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1995-2000


 
New York City
April 2002

Theater Documentary the Komediant
By Jan Aaron

From the shetls of Eastern Europe to the toast of the Yiddish theater is the journey Pesach’ke Bernstein makes in Arnon Goldfinger’s remarkable documentary The Komediant. Beautifully made and meticulously researched, this highly evocative movie will appeal to all theater and film buffs.

The film introduces Pesach’ke’s flight from his orthodox parents as a kid through clever use of vintage silent clips from Yiddish films and narration by his wife the still-vibrant Lillian Lux. He eagerly joined the circus and worked with itinerant European troupes before impresario Boris Tomashefsky recruited him in 1923 for New York’s Nora Bayes Theater, where he transformed the U.S. Yiddish stage.

Though younger than Pesach’ke, veteran Yiddish theater actors Fivush Finkel and Shifra Lerer still can recall the old days when Second Avenue was lined with theaters and actors in the Hebrew Actors Union, a snobbish group, rejected Stella Adler.

Pescha’ke became famous with his recording of “Zedele Meines,” (Yiddish “Sonny Boy”) for Columbia Records and his talent for whistling like a bird. Lillian, twenty years younger, joined his troupe and they fell in love and traveled the globe. Married in Uruguay, they narrowly escaped the Nazis marching on Poland.

The birth of twins–a son Mike Burstyn and a daughter Susan–changed their lives. From here, the movie looks at the family’s life from each person’s viewpoint, which is quite funny. None of the Bernsteins remember the same incident like the other. The kids become part of the act, with Susan showing considerable talent as a ventriloquist.

Eventually, the itinerant actor’s life is too much for Susan, who leaves to marry a much older man. The ceremony is held at midnight, so the family won’t miss a performance. Mike became famous in Israel for a movie musical, “The Two Kuni Lemls,” but also realizes that he must leave the dying Yiddish stage behind and get on with his career. This film won the best documentary drama in Israel in 1999. It will win your heart!

(85 minutes, Released by New Yorker Films, English and Yiddish, Call 777-FILM).#

 

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