Celebrity Jews

It’s a happy 2004 for …

Playwright Tony Kushner, 47. Besides the film triumph of “Angels in America” on HBO, he must be gratified by the great reviews his new musical, “Caroline or Change,” has received since it opened on Broadway early this month. This operatic work, set in Louisiana in the early 1960s, looks at the relationship between a Jewish family and its black maid. (Kushner grew up mostly in Louisiana. His family moved there from New York after his father, a Louisiana native, inherited a lumber business.) The music is by frequent Kushner collaborator Jeanne Tesori, with lyrics by Kushner.

“Caroline” is not a feel-good story of a Jewish boy and his black maid. Rather, powerful issues of black and Jewish identity in the context of the Deep South are tackled. Actress Tonya Pickens, who plays the maid’s adult daughter, has said, “Kushner has done for the black maid what Arthur Miller did for the salesman.”

A couple of weeks ago, Mike Nichols, 72, the director of HBO’s “Angels in America,” received the highly prestigious Kennedy Center Honors. Violinist Itzhak Perlman, 58, was the other Jewish honoree.

And it’s a happy new year for …

Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, 26, the sister of her more-famous actor brother Jake Gyllenhaal. (The Gyllenhaals are Jewish on their mother’s side.) Maggie, long an indie film favorite, just opened in the big-budget “Mona Lisa Smile,” starring Julia Roberts as a bohemian art instructor from Berkeley. Maggie plays a free-spirited Jewish college student in the conformist world of a New England all-women’s college, circa 1953.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is about to appear in her own “mini-Kushner festival,” at the Jewish Museum in New York on Saturday, Jan. 24. She will be reading a new one-act play by Kushner — “It’s an Undoing World, or Why Should it Be Easy When it Can Be Hard?” It features music and, as reported The New York Times, “takes place in the minds of three generations of Jewish women and is written in a Yiddish-inflected style.” Gyllenhaal starred in the L.A. production of Kushner’s “Homebody/Kabul,” which closed in November. The L.A. company will move to New York this spring, with Gyllenhaal co-starring.

Mia and Erin

“The ‘L’ Word,” a new Showtime series, starts on Sunday, Jan. 18. It’s about a group of young women in Los Angeles and their gay and straight relationships. The series co-stars two attractive and talented young Jewish actresses — Mia Kirshner and Erin Daniels.

Kirshner plays Jenny Schecter, described as “a gifted young writer of fiction who has just graduated from college and arrives in Los Angeles to begin her ‘adult life’ with her boyfriend — soon to be fiancé.” Kirshner’s been on the cusp of fame for quite some time. She first garnered attention in “Exotica” (1994)— a steamy but critically well-received film. She’s been in quite a few indie films and the short-lived series “Wolf Lake.” Recent parts include a large role in “Not Another Teen Movie” and several appearances on “24,” the TV series. Kirshner was born and raised in Toronto. Her mother, who was born in Bulgaria, is a teacher. Her father, Sheldon, is a journalist with the Canadian Jewish News.

Daniels, a relative newcomer, plays Dana Fairbanks, described as “a professional tennis player who is not yet out of the closet.” In 2002, Daniels had a large supporting role in the Robin Williams’ film “One Hour Photo,” as Michael Vartan’s mistress. Last year, she appeared in the cult horror hit “House of a 1,000 Corpses.”

Daniels, who was born Erin Cohen, was raised in a St. Louis suburb. Our sources tell us that she grew up in an observant Jewish home. She was voted “most beautiful girl” in her high school class. After graduating from Vassar College, she moved to New York and began appearing in theater. She then moved to Los Angeles and has had guest shots on quite a few TV shows, including a recurring role on “Boomtown.”

Nate Bloom is the Oakland-based editor of www.Jewhoo.com.

Nate Bloom

Nate Bloom writes the "Celebrity Jews" column for J.