This year marks the 160th birthday of Jacob Adler, the shining star of Yiddish theater. Adler was perhaps best known for his triumphant turns in two Shakespeare productions: Der Yiddisher King Lear (The Jewish King Lear), which transposed the dramatic action to 19th-century Russia, and Shaylok, oder der Koyfman Fun Venedig (Shylock, or The Merchant of Venice), which featured a sympathetic, naturalistic portrait of the Jewish moneylender.
Adler played Shylock on Broadway in 1903 and 1905. All the other actors spoke Shakespeare’s English, while Shylock spoke conversational Yiddish. (The New York Times wasn’t entirely impressed, bemoaning “the colloquial patois robbing the lines of all semblance to blank verse, though enabling the actor to color his playing with many realistic touches that are highly effective if not too closely analyzed.”) Adler was nicknamed “nesher hagodl (“the great eagle”), after his stately presence and soaring talent. His daughter Stella followed him into the family business, eventually becoming a celebrated method acting teacher who trained Marlon Brando, Judy Garland, Harvey Keitel, Lena Horne, Robert de Niro, Elaine Stritch, and many others.
Today, the publication of Shakespeare, Not Stirred, a new book of Bard-tastic cocktail and nosh recipes by tenured-Shakespeare-professors-with-a-sense-of-humor Caroline Bicks, Ph.D. and Michelle Ephraim, Ph.D., offers a great opportunity to toast Adler’s legacy. The book is full of snippets of historical background and life wisdom drawn from the Bard’s works, alongside recipes and classic images from the Folger Shakespeare Library that have been doctored to add alcoholic beverages. (Full disclosure, I know both authors—Caroline was the improv comedy star of my Harvard class and Michelle is the author of Reading The Jewish Woman on the Elizabethan Stage and someone I’ve enjoyed talking to at parties while tipsy myself.)
As a fitting tribute to Adler, why not take a couple of cocktail shakers and some Shakespearean nibbles to Tompkins Square Park, a stone’s throw from the Second Avenue Yiddish Theater strip? (If you wanted to get even closer to the scene of the action, you could spread out your picnic blanket in the leafy courtyard of Saint Marks Church in-the-Bowery, but sipping cocktails in a churchyard feels decadent, even for me.) Use the recipes below to stir up a batch of Shylock’s Ducats and King Lear’s Retired-But-Not-Forgotten cocktails and enjoy the end of summer; in the book you’ll also find recipes for accompaniments like Gloucester’s Jellied Eyeballs (made with new potatoes, borscht, sour cream and caviar); and Antonio’s Pound of Meatballs (ground beef, panko bread crumbs, garlic, fresh thyme and tarragon, fig jam and chili sauce). You could also whip up Jessica’s bacon-wrapped shrimp with goat cheese (a treyf trifecta!)…but I wouldn’t.
Edible gold dust
1 ounce Goldschläger schnapps
3 ounces sparkling cider
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Rim a chilled martini glass with the leon wedge and dip the rim in gold dust (unless your daughter got to it first). Fill a shaker with ice. Add the Goldschläger, cider, and lemon juice. Shake like you’re in Vegas and Daddy needs a new pair of shoes. Strain into the martini glass.
King Lear’s Retired But Not Forgotten
Lemon rind spiral
1 ounce Cynar (bitter artichoke liqueur)
4 ounces prosecco
3 ounces club soda
Make a lemon rind spiral and place in the freezer. (This will produce a prolonged, celebratory fizz when placed in the drink.) In a champagne flute, stir together the Cynar and prosecco. Top off with the club soda. Place the spiral in the flute. Make your guests give competitive speeches about how they love you and this drink more than anyone or anything in the world.