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For actress Pamela Dubin, the Hartford Jewish Film Festival is a homecoming

By Stacey Dresner

WEST HARTFORD – Pamela Dubin knew she wanted to be an actress from the time she was a young girl growing up in West Hartford.

“I think one of my first performances was on stage at Tumblebrook Country Club. I think we sang ‘Hello Dolly.’ I sang with my three older sisters…I was so little I think I was basically jumping around the stage,” she recalled.

On March 17 at 7:30 p.m., Dubin returns to West Hartford when her latest film, “Abe and Phil’s Last Poker Game,” makes its Connecticut premiere at the Mandell JCC Hartford Jewish Film Festival. Following the film’s screening, she will participate in a “talk-back” with the audience.

Pamela Dubin and Martin Landau in “Abe and Phil’s Last Poker Game.”

In the film, Dubin portrays a nursing home volunteer who befriends Dr. Abe Mandelbaum (Martin Landau), who has moved into Cliffside Manor with his wife Molly, who has dementia. He also becomes pals with Phil Nicoletti (Paul Sorvino), a gambler and womanizer.

“I’m so looking forward to being in Connecticut,” she said. “My cell phone is buzzing from friends saying they have tickets and they are coming!”

The daughter of Renee Dubin and the late Dr. Nathan Dubin, Pamela was only the second girl to celebrate her bat mitzvah at Congregation Beth Israel, where her family were members.

And she always acted.

A graduate of Renbrook School and King Phillip Middle School, she began high school at Loomis Chaffee but later transferred to William Hall High School because of the school’s outstanding theater department. At Hall she performed the role of Margot, the older sister in “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

Dubin attended Syracuse University and later graduated from Bates College in Maine, where she majored in theater.

She attended Chautauqua and Interlochen, two prestigious arts centers, and trained with the Moscow Arts Theatre in a program in London. She has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Co., the National Theater for the Deaf and Shakespeare & Co. She graduated from The Actor’s Workshop, a two-year conservatory in New York led by Mike Nichols and worked with Paul Sills at Second City. She participated in master classes with such actors as Vanessa Redgrave and Jeremy Irons.

One of her fondest memories is being directed by Gene Hackman in a production of “University” in New York.

“I was so lucky to work with all of these amazing people,” she marveled.

Dubin has also appeared in television series such as “Scrubs” and “The Practice.”

She describes herself as “bi-coastal,” living in both California and New York.

“I go back and forth between the east and west coast and of course I try to spend as much time as I can with my mom because I adore her, and my family. That is really important to me.”

“Abe and Phil’s Last Poker Game” was a kind of a homecoming for Dubin, as it was filmed in and around Newburyport, Mass.

While another actress had been cast in the part of “Sheryl,” the nursing home volunteer who becomes “close” to Martin Landau’s character, Dubin showed them something that made them cast her instead.

“It was just the most beautiful role. I love this character,” she says. “She’s an actress and she carries her pictures of herself around everywhere. She has her own ‘aging thing.’ She volunteers in this retirement community and being with old people makes her feel younger. So, it’s interesting because it is about aging at different ages.”

Though all of her scenes were with Landau, she spent time with the rest of the cast, including Sorvino and had Thanksgving dinner with the cast and director, Dr. Howard Weiner.

Weiner, 72, a world-renowned neurologist working on a cure for diseases like MS and Alzheimer’s, wrote what would become the screenplay for “Abe and Phil” as a manuscript for a novel. He not only wrote and directed it as a first-time filmmaker, but he raised the funding for the film as well.

“The film is beautiful because it is kind of an insider view into what it is like to age, dementia, and how people are still viable human beings when they are older,” Dubin explained. “We don’t have many films that talk about aging because our society is so focused on youth.”

Dubin also has a love scene in the film with Landau, who was 89 at the time.

“It’s poignant and so raw,” she says. “We don’t think about older people and sexuality. It is very intimate. There are some very intimate moments that are just beautiful.”

Dubin is thrilled to be showing the film at the Mandell JCC, where years ago she directed a play called “The Sabbath Peddler,” and taught acting/improv classes.

“I have a history there,” she said. “It is like coming home.”

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