Today on Tablet, our theater critic Judith Miller explores Nathan Englander’s first work written for the stage. Englander, who labels himself ‘an accidental playwright,’ based The Twenty-Seventh Man about a real event in which Stalin set out to murder Yiddish writers.
And what a poignant story he has told. At first, the three prison mates whom Stalin’s secret police have arrested—all giants of Yiddish literature in Russia—react to their plight with literary banter born of disbelief and denial. They try to shrug off their ominous incarceration with literary insults and Jewish jokes. Vasily Korinsky (Chip Zien), a true believer in Communist claptrap, a proud Party man who writes paeans to Stalin in verse, only half jokingly describes himself as “the most recognizable writer in this nation.” Clearly his arrest has been an “error,” an “oversight” that will be rectified if and when he can speak to The Agent in Charge. Though he writes in Yiddish, he is the prototypical new man—beyond race, region, ethnicity, and surely religion. Judaism is his culture and religion, not his life, he tells his cellmates.
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