HUNGRY HEARTS by Francine Prose
Kirkus Star


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I have always felt blessed to have had the chance to play Leah in the Leon Dalashinsky production of The Dybbuk."" So begins this comic/mystical, richly visual frolic by the author of the more darkly mystical Household Saints; and the narrator is Dinah Rappoport, now 80-ish, reminiscing about her first big season with the Yiddish Art Theater in 1921--when she not only found stardom but, thanks to a terrifying dybbuk of her own, learned a vital lesson about love. The young Dinah, you see, not only lands the choice part of ghost-possessed Leah. She also (after a love-at-first-sight courtship) marries her leading man, Benno Brownstein--a secret marriage because director Dalashinsky, ""the Jewish Stanislavsky,"" doesn't want the onstage tragedy (star-crossed love) marred by anyone's knowledge of the offstage bliss. But a secret marriage--and Benno's study of the mystical Kabbala--is tempting fate. And when the Art Theater troupe sails off to tour South America, Leah finds herself first falling out of love with Benno. . . and then worse: in Buenos Aires, performing for an opening-night crowd of whores and pimps (""Talk about pearls before swine!""), Leah is posessed by a real, Spanish-speaking dybbuk--the ghost of aviator Paco Engelhart, a Jewish youth who died in a petulant fury over his beloved Mamie's adultery with rich Don Eduardo Feigenbaum! (Mamie, who visits backstage, is a Dinah lookalike, of course.) So, with Dinah in a perilous state, the troupe makes a sneak escape from Argentina, hoping to elude the dybbuk in Montevideo. But there, doing a mini-performance in the living room of Reform Rabbi Rupert Schmuckler (""To this man, Jewish life meant something like a season ticket to the opera""), Dinah lapses into non-stop crying. What to do? Well, as in the play, an exorcist must be found--and it's on to unconventional Hassidic Rabbi Israel, who works wonders with copper skillets, magic omelets. . . and a painless exorcism: just by revealing their marriage and realizing (unlike Paco) that nobody's perfect, the lovers can break their spell. Furthermore, Dinah's parents back home in N.Y. deserve a nice traditional wedding party--which follows an exalted last performance of The Dybbuk, with Dalashinsky inspired by the real-life exorcist. A little roots-seeking, a lot of backstage color and laughs (in matter-of-fact I. B. Singer style), a gleeful leap into the mystical: delicately blended, sly entertainment--if primarily for those familiar with both The Dybbuk and the story-within-a-story conventions of Talmudic parable.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Pantheon