Anarchist-pacifist Judith Malina, who co-founded the iconic Living Theatre, doesn’t want to be in an assisted living facility at all. Still, she concedes that the picturesque Lillian Booth Actors’ Home, in Englewood, N.J., with its manicured lawns and gardens, is pretty nice. At least she’s among fellow artists.
Operated by The Actors’ Fund, the 111-year-old residence is designed for theater folk — or members of their immediate family — who have worked in front of and behind the footlights and now need assistance with daily living and, in some instances, require nursing home care. At the moment, 124 residents live on the premises, with 82 in the nursing home facility.
The home evokes theater at every turn — from its walls lined with vintage theatrical posters and archival photographs, to its library filled with theater books, to the performers who come in to entertain the residents. Within the past few months these have included K.T. Sullivan, Larry Woodard and cast members of “Mamma Mia!” as well as the cast of “Old Jews Telling Jokes.”
Despite some good times, restrictions abound in institutionalized living. “They don’t let me light my Shabbos candles,” complained Malina, 86. “I’ve told them I’ll just light them for a couple of moments while someone stands in the corner with a fire extinguisher. But they said, ‘No, no, no.’ Instead, they gave me two electrical candles.”
It goes without saying that Malina is not allowed to light up her joints, with which she is keenly identified and hitherto smoked openly. The risk of fire is that much greater because oxygen is pumped into the room — Malina suffers from emphysema.
Sporting black eyeliner and long black hair, the director-actress never anticipated this chapter in her life. Indeed, until February 21 she lived in an apartment on Clinton Street, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, one story above the theater that she and her first husband, Julian Beck, founded in 1946. The building was the last in a series of spaces that housed the theater.