Mandy Patinkin puts his heart into his work

The Broadway star will perform Nov. 10 at the Touhill Performing Arts Center at UMSL.

By Eric Berger, Associate Editor

During the recording process for his most recent album, singer and actor Mandy Patinkin was doing a Rufus Wainwright song, “Going to a Town,” which features the refrain “I’m so tired of you, America.”

But Patinkin, 66, who is Jewish and has won Tony and Emmy awards, told producer Thomas Bartlett that he could only sing the song if he changed one word.

Rather than “America,” he would sing, “I’m so tired of you, Jerusalem.”

“People will think I’m speaking about these people. Someone else will think I’m speaking about these people, but I’m speaking about everybody,” said Patinkin, who played Inigo Montoya in “The Princess Bride” and plays Saul Berenson on Showtime’s “Homeland.”

“I’m speaking about the Jews. I’m speaking about the Palestinians. I’m speaking about the Christians and the Muslims and the Hindus and everybody who loves Jerusalem. I’m speaking for the whole world because Jerusalem is a symbol of the whole world, and I’m tired of the conflict there,” Patinkin said during an interview, his voice becoming more agitated.

Patinkin said he feels compelled to record songs like the Wainwright cover and Laurie Anderson’s “From the Air” (“This is your captain — and we are going down. We are all going down, together”) because of his concern not just for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but for the trajectory of the modern world.

Asked why, he said, “If you need me to tell you, you need to take a nap, eat some healthy food, take a walk, get some air into your lungs and wake up,” said Patinkin.

He will perform selections from his long Broadway career, accompanied by Adam Ben-David on piano, on Nov. 10 at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.

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Patinkin won a Tony Award for his role in the musical “Evita” and was nominated for his work in “Sunday in the Park with George” and “The Wild Party.” He also plans to perform covers of classics such as “Cat’s in the Cradle” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” as well as songs from his recent “Diary” album trilogy.

For those albums, Patinkin wanted to do something other than show tunes, so Bartlett sent him 300 singer-songwriter pieces.

“I listened to them on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 2018, all 300, and I choose either 26 or 28 and then we went in the studio … and they started talking to us, the songs, and then we started recording and I said, ‘Let’s make a diary, let’s make a journal, just hit the record button and whenever we have 10 or 11 songs, we’ll just put it out digitally,’ ” Patinkin said.

Patinkin has long been a fiery presence in show business. For example, CBS made him the lead of its show “Criminal Minds” but “he went AWOL” after the second season because he was so disturbed by its content, The New York Times reported in 2013.

Alex Gansa, co-creator of “Homeland,” which is slated to return in February with its eighth and final season, told the Times, “I cannot tell you how many times I was warned about his checkered past in television. But this role was written for him. … Mandy is a tremendously generous, compassionate, soulful guy.”

In 2015, while “Homeland” was filming a Season 5 episode in Berlin in a fictional Syrian refugee camp, the real refugee crisis was unfolding across Europe, as hundreds of thousands of people fled the war in Syria. 

“The minute I saw the photographs of those people, I saw my ancestors,” said Patinkin, a father of two. “My grandpa Max, my grandma Celia, my wife’s grandma Masha, and I wanted to be with them. I wanted to walk with them and give them water and hold their hands.” 

That year, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was doing impersonations of Inigo Montoya on the presidential campaign trail and quoting his famous line: “Allo, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

The actor responded by saying Cruz was missing the point of the movie. The senator had said he would carpet-bomb ISIS into oblivion, which critics said would kill civilians.

Patinkin told the Times: “This man is not putting forth ideas that are at the heart of what that movie is all about. I would love for Sen. Cruz, and everyone creating fear mongering and hatred to consider creating hope, optimism and love. Open your arms to these people, these refugees trying to get into our country, and open your hearts.”.

Since then, according to critics of President Donald Trump, the country has gone in the opposite direction. In September, the State Department announced that it would accept 18,000 refugees in fiscal year 2020, down from the 110,000 President Barack Obama said should be allowed in during 2016.

In August, Patinkin and his wife, Kathryn, traveled to Jordan with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to visit two camps filled with 80,000 and 40,000 Syrian refugees, respectively. Patinkin met sisters Aya, 8, and Ala’a, 13, who fled Syria after a car exploded next to their home. The younger one “writes beautiful stories” and wants to be a writer, while the older one wants to be a doctor, he said.

“They are trying to get themselves educated in this difficult circumstance, and they moved me deeply, as does the work of the IRC,” Patinkin said, adding that the organization operates centers that provide legal and financial aid and moral support to women who have been raped and tortured. 

Patinkin is urging Americans to support the GRACE (Guaranteed Refugee Admission Ceiling Enhancement) Act introduced by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., which would set an annual refugee admission floor of 95,000.

According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, 70.8 million people fled war, persecution and conflict in 2018, the highest number in almost 70 years. 

Of Jews, Patinkin said, “Our ancestors were welcomed here, some a little too late and didn’t make it. It would have been helpful if some were welcomed earlier.”

Patinkin serves as a connection to earlier generations of Jews by singing in Yiddish. In 1998, he recorded the album “Mamaloshen” entirely in Yiddish. 

The final track on his most recent album, “Children and Art,” released last month, is titled “Refugees/Song of the Titanic” and features Patinkin singing:

“Oy shtelt aykh for libe Mentsh di Kartine/ Vi Groys Iz Geven Gots Tsorn / Ven File Vaser Iz Arayn in Di Mashinen/ Un die Lektere Iz Farloshn Gevorn.” (“Imagine the scene, dear people/ How great was God’s wrath/ when so much water got into the machines/ and the electricity went off.”)

Why sing in Yiddish, a bygone language? Patinkin says a friend told him, “That’s your job.”

“He meant that I have been given the privilege to be able to sing and that it was my turn to get at the end of the line of a lot of people that have been trying to keep this beautiful language alive after such struggle over so many years.”