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‘Dybbuk,’ The Prequel

‘Dybbuk,’ The Prequel

Ted Merwin’s column appears monthly. He writes about theater for the paper and is the author of the award-winning “Pastrami on Rye,” a history of the Jewish deli.

Call it a play that dares not speak its name.

Target Margin’s new production, “The (*) Inn,” based on Peretz Hirschbein’s controversial Yiddish drama, “The Haunted Inn,” (Di Puste Kretchme), helped to kick off the experimental Yiddish theater movement with its spooky tale of a wedding gone awry when the bride runs off with a former lover and rumors swirl that the pair are possessed.

Directed by David Herskovits, an English-language production of the play runs through the end of the month on the Lower East Side; it is part of Target Margin’s two-year exploration of Yiddish theater that kicked off last fall.

Set in rural Poland, the moody, Symbolist play took Vilna, London and then New York by storm when it first opened during the First World War. The mysterious title plays off the ambiguity in the Yiddish word “puste,” which means empty, vacant or abandoned.

“The (*) Inn” takes the familiar theme of a girl whose hand has been promised to a man whom she does not love. The girl’s father, a horse trader and tavern keeper, dismantles his inn in order to move it to a better location. But the spirits of the inn are not so easily dispatched and they wreak havoc on the family. In an especially startling scene, the bride and her lover threaten to whip and bite each other in order to prove their undying love.

Herskovits told The Jewish Week that he views the play as a precursor of S. Anski’s “The Dybbuk” in its mixture of sex and soul-snatching, although he sees it as “even more elusive and mysterious” in that people “seem to lose their grip on reality; it’s not clear whether or not the young lovers are possessed.”

In the end, he noted, “It’s a poetic drama about these young people’s failure to find any outlet for their passions that is legitimated by their community.” Herskovits is dedicated to multicultural casting, and “The (*) Inn” is no exception; the bride, her father, and the lover are played, respectively, by Korean, Indian and African-American actors.

Herskovits promises a “contemporary and muscular production” that he hopes will help inspire theaters throughout the country to embrace Yiddish theater, in translation, and bring it to a new generation. “Yiddish plays aren’t museum pieces,” he said. “They can and should be done by everybody.”

“The (*) Inn” runs through March 30 at the Abrons Art Center, 466 Grand St. Performances are Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m.. For tickets, $25, call OvationTix at (212) 352-3101 or visit

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