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Yablokoff wrote Der dishvasher (The Dishwasher) as an independent song before it was subsequently included in his full-length production of a “musical romance” of the same name at the Second Avenue Theater in New York in 1936. Because the song was so successful on its own, he later decided to write a play around it. In the original production, in Yiddish, a young Walter Matthau played the role of a cellist. Long afterward, when Matthau was an established Hollywood cinema star, he observed in a New Yorker interview that he could never have learned in any drama school what he had learned in the Yiddish theater.
Yablokoff considered Der dishvasher his finest play. He played and sang the role of Abrashe the dishwasher in the staged production, which also featured such celebrities as Bella Meisel (his wife), Leo Fuchs, Annie Thomashevsky, Esther Saltzman, and Dave Lubritsky. Most or all of the score, apart from Yablokoff’s song, was written by Ilia Trilling.
Der dishvasher is the lament of an elderly man, abandoned by his children, so that he is forced to wash dishes in a restaurant for bare subsistence. It was a familiar theme, especially resonant among elderly audiences, even though it was largely (and typically) exaggerated in this song for the usual dramatic effect. Although Der dishvasher was probably intended to portray the seriousness and genuine pain of the dishwasher’s plight, the overall mantra of parental complaints about their children’s neglect became a recurring theme in American Jewish humor—as late as Mel Brooks’s original 2,000-year-old man routine, where he has thousands and thousands of children, “not one of whom ever calls or comes to visit!”