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September 21, 1990 - Image 132

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-09-21

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

I ENTERTAINMENT I

Best Wishes lb Our
Customers and Friends
For A Good Year Filled
With Health and Happiness

Yiddish Theater
Is Hanging On

NAHMA SANDROW

Special to The Jewish News

T

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A Happy and Healthy
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132

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 1990

J

SCI
OGIICER
ANIERICAN
ETY

en years ago, when
she was just another
cute kid living in New
York and trying to break
into show business, Eleanor
Reissa answered a casting
call in Backstage to audition
for a place in the chorus of a
Yiddish show. She got the
part. Yiddish theater was
not Broadway, but it was a
job and she decided "it was
better than waiting on
tables," which is where so
many show biz careers start
and end.
Eleanor began in the
chorus, rose to playing saucy
soubrettes in other Yiddish
productions, and several
years later, when the star
happened to leave her show,
she was ready to step center
stage. At the same time that
her "American" career kept
making steady progress, the
spotlight on the Yiddish
stage was coming to feel like
a comfortable place to stand.
All the same, last season,
when she got a phone call
offering her a starring role
in the Yiddish musical
Songs of Paradise, she
groaned, "Oh, no, not
again!" and made a rude
face at the receiver.
Still, she didn't turn it
down. Songs of Paradise, a
frisky and irreverent retell-
ing of Bible stories, newly
adapted from Yiddish poetry
with a cast of young actors
and fresh references to salsa,
reggae, and disco, delighted
the New York Times as well
as the Yiddish Daily For-
ward.
So did Eleanor. And this
year finds her yet again
belting out big numbers in a
Yiddish revue, Those Were
the Days.
In her bemused, affec-
tionate, edgy, ambivalent
attitude toward the Yiddish
theater, Eleanor is typical of
most American Yiddish
actors of the younger ge-
neration. ("Young" in
today's Yiddish theater
means roughly twenty to
forty-five years old).
She is more comfortable in
English than in Yiddish. She
was born here and is Ameri-

Nahma Sandro is a writer in
New York City. This article
was made possible by a grant
from the Fund for Journalism
on Jewish Life, a project of the
CRB Foundation of Montreal,
Canada. All views expressed
are solely those of the author.

can in acting style and per-
sonal style. She is Jewish
but not at all religious. Final-
ly, unlike Yiddish actors of
the past, she feels no perma-
nent commitment to Yiddish
theater.
This above all is what
Leon Leibgold, a grand old
man of the Yiddish stage,
really means when he com-
ments flatly that, "There are
no young Yiddish actors any
more; there are only young
actors who play in Yiddish."
Like the larger Yiddish
culture of which it remains a
resonant part, the Yiddish
theater continues to shrink
painfully with age. Yiddish
actors and playwrights, like
Yiddish journalists and
poets, are remnants. They've
held on through assimila-
tion, the ascendancy of the
Hebrew language over
Yiddish, and the destruction
by the Nazis and Soviets of
the source of Yiddish
speakers.
There is no longer a range
of Yiddish newspapers to
publish theater reviews,
argumentative critiques and
columns of backstage gossip.
Gone is the nightlife assoc-
iated with Yiddish theater
going, the sociable sidewalks
and crowded cafes. Most of
the splendid artistes and
their devoted fans are dead.
The old Yiddish quip
sharpens its bite: "An old
Jew just died; move another
seat out of the theater."
Although the Yiddish
theater was once as famous
for its literary avant garde
as for its popular enter-
tainments, now when au-
diences want something new
and intellectual, they find it
more conveniently in Eng-
lish. Most regular Yiddish
ticket-buyers crave a trip in
a time capsule: the old famil-
iar repertory performed in
the old familiar style.
The audiences still get
themselves there, even if the
nursing home has to charter
a bus. They love to hear the
language, they love the link
with their youth, and
besides the shows are
sometimes terrific.
There are also community
institutions such as the
Workmen's Circle which chip
in subsidies, for the culture
still feels strongly about its
theater, values it, and even
measures itself by it.
On the fringe of this world,
a pool of several dozen
younger actors like Eleanor
Continued on Page 134

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