Author Archives: Ari Roth

Programming for THE ADMISSION

Below, a guest post from Stephen Stern, Chair of the Theater J Council Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival Committee.

You can see video excerpts of two of the discussions on our Vimeo site:

Marshall Breger and Peter Beinart

The American Jewish Community and Israel: A Conversation with Peter Beinart from Theater J on Vimeo.

Breakdown to Breakthrough: Dennis Ross, Tamara Cofman Wittes, Ghaith al-Omari

Breakdown to Breakthrough: From First Intifada to the White House Lawn from Theater J on Vimeo.

Now, from Stephen:

We set for ourselves the task of determined dialogue–sixteen multi-themed civil conversations among panelists and with our audience–to respond to theatrical art and public issues raised by sixteen workshop performances of the Admission.   A small group–opposed to such production and conversation in a Jewish community institution–had very vocally described us as people using a “made-up massacre” to defame Israel.  These detractors selected and distorted elements of the historical controversy on what happened in 1948 in the village of Tantura. The events of that battle were the sorrowful inspiration, and deeply researched context, for a drama of two fictional families (one Palestinian and one Jewish-Israeli) desperately trying to come to terms with each other, and to the legacies of what two fathers did and witnessed there.

Our audience and our panelists shared a journey within this deeply realized story of seven characters and their fates. Then, with those characters firmly in their hearts, time after time our participants engaged in passionate conversation on forgotten memories, historical uncertainties, and the fully real aftermath of one people’s self-determination and another’s dispossession   In our committed practice of public conversation, we shared a path of looking back to hurt and loss, and of exploring our ability to come to terms and as panelist Sahar Khamis put it, “dig and move on”.

“Giora should just apologize and understand that his father is right.”  So said a mother in the audience response part of our Young Leaders salon discussion, reporting on her own family’s conversations on Israel–from her Holocaust survivor parent’s emphasis on refuge and rescue to her daughter troubled by domination and occupation of another people and reluctant-to-speak in public.  Tal Harris, the young leader of One Voice Israel, told of the play summoning forth the multi-faceted, dangerous and volatile historical layers of the Israeli and Palestinian lives that he knew.  For him the play was a “blow in my stomach”, summoning up connections to his peace activism, his Zionism and his love of life.  Tal sees a limit to what we can carry within us. We cannot let our personal stories remain a catastrophe. In the end, that reluctant-to-speak young Jewish woman replied to her mother’s response by asserting that Giora’s painful quest to understand his legacy needed her mother’s and everyone’s attention.

Continue reading

Responses to Our Voices Festival Readings – Round Up from “1948″ and “Hand In Hand Together”

The expansion of our Voices Festival has led to an intense inquiry into that period when Israel’s formation was in its infancy.  The readings presented at the end of last month and a week ago, Monday night, both capture the sharpness of the ideological differences that accompanied Zionism as it moved from abstract proposition to concrete realization, and experiences of a group of Palmach soldiers as they move from training course through a series of battles up to war’s end, as refracted through the prism of memory and an older veteran trying to hold onto the meaning of his memories from Israel’s first war.

Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival Readings
Reading: 1948
From the memoir by Yoram Kaniuk
Adapted for the Haifa Theater by Noya Lancet
Directed by Derek Goldman (Our Class)
Musical Director and instrumentalist: Ari Roth

Featuring Ashley Ivey, Mark Krawczyk, Sasha Olinick, Joshua Morgan, Adi Stein, Dylan Silver, Sarah Taurchini and Elizabeth Jernigan

Monday, March 31, 2014
7:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Discussion to follow

A veteran remembers the camaraderie and fog of war.

Reading: Hand in Hand Together
By A.B. Yehoshua
Translated and Directed by Guy Ben-AharonFeaturing Michael Tolaydo, Megan Graves, Conrad Feininger and Stephen Patrick Martin

Monday, April 7, 2014
7:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Discussion to follow

David Ben Gurion and Zeev Jabotinsky debate different visions of Zionism.


“A singular moment in Washington theater unlikely to occur again!” Golda’s Balcony Landmark Performance as Theater J Welcomes Tovah Feldshuh for her DC Premiere

Great features this week in The Washington Post and from this week’s WJW Arts feature…Washington Jewish Week

Becoming Golda

April 9, 2014
Glamorous Tovah Feldshuh reprises her role as Israel’s only woman prime minister
By Lisa Traiger
Tonight award-winning Broadway actress Tovah Feldshuh reprises what she calls the role of a lifetime, playing Meir in Golda’s Balcony, this time for a fortnight at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center’s Theater J.
Read the full article here.
key excerpt:
….”Why revisit Meir’s life today?  “It’s simply a great piece that works.” Tovah Feldshuh noted.  But she also pointed out that Theater J artistic director Ari Roth also wanted it as part of the company’s “Voices of a Changing Middle East” programming. As a counterpoint to the controversial recently closed Israeli play The Admission, which garnered bands of protestors – and protesters – about the after effects of a fictionalized Jewish-Arab battle during the 1948 war, Golda’s Balcony feels as pro or proto-Zionistic as The Admission was considered destructive to the historic image of the state of Israel.As staunch an Israel supporter as Feldshuh is – and over the years she has traveled across the U.S. raising funds for Jewish federations and Israeli organizations (not unlike missions Meir tackled early in her career) – she’s equally a support of freedom of speech and expression.“One thing [Golda Meir, the character] can do today,” Feldshuh stated, “is advocate for this theater. This theater is a home for free speech and the American way. And Ari Roth has decided to try to present all sides of every argument so he wants this play here at this time.”
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from this week’s WJW Theatre review
Washington Jewish Week


Peace in the near past

April 9, 2014
‘Camp David’ has its world premiere at Arena Stage.
By Lisa Traiger

Read full review here

key excerpt:

“With this production of Camp David running in Southwest and a run of Golda’s Balcony Theater J in Northwest (see story on page 36), this confluence of two plays about 20th century Israeli leaders and their relentless quest for peace make this as well a singular moment in Washington theater unlikely to occur again.”

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from Friday’s Washington Post

Tovah Feldshuh brings Broadway hit ‘Golda’s Balcony’ to Theater J




Key excerpt:

Feldshuh, 61, has a deep appreciation for Meir, and her understanding of the role has deepened as she has inched ever-so-slightly closer to the age of Meir in “Golda’s Balcony.”

“I had a piano teacher who said, ‘Get it accurate, get it excellent, get it effortless,’ so that’s what you’re hitting with actors who revisit roles,” she says. “The part has had so many hours and months and years in my case to marinate in the body and the soul and the intelligence, in the neshama — that’s the Hebrew word, ‘that which is eternal.’ So it sits there and it’s always with you, it’s a companion for you.”



Admission Closes But Is Not Forgotten and Will Live On

Theater J’s workshop presentation of The Admission came to a close on April 6th. It played to 4000 people. It sold out its final 12 performances, playing throughout that time to Standing Room Only audiences. An average of 140 people a night stayed for the post-show discussions. One Voice panelistsThe Theater J staff is still editing video, transcribing notes, and otherwise overwhelmed with the extraordinary response from the show and from the panels and the salon discussions and so we’re so slow to document the extraordinary success of every phase of the presentation. We had scholars returning multiple times to document the evolving discussions. We’ll be sharing those notes as time allows. There will be news of plans to continue performances of The Admission at other venues, whether in DC, New York, Chicago, or beyond. The biggest news is a commitment that’s been made to have the play fully produced in Israel in 2015. Details to be made public shortly.


The important aspect to note from Theater J and the DCJCC’s perspective is that The Admission kicked off part 1 of Theater J’s Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival, this season devoted to presenting to “Narratives of Nation Building.” Parts 2 and 3 will be discussed in a next posting; our readings of 1948 and Hand in Hand Together.

Part 4 is with us right now, opening tonight, and it’s occupied our every waking hour since The Admission came to a close, and that’s the unstoppable, breath-taking performance at the heart of Golda’s Balcony. We’ll be posting about Tovah Feldshuh’s more-than-merely-powerful performance momentarily. It’s a thing to behold. So that’s where our energies have been. But the fulfillment on The Admission is real and (well, forgive the repetition) full. The art spoke. The audience came. We all discussed. We all listened and absorbed. And were changed.


final scene - Giora climbing

Politico and Foreign Policy Chime In with Theater Reviews! “Camp David” Expands DC Examination of Arab-Israeli Conflict on Stage

from Politico

Jimmy Carter raves over Camp David playKhaled Nabawy as Anwar Sadat (left) Richard Thomas as Jimmy Carter (center) and Ron Rifkin as Menachem Begin perform in

The play focuses on the Carters and the Camp David Accords. | Teresa Wood

For the premiere of the Arena Stage’s “Camp David” on Thursday night, it was former President Jimmy Carter who received multiple standing ovations for what he called, “a really emotional experience.”

The president, along with his wife, Rosalynn, were among those in the audience for the Washington theater’s new production. The play focuses on the Carters, as well as Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and the 13-day negotiations during September 1978 that led to the Camp David Accords.

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from Foreign Policy in Focus

Asking the Hard Questions about Israel


Landmark Run of “The Admission”

The critical and popular success of our workshop run of The Admission has overwhelmed this blog and our diary efforts to keep up with hosannahs; to keep up with the richness of discussions, night after night, and all the extraordinary responses we’ve been receiving on over 500 hand-written audience surveys.  We share with you a round up of critical praise for the presentation whose run at the DCJCC comes to a close this weekend, with 4 final performances today and tomorrow.

Ibrahim and Samya seated (Azmi watching over)

Below’s a round-up of some of the press that’s come in on the show.  We’ll fill it out as we come up for air.  We’ll start with some nice words about the theater and carry on from there:

“Theater J is to be applauded for persevering in the face of controversy. Theater and art have always been controversial and pushed the limits. To shy away from what unsettles us defeats the purpose of the arts in their role as society’s conscience. The Admission once again showcases Theater J’s phenomenal ability to present provocative works. It is not to be missed.”  - Broadway World

Peter Marks’ Review in The Washington Post

VIDEO posted on The Washington Post site

5 STAR review in DC Metro Theatre Arts

DC Theatrescenerestaurant

PROTEST COVERAGE in The Washington Jewish Week


What lies beneath the drama over Theater J One play stirs a lot of controversy, by Sidney Schwarz,  The Washington Post

Asking the Hard Questions about Israel

Amid floundering peace talks, Jewish artists, historians, and activists are taking an increasingly critical look at Israel’s founding and history.

Full company






One Survey Says It All – “The Admission” Workshop Process and The Engagement of Fresh Young Audience

This 17 year old spoke at our post-show discussion this past weekend — along with other college students who’ve been coming in relative droves to The Admission so far.  There’s a hunger for us to be in dialogue—to be telling it like it is—to be allowing for a cross-cultural discussion that digs deep and allows for nuance—and engages the young; this workshop is doing just that.

Mira 17 year old ADMISSION_audience_survey

Let’s hear your response to this compelling write-up.  Or better yet, your own response to the play!

“The Admission” Diaries – Preview #2

March 22
1 pm
Writing outside, at Glen Echo Park, while daughter takes in a show with The Puppet Company, evaluating it for her Puppetry Theatre Practicum, and we all still bask in the afterglow of a warm Friday night Shabbat dinner party for 50 celebrating our Israeli Creative team and cast members at the home of one of our generous Council members; a party attended by our DCJCC president, supporters from the community, and by supportive family members as well. We sang songs, once again (a second shabbat eve in a row) with Habib Shehadeh playing oud, me on guitar, singing in Hebrew, English, and Habib Arabic, with Hanna, and Leila.safe_image.php People again joked, “this should be the real post-show discussion; a song festival on stage!” But so it was, another warm living room hootenanny, singing songs of fellowship, of peace, with a little epic rendition of “American Pie” thrown in to make it inclusive.

There was rehearsal the day after our first preview and those two 10 hour days of tech leading up to it. Friday morning was a day for Motti Lerner to meet with Sinai Peter, his director, and me as review the written feedback comments off our workshop questionnaire as we debriefed from our first post-show conversation that (focusing now on just the usefully critical observations) noted a small slipping of tension in Act II—-a sense that the breadth of the journey that Giora, our protagonist, was making in Act I was more pronounced than in Act II. There was a concern that there were some repetitive-seeming moments-—Was there a danger of a line sounding didactic? Motti came into the meeting intent on making cuts of the more overtly didactic-seeming lines, and emerged from the script meeting with a notion of what cuts he would explore in scenes 11, 12, 13 and 14 and away he went. Back to his hotel. For more rewrites. There hasn’t been a day during the 4 week rehearsal process where there haven’t been script refinements; big and small; all with different goals in mind–smoothing out the translation; giving a great sense of depth to the characters; incorporating the impulse of the actors (especially our Arab-American actors, contributing and collaborating with Motti in the portraiture of their characters); refining dramatic objectives; we focus particularly on Giora’s objective, as it evolves from Act I to Act II, and zeroing in on his investigative research and his primary desire to write a book WITH his father; then to write a book (when Dad refuses) to write a book with his partner Samya but necessarily incorporating his father’s memories into the book so it’s a valid and rounded. “The difference will clarify the complexity of the truth”–a line we’ve been wrestling with/refining/and ultimately rendering in a way we all accept.

As we prepare for tonight’s second preview and our first formal panel discussion, I once again want to focus on the animating question, as we examine both the script and the community conversations we’ve been having around the play. Here’s the panel line-up:

Sat, March 22 10:00 pm Playwright Motti Lerner in conversation with the audience and invited special guests• Lydia Diamond, Playwright and Board Member, Dramatists Legal Defense Fund
• Naomi Paiss, Vice President of Public Affairs for the New Israel Fund
• Jonathan Tobin, Senior Online Editor of Commentary magazine

And here’s the focus of our inquiry:  The politics and the psychology that informs a convening or a suppressing a contested historical narrative; the desire to shut down the inquiry Giora eventually launches in the play is mirrored in our community by the desire to shut down the performance of this play.  Let’s discuss; with some great panelists covering a number of bases.

We’ll report back on the discussion shortly.

“The Admission” Diaries – We Start Tonight

from Ari
8 am

March 20 has arrived. First day of spring. First day of performances for our workshop. First audiences coming to first preview. Students seeing work move from talked-about possibility to actuality. The first video introducing our cast to the community goes on line as they reflect on the play; what it’s about; what it means to them; recorded in the lobby of Studio Theatre where we rehearsed for three blessedly quiet weeks, digging into the play.

How furious will it be tonight? As the 6:00 hour rolls around and people line up for the remaining Pay What You Can tickets?

I will try to document events now on a daily basis, now that we have gotten to this moment.  And perhaps I’ll go a little bit backwards too.

This morning, my charge is to remember this point:  That each post-show discussion wants to have us look at a particular question — not just the title of that panel discussion — but a focal point for discussing this brand new play in and of itself,  keeping our focus on the play; advancing its development as a work of art.

At tonight’s first preview, the talk-back question I’ll ask is one we ask all the time with new work:

“How are we doing as story-tellers?”
Are we engaged? How does the play sustain suspense?
Does the play maintain its hold on you?
Are we clear in defining the characters
Are we complex enough to respect the collision of narratives?

The play as craft — the play as art — the play as family drama and romantic triangle. Let’s begin with that tonight, shall we?

A post-show report to follow….

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These facebook postings might say it all:

Amazing outpouring of support from longtime peace activists and committed Middle East Peace organizers – gathering before the first public performance of THE ADMISSION. The number of COPMA protesters last night? Zero. Inside the theater? Powerful unstoppable show!
Photos from last night’s show of support and solidarity with Theater J’s presentation of THE ADMISSION. 17 supporters strong! 
Artists and Advocates For The Admission's photo.
Artists and Advocates For The Admission's photo.
Artists and Advocates For The Admission's photo.
Artists and Advocates For The Admission's photo.
Artists and Advocates For The Admission's photo.
More street theater pix! Community Action at work!
Ari Roth's photo.
Ari Roth's photo.
Ari Roth's photo.
Read students first reactions to The Admission after reading the script here.

“Return To Haifa: The Other’s Story” – A New Documentary of Cameri Theatre Production

Last night saw the screening of a new film by David Goldenberg, presented at the University of California buidling in front of students, community well-wishers and the cast and creative nucleus of The Admission.

RETURN TO HAIFA: THE OTHER’S STORY is a documentary about the making of the international stage production of RETURN TO HAIFA based on the novella by Ghassan Kanafani, adapted for The Cameri Theatre by Boaz Gaon.
It is filmed, produced, and edited by David A. Goldenberg, who’s documented several of Theater J’s “Voices From a Changing Middle East Festivals” over the years
(see the Voices On Video link for an archive of David’s videos for PANGS OF THE MESSIAH, THE ACCIDENT, and early segments of RETURN TO HAIFA.)
A discussion with filmmaker and director Sinai Peter was held following the screening. Looking forward to comments from those who were in attendance last night!

Return to Haifa: “the other’s story” TRAILER

from David Goldenberg – official film blurb:

“Our film concerns the first mainstream Israeli play to deal with how the events of 1948 affected both sides. Adapted from the novella of controversial Palestinian writer, Ghassan Kanafani, “Return to Haifa”, forced everyone in the theater – cast, audience, and the creative team – to confront ‘the other’s story’”