And Madam Chasja, the orphan, cries, “I don’t know,” and Aunt Rosenberg gives her a left and a right again! And again Chasja cries loudly and with pride, “I don’t know! I don’t know!” and lefts and rights land on her ears again and again and again!

So, that evening, because of an excitable young man, who surely had a good heart, the delicate, beautiful Madam Fischler was beaten twice over! Poor Madam Fischler.

— Alexander Granach

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