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April 11, 2003 - Image 97

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-04-11

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`The Komediant'

alking into Lillian Lux's
captain recognized them from a previ-
. Lower East Side home is like
ous trip. The shots of an adult Mike
entering a museum of
happily singing "Romania, Romania"
Yiddish theater.
— a song he learned as a kid — with
The apartment holds a photo of Lux a record played on a hand-cranked
and her husband — the late Yiddish
Victrola evoke nostalgia.
actor Pesach'ke Burstein — from an
But The Komediant — the name
appearance in Argentina in the late
comes from one of Pesach'ke's best-
1930s. There also is a picture of Lux,
known plays — goes to great lengths
Burstein and their actor-son, Mike, at
to show the often-tough reality of life
a benefit for wounded Israeli soldiers,
in the Yiddish theater.
and another of Mike from when he
The backbiting among the actors as
played in Barnum on Broadway.
they competed to join the Yiddish
Awards are strewn all over.
actors association is made clear; the
"Everything is a something," Lux
fear of plays being stolen was so great
that performers were sometimes only
The patriarch of the family,
Pesach'ke — he was both born
and died during Passover -- was
a Polish-born actor who became
a matinee idol during the golden
era of Yiddish theater.
Along with Lux, whom
Pesach'ke married after moving
to America, he traveled the world
as one of the ambassadors of
Yiddish theater.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the
two often performed together
with their two children, Mike
and Susan — or Motele and
Zisele, as they were billed. -
The story of the family, and of
the history of 20th-century
Yiddish theater, is told in the
documentary The Komediant,
which screens 12:30 p.m.
Sunday, April 27, in Commerce
"The Komediant": Yiddishkeit.
The project began in 1995, .
when Israeli scriptwriter Oshra
Schwartz showed Israeli director
Arnon Goldfinger an article about
given their own lines, not the lines of
Mike, who uses the name Burstyn.
their fellow actors.
Goldfinger was skeptical, but agreed
The film, which won an Israeli Oscar
to meet Mike, whose wife had just died
for best documentary, depicts the
from cancer. The director was won over, downside of life on the road as well.
but it took Mike some time to be con-
Pesach'ke, Lux and Mike all were
vinced that the two Israelis were sincere
comfortable with the stage. Susan,
in making a serious movie about his
despite her early success as a ventrilo-
family and the Yiddish theater.
quist, left the stage at an early age,
As with any film about the Yiddish
married and retired from performing.
past, the film can't help but be bitter-
Now an Orthodox Jew living in
sweet. The stories of the family travel-
Israel, she offers a more critical view of
ing the world like a circus clan to per-
the family's life on the road. "It's like
form offer a glimpse of a lost world,
being a gypsy. Instead of being in a
since the once-vibrant world of
tent, you're in a hotel room."
Yiddish theater has been reduced to a
"We ended up with a mosaic of sto-
shadow of its former self.
ries — a number of perspectives on
It's difficult not to be moved by
the same events that at times unite
Lillian retelling the story of how she .
and at times contradict one another,"
and Pesach'ke were able to get passage
Goldfinger says. "I think the filin is
on a booked ship out of Poland on the loaded with layers."
eve of World War II because the ship's
— Peter Ephross, JTA

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