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BWW Interview: Producer Marilyn Fox of A BINTEL BRIEF at Pacific Resident Theatre

Which Shares Published Letters from Eastern European Jewish Immigrants

BWW Interview: Producer Marilyn Fox of A BINTEL BRIEF at Pacific Resident Theatre

As the granddaughter and daughter of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who arrived in New York City at the beginning of the 20th Century, I am always interested in hearing personal accounts of what life was like for them when they got to America, especially since they only spoke Yiddish. In fact, it was not until their children went to school in America that English was even spoken in their homes. And my limited ability to speak Yiddish was learned while visiting their homes in Los Angeles from the moment I was born.

BWW Interview: Producer Marilyn Fox of A BINTEL BRIEF at Pacific Resident Theatre So when I heard about A BINTEL BRIEF, comprised of a selection of sixty years of letters from the lower East Side of New York to The Jewish Daily Forward, a popular local paper among the Yiddish speaking immigrants, being presented online by Pacific Resident Theatre, I wanted to find out more about how the production was conceived, directed and produced to find out if anyone on the team also shares a family story similar to mine.

Developed and directed by Carol Rusoff, A BINTEL BRIEF is produced by Marilyn Fox for Pacific Resident Theatre BWW Interview: Producer Marilyn Fox of A BINTEL BRIEF at Pacific Resident Theatre with encore online performances on Saturday, May 8 at 2pm and 7pm (PDT), with each performance followed by a talkback on Zoom. Due to popular demand, more performances have been added on Sundays at 4pm PDT through June 5, with talkbacks afterwards. There is a suggested donation of $25 per household. For tickets and Zoom link, RSVP to info@pacificresidenttheatre.org

I spoke with the show's producer, Marilyn Fox, to find out more about the creation and subject matter of the play.

(Shari): Hi Marilyn! Thank you for speaking with me about the show. First of all, I shared with you about my family's history immigrating from Eastern Europe in the early 20th Century. Do you have a similar family history yourself?

BWW Interview: Producer Marilyn Fox of A BINTEL BRIEF at Pacific Resident Theatre (Marilyn): Yes I do! My mother was from Vienna and immigrated to America at age 11 in 1939 after hiding from Hitler with her family in Czechoslovakia. Knowing what my mom went through and feeling how she must've felt, I have always identified with the immigrant experience, as so many other children of immigrants do. We have talkbacks after each performance of A BINTEL BRIEF and our audiences have been sharing about how much the show is touching on their family histories!

(Shari): Does creator/director Carol Rusoff also share that history? Is it also true for any members of the cast? (pictured below in screenshot by Shari Barrett)BWW Interview: Producer Marilyn Fox of A BINTEL BRIEF at Pacific Resident Theatre

(Top row: Melissa Hubbert, Marwa Bernstein, Scott Sheldon, Sharron Shayne
2nd row down from top: Mark Adler, Joan Chodorow, Bruce Nozick
3rd row down from top: Jennifer Taub, Robert Lesser, Richard Fancy Last row down from top: Lisa Cirincione, Steven Taub Gordon, Tania Getty, Zach Kanner.)

(Marilyn): Yes! Carol Rusoff, our Director and Adapter, is of a Hungarian background and both her parents emigrated from Hungary, and almost without exception, our cast has parents or grandparents that came from Europe. Joan Chodorow's grandfather, Morris Turitz, was one founders of The Jewish Daily Forward and Sharron Shayne grew up on BWW Interview: Producer Marilyn Fox of A BINTEL BRIEF at Pacific Resident Theatre the Lower East Side and would watch her grandparents reading the "Forvard" as they pronounced it. Also, Robert Lesser, who plays Abe Cahan, (editor of the Forward), remembers his Yiddish speaking grandfather reading it daily!

(Shari): I remember my Zadie reading a newspaper in Yiddish every day. Perhaps that was The Forward. Is it still published today?

(Marilyn): Yes! It's now called the "Forward." So interesting, I received an email from their National Editor, Rob Eshman, who happens to also be a fan of Pacific Resident Theatre (PRT). He had found out about our production and actually today's Forward has listed us as an event in their calendar section! They also have given PRT audience members an offer to subscribe to the Forward for 15% off! That's $15.00 for the first 6 months. The paper is excellent (and now in English), so I subscribed! Claim your subscription at Forward.com/partneroffer and use promo code BINTEL10OFF at checkout. And don't miss a single story in this daily newsletter.

BWW Interview: Producer Marilyn Fox of A BINTEL BRIEF at Pacific Resident Theatre (Shari): Since there are talkbacks after each performance with the audience, no doubt a lot of similar family stories are shared. Are there a few that surprised or really touched you more emotionally than others?

(Marilyn): There has been a lot of mutual sharing of similar family backgrounds as well as more than a few tears. However, even more than one particular story, I have found that the audiences are deeply moved and relate so personally to the letters that they all have a group experience based on everyone's reaction to the letters and the love and connection they feel seeing the play together.

(Shari): This was certainly true at the performance I attended. BWW Interview: Producer Marilyn Fox of A BINTEL BRIEF at Pacific Resident Theatre Tell me more about the one specific character at the center of A BINTEL BRIEF.

(Marilyn): Yes, Robert Lesser plays the Editor Abraham Cahan. He was a Lithuanian-born Jewish American socialist newspaper editor, novelist, and politician and was The Forward's editor-in-chief for 43 years. During his stewardship of the Forward, it became a prominent voice in the Jewish community and in the Socialist Party of America, voicing a moderate stance in American socialist politics.

The character of "Abe" Cahan is really the center of A BINTEL BRIEF, which in Yiddish is "a bundle of letters" and it was the name of the advice column in the Jewish Daily Forward where Abraham Cahan answered the letters of the European Jewish immigrants who were living on the lower East Side of New York, and where they were able to unburden their hearts and reveal their deepest truths.

BWW Interview: Producer Marilyn Fox of A BINTEL BRIEF at Pacific Resident Theatre Pacific Resident Theatre's production of A BINTEL BRIEF is an online dramatized documentary style performance of these letters, enacted by the PRT Company. Originally written in Yiddish, these letters were sent to The Jewish Daily Forward from 1907 to 1967.

(Shari): Are there plans to extend the show and talkbacks?

(Marilyn): Yes! We have such a popular demand that we are extending the show for the next 4 weeks on Sundays at 4pm through June 5, with talkbacks following each performance.

BWW Interview: Producer Marilyn Fox of A BINTEL BRIEF at Pacific Resident Theatre (Shari): That's such great news! What other shows are being planned by PRT, perhaps as fundraisers to support the necessary upgrades needed to be able to open for indoor shows again? I heard about a Sondheim benefit being planned for May 22.

(Marilyn): We are currently planning an online Musical Concert Fundraiser with some of our finest PRT Broadway veteran singers! It promises to be a very special night for our audiences. James Beach, our favorite Venice restaurant, will be joining us for our online pre-show party and their bartender will be teaching us how to make a special PRT martini named in our honor that our audiences can enjoy while they watch the show! The PRT martini will also be available at James Beach for pick up and anytime that you want to order it at the restaurant.

BWW Interview: Producer Marilyn Fox of A BINTEL BRIEF at Pacific Resident Theatre This fundraiser will help us to outfit our theater with the latest technology so that we can re-open safely for our audiences. The important objective we face in re-opening is guaranteeing that our HVAC systems and our ventilation systems meet all safety specifications perfectly. That is one of the important focuses of our current fundraising efforts.

We look forward to seeing our audiences in person, but till then, we have A BINTEL BRIEF, this deeply thoughtful, heartwarming online production to share with our audiences!

(Shari): Thank you so much, Marilyn, for speaking with me about the show and upcoming plans at Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice. I know viewers will continue to see their own family history reflected in the letters written to The Forward which are dramatically read by the talented cast members! And I believe they will be very surprised to hear about the subject of equal rights being such an important topic of the day, just as it is now.


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