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Jewish Journal

Ode to Mother

by Naomi Pfefferman

May 9, 2002 | 7:59 pm

"Christmas Babies," by writer and math professor Nalsey Tinberg, opened at the Laurelgrove Theatre exactly two years after her mother's death. Just before Mother's Day, Tinberg said the piece is an ode to her widowed mom; a tiny, crusty Holocaust survivor who raised four kids by working as a cook at Fairfax High. It's also an ode to their mother-daughter relationship, which was tested when Tinberg -- who was born on Christmas 1951 -- was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40.

The semiautobiographical piece grew out of Tinberg's previous play, "Bearing Witness," about another Holocaust survivor and her daughter. Though the four-character play had earned good reviews, Tinberg says she was left with the feeling that "the mother-daughter relationship begged for further exploration." Meanwhile, her mother, Sprintze, who had never spoken of her Holocaust experiences, suddenly began opening up after undergoing bypass surgery. "She lost her parents and 10 siblings," Tinberg says. "When I got cancer, I'd think, 'This isn't a world war, but do I have the strength she had to get through this?'"

The playwright was a survivor long before her diagnosis. She battled sexism as a math whiz in the Fairfax district, and later as one of few women in mathematics. The loss of a childhood friend to cancer prompted her to begin writing in 1978. Her own illness led her to focus on plays after a dormant period, and to complete "Christmas Babies" around 1998.

The piece took on even greater significance after her mother died on Passover 1999. "I cry every time I see the play," says Tinberg, an Occidental College professor. "On opening night, I sent a note to Darlene Kardon, the actress who plays Sprintze: 'Thank you for letting me be with my mother just a little longer.'"

Through May 26 at the Laurelgrove, 12265 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. To obtain the Mother's Day discount (two tickets for the price of one for $20), call (323) 664-9752.

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