With featured speakers Dr. Rena Potok and Director David Bassuk
When famed author Chaim Potok was inspired to write about another legendary Jewish writer, the result was Out of the Depths, Potok’s first and only original play. Based on the extraordinary life and work of S. Ansky, author of the world renowned play, The Dybbuk, Out of the Depths was recently published for the first time in The Collected Plays of Chaim Potok. Now, in celebration of its publication and the 100th anniversary of Potok’s birth, the Center for Jewish History will host the New York premiere of Out of the Depths with a staged reading on Sunday, February 3rd at 2:00 pm.
S. Ansky (1863-1920) was an author, journalist, researcher of folklore, revolutionary activist, and playwright. When his masterpiece, The Dybbuk, premiered shortly after his death in 1920, it was an immediate sensation. Considered “the most celebrated play” in the history of Yiddish and Hebrew theater, it has been performed on both stage and screen, in multiple languages, and around the world.
Fast forward to the end of the 20th century. Chaim Potok sets Out of the Depths in a Warsaw rehearsal room where the Vilna Troupe are preparing for The Dybbuk’s 1920 premiere. Against a backdrop of war and revolution, Potok’s play transports the audience from the rehearsal room to various times and locations in Ansky’s life. Revealing the tensions and conflicts in Ansky’s long journey away from and back to his religious roots, Potok raises questions about personal ambition, religious tradition, war, and displacement that continue to resonate in our world today.
Directed by David Bassuk and introduced by the author’s daughter, Dr. Rena Potok, the staged reading of Out of the Depths will feature eight actors playing twenty-five characters. Extensively researched in the archives of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, one of the Center’s five partner organizations, Out of the Depths is one of five plays in The Collected Plays of Chaim Potok (Monkfish Press, 2018). Edited by Dr. Rena Potok, the book is the first ever collection of her father’s plays. The program, co-sponsored with the Forward, will be followed by a discussion with Rena Potok and David Bassuk and a book signing.
Chaim Potok was the author of nine novels, including The Chosen, My Name is Asher Lev, Davita’s Harp, and I Am the Clay. He also wrote Young Adult fiction (Zebra and Other Stories); children’s books (The Tree of Here and The Sky of Now); a collection of novellas (Old Men at Midnight); biographies of Isaac Stern and Vladimir Slepak; Wanderings: Chaim Potok’s History of the Jews; and numerous essays and short stories. An ordained rabbi, he served as a U.S. Army chaplain in Korea. The Collected Plays of Chaim Potok is the first volume of his plays to be published.
Rena Potok is a writer, editor, and educator. Her poems, literary translations, and academic essays have appeared in Religion and Literature, The Bryn Mawr Review of Comparative Literature, The Pennsylvania Gazette, and other publications. She is the editor of Hills of Spices: Poetry from the Bible and the 50th anniversary critical edition of The Chosen by Chaim Potok. She is a recipient of a Fiction Fellowship at the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. She teaches English literature, Irish film, and writing at Villanova University, and is completing her first novel.
David Bassuk is Professor of Acting in the Conservatory of Theater Arts at Purchase College, SUNY, School of the Arts. He is a director of many productions, among them Cat’s Cradle: A Musical by Kurt Vonnegut, Nadine Gordimer’s July’s People, Chaim Potok’s The Chosen Off-Broadway, and American Camera at Lincoln Center. Recent Purchase Repertory productions include last year’s The Maids, Tales from the Vienna Woods, Master and Margarita, Hedda Gabler, Peer Gynt, Lady Windermere’s Fan, and The Cherry Orchard. His teaching explores the integration of transmedia storytelling, gameplay, and immersive design into teaching stage directing, scriptwriting, and experimental performance. He holds an M.F.A. from Southern Methodist University.
About the Center for Jewish History
Illuminating history, culture, and heritage, the Center for Jewish History in New York City provides a collaborative home for five partner organizations: American Jewish Historical Society, American Sephardi Federation, Leo Baeck Institute, Yeshiva University Museum, and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. The partners’ archives comprise the world’s largest and most comprehensive archive of the modern Jewish experience outside of Israel. The collections span a thousand years, with more than 5 miles of archival documents (in dozens of languages and alphabet systems), more than 500,000 volumes, as well as thousands of artworks, textiles, ritual objects, recordings, films, and photographs.