The Vilna Shul, Boston’s Center for Jewish Culture presents ‘The Dybbuk’

By Marianne Salza

Ancient Yiddish folktale, “The Dybbuk,” a mystical story about tragic love, is premiering in the United States and performed in English for the first time at The Vilna Shul, Boston’s Center for Jewish Culture, located at 18 Phillips Street, Beacon Hill.

“This is an old, Polish play, written by a Ukrainian playwright in Russian. It toured all over Europe,” said Sara Stackhouse, producer. “It’s a folktale about two lovers not allowed to marry. He dies; but they stay in a relationship. She can hear him. Her family is trying to get her to marry in real life. The two of them are trapped, hanging between two worlds. Our feeling is that a lot of immigrants are living between two worlds. We are in a time of war and displacement.”

Stackhouse hopes that “The Dybbuk” will bring people together and develop a better understanding of Jewish culture. She believes that the story of young lovers not at peace, and feelings of restlessness are prevalent today; especially following the October 7th Hamas attacks on Israel.

“This is a story of love; so it’s timeless. It’s also a story of the Jewish culture, which lives on generation after generation in different forms,” descried Stackhouse. “It’s also about restless souls; and I think there is a lot of thinking by immigrants – and Jews everywhere – ‘Where do we go next? Where is our home?’”

“The Dybbuk” features the Arlekin Players Theatre, an internationally-touring company of immigrant actors from the former Soviet Union, with guest, Boston artists Deb Martin, as Frade, and Robert Walsh, as Sender. The production stars Andrey Burkovskiy, as Khonen, and Yana Gladkikh, as Leah. The famed Russian actors are refugees who fled to the United States during the wake of the war in Gaza and Ukraine.

“They’re both astonishing,” expressed Stackhouse.

“The Dybbuk” is an adaptation written by Roy Chen, and based on the original play by S. Ansky. It has been reimaged further by Ukrainian-born director, Igor Golyak, and dramaturge, Doctor Rachel Merrill Moss, who contemporized “The Dybbuk” to create a unique version specifically for Arlekin Players Theatre to perform at The Vilna Shul, one of the oldest, Jewish temples in the country.

“I think the walls will contribute to the history of the characters and the story. I think the most important thing about any play is being authentic; and being in the oldest synagogues in Boston will help. You will see rituals and why this sacred place was important for Jews,” said Arlekin board chair, Rimma Gluzman, who portrays a dead soul. “I think it’s a beautiful love story. Even though it’s a Jewish ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ there is hope. I think it’s as important today as it was 100 years ago. Our voices matter. Theatre is where people come together and heal.”

Born and raised in Vilnus, it is particularly special for Gluzman – now a Boston resident — to be a cast member in this production of “The Dybbuk.” She hopes that spending time in the temple will help audiences connect with the Jewish people.

“A lot of the Beacon Hill area was Jewish. The culture shaped this whole slope. Vilna Shul, founded in 1919, was a practicing synagogue for Jewish immigrants for a long time,” noted Stackhouse. “Now a group has come to renovate it and it’s Boston’s Center for Jewish Culture. They do high holidays here and special events. This building is still living here; and the story of all the ancient souls coming together in contemporary times, making it visible, is incredible.”

This is the first time that a full theatrical production will be performed in the sanctuary of The Vilna Shul, a building registered through the Council of American Jewish Museums. “The Dybbuk” is set in a synagogue, a home, and the mikveh ritual bath during the 1920s.

“I think Golyak and his company have spent a lot of artistic time exploring and excavating the question of what it means to be a Jewish immigrant. There is a lot that’s beautiful in it,” shared Stackhouse, who hopes that viewers will deepen their empathy for immigrants now living in Boston. “We want people to have a shared experience where they’re moved by something, understand something, and see something differently.”

Visit to purchase tickets for “The Dybbuk,” now playing through June 23.

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