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TROY — Justyna Kostek’s interest in Marlene Dietrich started with a hollow compliment.
The Polish actress was compared to the late Hollywood legend a few years ago and, though she recognized the name, she wasn’t familiar with the full scope of the German thespian’s life.
“Dietrich has been fascinating American audiences for more than half a century,” said Kostek. “We feel like that just enough time has past to really explore why she’s fascinated American audiences.”
Since then, Kostek read up on the actress of the 1930s and 40s. Dietrich was one of Hollywood’s brightest stars. She made a name for herself stealing scenes from Jimmy Stewart on screen. She lent her singing voice to the frontlines in World War II’s European theatre. So often, in fact, the joke was that she spent more time on the front than General Dwight Eisenhower.
Dietrich was best defined as a strong woman who didn’t bind herself to traditional gender roles. She contrasted a well constructed public image with a colorful private life beholden to no one. She involved herself in the vibrant alternative scene in Berlin. She took many of her movie co-stars as lovers. More than 25 years after her death, Dietrich is still considered a strong figure in today’s LGBTQ movement. Her life, as a whole, would provide enough material for a television series.
As part of Troy Art Attack weekend Kostek will perform “Dietrich Rides Again” for two performances on Saturday, Sept. 15 at the Art Center of the Capital District, at 1 and 7 p.m.
For Kostek, it’s a return to the Collar City. She last performed to a Troy audience in 2014 when she starred and co-directed “Helen of Troy, NY” with local writer Don Rittner.
“She’s truly a remarkable person,” said Rittner, of Kostek. “She’s accomplished so much at such a young age.”
Since then the 25-year-old has started her own theater company Just More Theatre, Inc. in New York City and continues to perform on stage. Kostek’s one-woman show on Dietrich gives audiences a historical overview of the late actresses’ tumultuous life with her story told by the help of a dozen of her famous songs.
“She was one of the international stars who used her fame as weapon against the evil of Nazis,” said Kostek. “She put her body on the line by entertaining troops on the frontline. … She was an example of courage and decency that should be remembered and celebrated.”
Tickets cost $18 each. For tickets and information, visit https://events.ticketprinting.com/event/Dietrich-Rides-Again-At-The-Arts-Center-Of-The-29307.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.