"Jal Kar" at P.S. 150
by John C. Lieff
"Jal Kar" was a play that we put on, a class play – Mrs. Frances Singman’s Class 6-5 in 1952. It was a science-fiction play that I kind of whipped up from some comic books and a couple of novels that I had read, as amended by Mrs. Singman who felt we had some international diversity in the class and that should somehow come out during the play. So we had dances from Germany and dances from Hungary and I’m not sure what else, but it certainly lightened the atmosphere that I was looking for as a sixth grader.
I originally saw it as a science-fiction adventure, an exploration by aliens discovering earth. The comic books I read – there was one called, "Tommy Tomorrow" - that was one character. There were a few of them, mostly from DC Comics, I think, at the time. The novels included one called, "Lancelot Biggs: Spaceman" by Nelson Bond. There was another one in the school library called "Earth Abides," which I read several times. This was all pre-Sputnik, pre-NASA, but people were thinking about such things. What appealed to me was the hope that there was something beyond us, something that could bring us together, and that if there was an other, and it was them and us, we’d be more of an us and we would realize that we had more in common with each other than the differences. Although having Hungarian and German dancers didn’t stress the togetherness, I suppose. I wrote the play out in longhand; I never learned to type, not even in junior high school. I’m not sure if I gave the script to the teacher or we had a reading in front of the class; that’s possible. And I don’t remember if there was a play competition or not. Possibly there were other plays submitted. Somehow this one was drawn out of a hat.
Looking at the photo, some of the kids look like stars. Some of it looks like "The Wizard of Oz." It looks like a lot was done with wire hangers and crepe paper. I see Peter Janeke is in his German lederhosen. As I recall, the characters were above and they looked down on earth and saw things going on, on earth, and that was acted out, although Farkas Erdelyi looks like he’s a Hungarian robot. We were so busy getting people like Peter Janeke and Farkas Erdelyi to come into our way of life, we never really got their stories. They had been young boys in Europe during the Second World War and we never really found out what they went through, as far as I know.
The play was done at an assembly program, so it was probably about 25-30 minutes long. There were always other elements to an assembly program, including bible readings. In the photo, I’m wearing a pair of earphones and I’m wondering where they came from. They’re awfully big and heavy looking. My character was Captain Jal Kar. It came from a comic book, I’m sure. Larry Freund, in front of me, was Barnus Arnus. Overall, the class was bright, they were smart, above average in class work and scholarship. A lot them went on to be in special progress classes in junior high school. I kept up with maybe a handful. People were moving out of the neighborhood at that time. When you get to junior high school, there were fewer, and in high school, fewer yet, who were still local.
About the play, I don’t remember reading any reviews! Not many curtain calls either. After that, I went on to destroy a class play in junior high school and was afraid to go back on stage until I got to university, where I got very involved with the theater group at uptown New York University, the University Heights campus in the Bronx. NYU put on some wonderful productions. We did opera and Shakespeare and contemporary plays, so it was a very different experience, although we did not have a theater department, we only had a club. But several people from the club went on to have careers in professional theater or the movies.
I was very fond of Mrs. Singman, and although I fooled around a lot in school, sometimes I did some good work, and I remember her showing some of it to my parents and saying, “Look, this is what he can do when he wants to do it.” I used to pass by the school for years after, and I would always wave or say hello to her. I had her in both fourth grade and sixth grade. I was very happy when I got to sixth grade and saw that she was going to be my teacher again.
Back row: (L-R): Frances Singman (teacher); Farkas Iridelli; ?; Carol Ann Dougherty; Jonette Sullivan; Joan Haberman; Carol Ann Garimone; Janet ?; Carol Zuckerman; Suzan Gourse; Edith Kirkaby; Ruth Mechanek; Joyce Adler; Betty Blake
Front Row:(L-R): Thomas Weber; Stanley Novak; Fred Goss; Will Young; Robert Roshevsky; Bernard Saunders; Michael Weissman; Morris Sokol; Daniel Rehali; Peter Janeke; John C. Lieff; Larry Freund