It’s Dora Reisser’s ability to reinvent herself – from child refugee to prima ballerina, actor, screen star and fashion designer – and in such nail-biting circumstances, that makes her memoir, Dora’s Story, so gripping. Judi Herman visited Reisser at her remarkable London home (it used to be a railway station) to hear more of the stories behind her book, which begins with the little-known history of how Bulgaria’s Jews survived the Holocaust; and about her life in the UK and Israel, including an eye-opening account of how she started her Reisser fashion house – just one of the many new stories Reisser has that could fill a sequel.
What better way to open The Other Palace (formerly St James Theatre) than with a wild party? Michael John LaChiusa’s musical takes on Joseph Moncure March’s 1920s poem and paints an unglamorous picture of the dissolute decade with a cast of unsympathetic and pitiless characters. Guys and Dolls it ain’t!
There was a terrific compilation movie that took the title of much-loved song That’s Entertainment (written by Jewish duo Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz for the MGM film The Band Wagon) to celebrate the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio’s prodigious output; celebrating songs by Jewish composers and lyricists written for films produced by a studio founded and run by the eponymous Jewish entertainment moguls. Producer Katy Lipson proves her love and knowledge of “the magic of the musical” by touring her show The MGM Story this February. So in a way That’s Jewish Entertainment is a given, but there’s still so much to discover and enjoy as four talented performers and a four-strong band give their all to entertaining Yiddish style and tracing the trajectory of Jewish entertainment from shtetl to showbiz.
Following a visit to Auschwitz in 2012, Sira Soetendorp felt a deep need to preserve the memory of all the lost family members. The Dutch artist used carved outlines drawn in oil paint to fashion portraits based on family photographs, which make up her exhibition Vanished Families. Here she discusses the exhibit with JR’s Arts Editor Judi Herman, plus you will hear Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp, Sira’s husband and Emeritus Rabbi of the Hague, who is an award-winning human rights advocate.
Vanished Families runs until Monday 27 February at Etz Chayim Gallery, Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue, HA6 3AA. 019 2382 2592. Viewing by appointment: firstname.lastname@example.org. www.npls.org.uk/etzchayim.htm
Lush romantic stories are bread and butter to composer/lyricist Maury Yeston, and he writes scores to match. His elegiac music conjures time and place and whether the place is the doomed Titanic ocean liner or Grand Hotel Berlin 1928, the first half of the 20th century seems to be his preferred time.
Hitler apologist David Irving would have loved to have his day – or days – in court face to face with Deborah Lipstadt, the historian he sued for libel for labelling him “one of the most dangerous spokesmen of Holocaust denial”. It is more a strength than a weakness of the film charting Irving’s high-profile defeat by Lipstadt’s team of lawyers that Lipstadt herself maintains a dignified ‘silence in court’.
With its stellar writing team – music and lyrics Burt Bacharach and Hal David, book Neil Simon (based on Billy Wilder’s screenplay for hit comedy The Apartment) – this musical set in early 60s New York is as lovable and eager to be loved as any pedigree pup. It boasts a hero of self-deprecating charm in Chuck Baxter, insurance company junior and wannabe executive dining room key holder. Happily for Chuck, he already holds the keys to a Manhattan studio apartment, discreet walking distance from the office. Jaded middle-aged senior executives aspire to these keys to happiness in their turn for the odd hour’s dalliance with their very personal assistants before they go home to their wives. Chuck seems to hold the keys to his own advancement – the promises are the promotion his superiors offer in return.
The theatre is a storage room in an LA veterans administration hospital. The date is 11 November 1989 – Remembrance Day. Three veterans of three different conflicts, emblematic of a 20th-century world torn apart by war, represent the soldiers scarred by their experiences in the theatre of war. Sporting poppies, they prepare in this makeshift waiting room to be decorated for valour. Private Leslie R Holloway, who saw service (and unnamed horrors) during World War I, is slumped in a wheelchair when Sergeant John MacCormick Butts breezes into the room in his brash suit. His voice is even louder as he whiles away the time by cheerily proving that his prowess at the piano is equal to his prowess in World War II, accompanying himself reprising rousing ditties from different conflicts, from Keep the Home Fires Burning to Over Here. His best endeavours are not enough to rouse Holloway, however, so it’s a relief when the immaculate, dapper figure of Colonel Walter Kercelik marches smartly into the room, so highly decorated during the Viet Nam War that he’s appeared on the cover of Time Magazine.
What follows is an unravelling that is as unpredictable as it is terrifying, until it becomes apparent what deep psychological traumas all three men have endured. The sort of damage evident in Holloway’s slouched form is disguised by Butts, with his over-cheerful bonhomie, and Kercelik with his extraordinary outward self-control, encyclopaedic retention of facts and glowing efficiency.
Janet Haig is one of the ceramicists whose pieces (pictured above), as well as a film showing how she works, are featured in Shaping Ceramics at the Jewish Museum London. The exhibition explores the work of pioneering ceramicists, tracing their influence on subsequent generations of ceramic artists whose Jewish heritage has shaped their work. Polish-born artist Haig joins JR’s arts editor Judi Herman here for a very personal tour of the exhibition, discussing the experiences that have moulded her work: from the hardships of the war years in a Siberian prison camp with her mother, to her formative childhood in Australia (where she studied painting) after they discovered that their closest family had perished in the Holocaust, to her arrival in the UK in 1962 and work teaching in a boys’ school.
Haig reveals that her first inspiration might go back as far as those harsh days in Siberia: “My mother was able to take one object with her [to Siberia] and she suddenly saw this little pot (I still have it in my possession), which she grabbed hold of because, as I was a baby, she thought it would be useful to warm things up. It’s enamel, blue on the outside, white on the inside and maybe that has had some kind of inspiration on my pots.”
Shaping Ceramics: From Lucie Rie to Edmund de Waal runs until Sunday 26 February, at Jewish Museum, NW1 7NB. 020 7284 7384. www.jewishmuseum.org.uk
Watch ceramic artist Janet Haig demonstrate the ancient pottery-making technique of hand building on Monday 23 January, 11.30am-12.30pm, £7.50, £6.50 concs, at Jewish Museum, NW1 7NB. 020 7284 7384. www.jewishmuseum.org.uk
Continue reading to see images of work featured in the exhibition, as mentioned in the interview; and find out more about key artists in the exhibition in the January 2017 issue of Jewish Renaissance.
When Harry is talked down from throwing himself off a Bridge by old school friend Milt, who luckily happens to be passing, his life takes a different direction as he finds love in this 1963 comedy from Murray Schisgal. He’s the prominent New York Jewish writer responsible for Tootsie, Dustin Hoffman’s cross-dressing film comedy hit. Here Charles Dorfman talks to Judi Herman about finding LUV and playing Harry; his co-stars Nick Barber and Elsie Bennett; his collaboration with director Gary Condes; and Dorfman’s Buckland Theatre Company, resident company at Park Theatre’s studio space, Park 90.
LUV runs until Saturday 7 January. 7.45pm (Tue-Sat), 7pm (13 Dec only), 3.15pm (Thu & Sat). £14.50-£18. Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, N4 3JP. 020 7870 6876. www.parktheatre.co.uk