This sounds worth a trip to NYC to see,
Nathan Englander packs big themes into small places. The Twenty-Seventh Man, a 90-minute play that runs through Dec. 9 at the Public Theater, is a fictionalized account of Stalin’s murder of 26 of the Soviet Union’s most gifted Yiddish writers. Based on Englander’s short story of the same title, the play is performed on a compact stage that feels almost claustrophobic, which is clearly director Barry Edelstein’s intent. Almost all of the “action”—lots of talk about writing and writers, politics and destiny—takes place in a windowless cell in a Soviet prison in 1952 as the writers await their fate. Compression, in time and place, is one of those aesthetic tools that Englander uses to evoke his play’s quintessentially Jewish notes of tragic irony.
The Twenty-Seventh Man is based on a real incident—“The Night of the Murdered Poets,” about which too little is known. The name refers to the evening on which Stalin executed 26 Yiddish writers in the summer of 1952, only months before his own death. Among them were several of the Yiddish language’s greatest poets, playwrights, novelists and journalists—Peretz Markish, Leib Kvitko, Dovid Bergelson, Itzik Fefer, David Hofshteyn, Benjamin Zuskin, Leon Talmy, and Ilya Vatenberg. Where and how they died remained unknown until the collapse of the Soviet Union. But their murders were said to have ended a Yiddish literary and artistic culture without equal anywhere in the world. Englander told one interviewer that since the writers were killed “without their last story being told,” he felt that “somebody should write them a story.’ ”