Bleacher star hopes for hit in Marin

So, how about those Cubs?

Chicago's lovable losers — who look pretty good this season — will always have their die-hard fans. This was immortalized a few decades ago by then-fledgling actor Joe Mantegna and his colleagues at the Organic Theatre in the Windy City.

"The Bleacher Bums," a long-running hit in its hometown, went on to an Emmy-winning television production and to theater productions nationwide.

Now, Marin Theatre Company is throwing out the first pitch of its new season with the comedy, which opens Thursday, Sept. 17 in Mill Valley.

Lee Sankowich, who directed the first San Francisco production some 20 years ago, coaches a veteran team of actors that includes Miriam Babin, the daughter of a Sephardic cantor and rabbi.

Babin is no bum, though she'll be eating peanuts in the stands with the rest of the cast. A seasoned actress who has appeared in San Francisco's Magic Theatre and in some 10 TheatreWorks productions (including the title role in "Mrs. Klein"), she was last up to bat with Marin Theatre Company as one of the two principals in "The Old Lady's Guide to Survival."

Raised in Brooklyn and Brighton Beach, Babin then spent some 20 years of her adult life in New Orleans. She moved to the Bay Area nine years ago to be near her grandchildren, who live in San Jose. "But I still call New York my home" she said recently by phone from her current residence in Mountain View.

Babin's father, Menachem Sarfaty, was born in Salonika, Greece. Her mother, Sarina, also Sephardic, was born in Sofia, Bulgaria. The two met in pre-state Israel, where both families had immigrated. Their marriage was arranged.

The couple immigrated to the United States in 1921 and lived primarily on the East Coast. It took some time before they settled in one place, Babin says. "I was born in Georgia, because Papa went wherever he could get a job."

Papa, a quiet, reserved man, died when Miriam was 18. But before that, the parents' marriage of 25 years ended in divorce. Miriam was 11.

"I don't remember a lot about those days but I remember it was a shanda to be divorced," she says. "Once I was walking with a friend on Brighton Beach Boulevard where we lived and she said, `That's where that woman who has been divorced 100 times lives.' I realized she was talking about my mother."

Although raised in the Orthodox tradition until that time, Babin saw little of her father after the divorce and "my religious devotion just went away, I don't know why," she says regretfully. "Maybe I was just too young for it to have sunk in."

Nonetheless, she still can speak Ladino, the language she grew up with at home.

Babin describes herself as "a secular Jew with a deep awareness and appreciation of who I am, which extends to my Judaism."

Her daughter and son-in-law, Susan and Rolland Day, both recently celebrated b'nai mitzvah, she is proud to report. Their celebration is all the more remarkable, she says, because Susan was raised in a secular home and Rolland converted after their marriage.

"So somewhere in there, the love, the appreciation of Judaism was communicated. Otherwise that wouldn't have happened."

Talent also seems to run in the family. Her son, Michael Babin, is a successful New York actor who has also played leading roles in TheatreWorks' "Passion" and "Secret Garden."

Babin's sister, Regina Sarfaty, had a long and successful career as an opera singer.

Meanwhile, Babin, a two-time nominee for the Bay Area Theatre Critics' Circle Award, is warming up for another hit.