Moscow: Gos. izd-vo, 1930. Item #1005
72 pp.: ill. 13,6x19,5 cm. In original constructivist wrappers. Tears of the spine, light soiling. Otherwise in very good condition.
Scarce. One of 3000 copies. First edition with 2 black-and-white photographs of the scenes from the play. Wrapper design by Mikhail Grigor’yev (1899-1960), a noted Soviet graphic and theatre artist, stage designer of this very play.
A RARE EXAMPLE OF THE SOVIET JEWISH PLAY ABOUT ANTISEMITISM. The book features the text of the play Tak Bylo [i.e. So It Was] written by the Soviet playwright and one of the leading figures in the Leningrad Theatre of Young Spectators (TYUZ) Alexandra Brushtein (1884-1968). The play premiered on the stage of the TYUZ under the directorship of the noted Soviet theatre actor, director, and educator Boris Sohn (1898-1966) in 1929. Dedicated to the topic of the fight against antisemitism, Tak bylo became one of the most popular productions of the Leningrad theatre.
The play is set in Imperial Russia and follows the story of the working-class Jews, who become the victim of the Tsarist conspiracy. To avoid massive riots on Labor Day (May 1st), the General Governor and police chief decide to distract workers from their poor working conditions by turning them against the Jews. The violent demonstration and the pogrom end when the little brothers of the working Jews feign fire, and the frightened rioters disperse to save their homes.
The text of the play is preceded by the introductory article Chto takoye antisemitizm [i.e. What Is Antisemitism] and followed by the director’s notes on the production. Despite the often harsh and overtly hateful language, Sohn recommends “exact reproduction of the text of the play”. The play was designed for the youth aged 14-18 years. Considered a hub of the future Communists, the Leningrad Theatre of Young Spectators was famous for the productions dedicated to the topics of Civil War, the fight against religious superstitions, etc.
The struggle against antisemitism was a common theme in the 1920s and early 1930s Soviet Union. As a result of the October Revolution, the Bolsheviks overthrew a centuries-long policy of official antisemitism in the Russian Empire. Although in the first years the Soviet authorities publicly opposed this extreme form of racial chauvinism, the anti-Jewish conspiracy theories reached new heights after 1948, when numerous Yiddish-writing poets, writers, painters, and sculptors were killed or arrested.
Tak bylo, the first play by Alexandra Brushtein, became a precursor to the long and successful collaboration between the playwright and Boris Sohn. In the following years, the two produced a number of famous works, including Don Kikhot [i.e. Don Quijote] in 1926, Khizhina dyadi Toma [i.e. Uncle Tom’s Cabin] in 1927, Na polyus! [i.e. To the Pole] in 1930, 4,000,000 avtorov [4,000,000 Authors] in 1930, etc.
Mikhail Grigor’yev distinguished himself as a book illustrator, stage designer, graphic artist, and actor. From 1918 until 1920, he studied at the Petrograd State Free Art Training Workshops under Dmitry Kardovsky, Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, and Vasiliy Shukhaev. At the different stages of his career, Grigor’yev worked at the Leningrad Young People’s Theatre, the New Leningrad Theatre, Komissarzhevskaya Theatre, the Kirov Theatre, etc. Designing more than 50 productions, his most famous works include Mol’ba o zhizni [i.e Plea for Life] directed by Vadim Kozhich in 1935 (Leningrad Alexandrinsky Theatre); Zhenit’ba [i.e. Marriage] directed by Aleksandr Muzil’ (Leningrad Alexandrinsky Theatre), etc.
Worldcat shows 1 copy of this edition in University of Wisconsin – Madison.