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June 04, 2009 - Image 70

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2009-06-04

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Arts & Entertainment

Culture Clash

Elderly Holocaust survivor confronts his ghosts
in new play at Detroit Repertory Theatre.

Suzanne Chessler
Special to the Jewish News

M

arc Kornblatt, who has served
as cantor for the University
of Michigan Mel, returns to
the state through a play he wrote about
a Holocaust survivor
reacting to the fall of
the Berlin Wall.
The play, Last Days
of a Translator, was
shaped by a working
relationship experi-
enced by the playwright
and will be staged June
4 28 by the Detroit
Repertory Theatre.
Playwright Marc
"I was living in New
Kornblatt
York, working as a
sometime actor and
temporary typist, when I got a job at a
Jewish agency," recalls Kornblatt, 54, about
the origins of the drama.
"I was paired with a man whose job was
to read newspapers in Hebrew, translate
them into English and disburse the new
versions to the staff. He would translate and
I would type. Subsequent to that, I thought
about the situation and spun a story"
Kornblatt gave the situation consider-
able thought because the two men did not
get along, and Kornblatt left. The working
relationship in the play moves through
very different emotions.
Samuel Isaacson, the play's main char-

-

acter, is a Polish-born Holocaust survivor
who does translations for an import-
export company and is affected by the
prospect of the Berlin Wall falling. When a
young man of German descent is hired to
work with him, the man's past affects the
way they interact.
"Rather than take a negative from my
experience, I tried to find some redemp-
tive element;' says Kornblatt, whose play
has evolved over 20 years and has been
seen in earlier versions. "I wanted change
for the better, a form of repairing the
world as in the phrase tikkun olam."
Hank Bennett directs the cast that
includes Greg Olszewski, Stephen Blackwell,
Milfordean Luster and Inga NVilson.
Kornblatt, who grew up in New Jersey,
was introduced to theater by his parents
and a favorite teacher. His mom took him
to New York to see all kinds of produc-
tions, and his dad had a history of appear-
ing in amateur theater through a local
synagogue. His teacher would do impres-
sive readings.
"I went out for the drama club in high
school; but in my junior year, I was asked
to be on the yearbook staff, which meant
I'd have to give up theater," he recalls. "If
I had gotten it out of my blood in high
school, I might never have gone on. I had
this unrequited love."
Kornblatt studied acting and playwrit-
ing at Brandeis University and worked
on summer stock productions in New
Hampshire. He tried his luck in New York,
also supporting himself as a bartender

and waiter. Amid the uncer-
tainty of his stage efforts, one
The Last Days of a Translator cast includes
notable role was in the chorus
Milfordean Luster, Greg Olszewski, Inga Wilson
of The Sound of Music.
and Stephen Blackwell
"I slowly left theater because
I was tired of being an extra:'
he explains. "_After years of not making a
that's making the rounds.
living, I started writing for newspapers in
"For me, Judaism is not just about
the mid-1980s and studied journalism in
remembering. It's about life. I care about
graduate school at New York University."
family holidays and celebrating all the dif-
During his graduate studies, Kornblatt
ferent lifecycle events because that, to me,
began writing children's books. His pub-
is Judaism."
lished projects include Izzy's Place, about
Kornblatt, who likes spending Saturday
a boy sent away for the summer, and
afternoons playing board games with his
Understanding Buddy, about a youngster
family, hopes that Detroit audiences will
who lost his mom.
find Last Days of a Translator uplifting. He
"I met my wife, Judith, in New York,"
is proud of the repartee between the two
says Kornblatt, the father of two. "She's a
main characters.
professor of Slavic languages and litera-
"It's really more than a Holocaust play,"
ture. lArhen she got a one-year position in
he says. "I want it to give people a sense
Indiana, we went there. Then, she got a
of hope. It is about what we do now
position in Madison, Wis., and we've been
after the Holocaust is gone and what we
here ever since."
have learned from the people who lived
In Madison, Kornblatt earned a teach-
through it."
ing degree and has been assigned to fifth
grade. He writes during his summers off
and can look back on having three full-
Last Days of a Translator will be
length plays produced as well as some
performed June 4-28 at the Detroit
one-acts.
Repertory Theatre,13103 Woodrow
"I still miss theater terribly, but I'm pretty
Wilson, in Detroit. Performances are
much a traditional, observant Jew," he says.
8:30 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 3 and
"If I ever went back to theater, it would not
8:30 p.m. Saturdays and 2 and 7:30
be as an actor because I would have trouble
p.m. Sundays. $17 advance/$20 at
traveling and performing on Shabbat.
the door. The Saturday, June 6, ben-
"I went to a Hebrew day school and
efit performance is $25. (313) 868-
have been to Israel numerous times. I have
1347; www.detroitreptheatre.com .
a picture book about Israeli-Arab relations

Jews

Nate Bloom

Special to the Jewish News

112

Tony Time

The Tony Awards, for theater excel-
lence on Broadway, will be presented
mot in a telecast on CBS 8 p.m. Sunday,
June 7.
Playwrights Yasmina Reza (Art),
50, and Moises Kaufman (The
Laramie Project), 45, are nominated
for best play for, respectively, God of
Carnage and 33 Variations.
Carnage is a four-character com-
edy-of-manners about two affluent
married couples who meet for din-
ner following a tiff involving their
young children. The play's perform-
ers (Hope Davis, James Gandolfini,

C8

June 4 = 2009

Marcia Gay Harden and Michigan's
in 9 to 5, based on the hit 1980 film.
Jeff Daniels) all are nominated for
Carole Shelley, 69, is nominated
best leading actor or best leading
for best featured actress in a musi-
actress in a play.
cal for playing the role of
Variations, a play about
Grandma in Billy Elliot,
Beethoven that has ended its
The Musical, based on a
run, co-starred Jane Fonda,
hit 2000 film of the same
who is up for a Tony for best
name about a working-
leading actress in a play. A
class boy who trades in
native of Venezuela, Kaufman
his boxing gloves for ballet
has described himself as
shoes. Shelley, a native of
Carole Shelley
"the hardest-working Jewish
Britain, won the best leading
Latino gay artist in the New
actress Tony in 1979 for The
York theater."
Elephant Man.
Marc Kudisch, 42, a veteran
The title role in the stage show is
Broadway musical actor, earned his
played by a rotating trio of teenag-
third Tony nomination for best fea-
ers. All three, including Kiril Kulish,
tured actor in a musical for his por-
14, are nominated together for best
trayal of the sexist, egotistical boss
leading actor in a musical. Kulish

grew up in San Diego,
the son of Ukrainian
Jewish immigrant
parents. He has got
it all — the face of
an angel, a fine sing-
ing voice and ballet
ability that puts him
in the top tier of
American dancers in his age group;
he's quite an athlete as well, excel-
ling at many sports, including karate.
Finally, the musical Rock of Ages,
featuring the songs of the greatest
bands of the '80s, is Tony nominated
for best musical. If it wins, the Tony
goes to the show's producers. One of
them is former Detroiter and 1993 U-
M grad Jayson Raitt.

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