Considered a seminal piece of Jewish history, the original “A Dybbuk” was written in 1914 by S. Ansky and first performed in Yiddish. It tells the tale of a love between a young student of the Kabbalah and the beautiful daughter of a rich man. When the student is denied her hand in marriage because her father arranged for her to marry a wealthy suitor, the scholar dies of longing. But even in death, he won’t be denied. On the day of her wedding, his ghost enters the girl to keep her himself. Then things get complicated.
“This is arguably the most infamous play in the history of Judaism,” director Lane Savadove said. “It was produced by Stanislavsky’s Moscow Art Theater in Moscow. It is also one of the only pieces of contemporary fiction that addresses the themes of Kabbalah and magic in Judaism.
“Western, and especially American, Jews know very little about the Kabbalah. It is a wonderfully rich aspect of Jewish spirituality. The play asks amazing questions, such as the nature of sin given that it is from God, how sexuality and spirituality can co-exist and how truly challenging it is to lead a spiritual life. I think the question of the role of religion for educated, cultured Americans is a wonderful topic. It is such a challenging issue that I know I tend to ignore it. Throughout this process, I was forced to truly address my own spirituality in a real way.”
Seventy-five years after Ansky debuted “A Dybbuk,” out playwright Tony Kushner, famous for his award-winning play “Angels in America,” was inspired to adapt the play for a modern audience.
Savadove said Kushner’s version of “A Dybbuk” is very close to Ansky’s original story.
“He updated the language to make it more accessible to a modern audience and brought out the mysticism, making it a fun spooky play,” Savadove said. “He also highlighted the theme of how the speed of the modern world makes it very difficult to hold on to a spiritual life. Much like in “Angels in America,” he focuses on our challenge of finding meaningful religion and spirituality in a contemporary world.”
Savadove added that even though the story has some dark elements, and Kushner’s version takes the themes of sexual division and racial self-awareness implicit in the piece and mixes it with his own style of apocalyptic apprehension, the story still has an uplifting element to it.
“‘A Dybbuk’ has really strong positive themes,” he said. “It’s all about how we must follow love no matter what the obstacles, even death! We are bound to our missing piece for eternity. It’s a really beautiful message. Also there is actually comedy in the ‘Dybbuk.’ It is built in the style of Yiddish theater and has some really fun parts. And the exorcism at the center of the play, if you are into scary films, is really fun.”
If that wasn’t enough to get audiences excited for “A Dybbuk,” Savadore, who is also the show’s artistic director, said the staging for this production is extremely complex.
“This play, in spite of it being a truly amazing story, is rarely staged because of the artistic challenges,” he said. “It is an epic story. Theater is so often about two people sitting around in an apartment talking — this gets boring. We want theater that is epic, poetic, visual, dynamic and simply exciting to watch. ‘A Dybbuk’ more than fulfills this theatrical vision.”
EgoPo presents “A Dybbuk” through June 17 at Prince Music Theater, 1412 Chestnut St. For more information or tickets, call 800-595-4849 or visit www.egopo.org.