Author Archives: Ari Roth

Page-To-Stage Meets “G-d’s Honest Truth”

G-D'S HONEST TRUTH_final_IllustrationWe were back as in the friendly confines of the otherwise cavernous Kennedy Center for their 12th annual Labor Day Weekend Page-to Stage Festival, (a project now made possible by one of the great theater supporters in our town, The Share Fund). As The Washington Post told readers earlier this week, Theater J’s been a hearty participant of this city-wide celebration of new work since the festival’s inception and it’s worth remembering and sharing with you now all the bountiful work we’ve presented at this annual gathering.

I go back in the interest of summoning some institutional memory—in this 18th season of my producing here at the J—Page-to-Stage provides as good an occasion as any to take stock in what we’ve done; what we’ve witnessed and created together. And in the Page-To-Stage Festival we’ve realized a two-fold ambition: of growing lots of brand new work (refining, revising and workshopping it assiduously) and, most importantly, of going forward to produce all this workshopped drama, seeing the script through to its most complete realization. We’ve let these new plays work their kinks out in public and have gone the distance with them through to production.   That estimable track record of workshop-to-production is no accident; it’s all been planned. We’re a theater company that doesn’t believe in workshopping a play to death and seeing it whither on the vine before fruition, as so often happens (truly the subject for another posting but one worth mentioning here).  We develop lots of work, but we remain committed to bringing much of that work forward to completion.  When we announce a season in the spring, we make a point of scheduling at least one of our new works to have a Kennedy Center workshop.  The results have always been gratifying; enriching.

Here’s a list of what we’ve presented over twelve successive Labor Day weekends (and there are lots of stories to tell about each one of these outings, but for now, let’s just run down the list and appreciate what the Kennedy Center opportunity has allowed us to do):

2002- THE LAST SEDER by Jennifer Maisel

2003 – PSYCHE IN LOVE, WELCOME TO MY RASH & THIRD by Wendy Wasserstein and 

OH, THE INNOCENTS written and composed by Ari Roth

2004 – The Tattooed Girl by Joyce Carol Oates

2005- Picasso’s Closet by Ariel Dorfman

2006- Either, Or by Thomas Keneally

2007 – PROPHECY by Karen Malpede

2008 – Honey Brown Eyes by Stefanie Zadrevec and

Sholom Aleichem: Laughter Through Tears  by Theodore Bikel

2009 – Mikveh  by Hadar Galron

2010 – THE MOSCOWS OF NANTUCKET  by Sam Forman and 

PHOTOGRAPH 51  by Anna Ziegler

2011 – THE RELIGION THING  by Renee Calarco

2012 – THE HAMPTON YEARS by Jacqueline E. Lawton

2013 – OUR SUBURB by Darrah Cloud

So for our 16th workshop reading at the Kennedy Center, this year we’ve presented Renee Calarco’s G-D’S HONEST TRUTH, which will be produced later this season in a world premiere staging by Jenny McConnell Frederick. We were thrilled to have all 7 cast members who’ll be doing the production later this season be with us for the Labor Day reading. They included Audrey Bertaux, Rena Cherry Brown, Naomi Jacobson, Michael Kramer, John Lescault, Eric M. Messner and Sasha Olinick.

Our website describes the play this way:

Roberta and Larry always try to do the right thing – for their son (two and a half years into his engagement); for their marriage (never go to bed angry); and especially for their synagogue (which is always trying to build its membership—they’d be happy to tell you more…).


When they have the opportunity to help rescue a Holocaust Torah, they know they have to bring it to Temple Beth David. Partially inspired by the true story of Rabbi Menachem Youlus, the self-dubbed “Jewish Indiana Jones,” G-d’s Honest Truth asks how far we would go to believe a story that’s too good to be true. Told with humor and pathos by the Helen Hayes Award winning playwright and recent recipient of the 2014 Jewish Plays Project Award. 

So the play’s based on an episode that’s hit close to home in the Jewish community of Greater Washignotn and was closely chronicled in the local press.

Here are just a few of the links to news coverage for this story.

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The Blog is Back! Welcome To A Brand New Season!

Little Darlings, It’s been a long cold lonely summer of Theater with no blog posts! How have we survived without thee?

Well, there’s been Facebook, there’s been Twitter, there’s been vacationimages-1, and there’s been tons of activity without the concomitant documentation; such was the success of Golda’s Balcony, Freud’s Last Session, and The Prostate Dialogues; three marvelous shows that did amazing things for our theater — for two of our festivals (Voices From a Changing Middle East with Golda, and Locally Grown: Community Supported Art for Prostate, together with four wonderful new works by local writers who got their props on facebook, e-blasts, and elsewhere over the internets but not here, alas).  The critical, popular and financial success of Golda and Freud’s allowed us to end with another hugely successful season in the black; we closed happy and strong and more popular than ever. That’s a helluva way to pick up the thread of our blog narrative after the close of The Admission (see previous posting), one of our most controversial, artistically satisfying, critically hailed, and endlessly debated projects.  We’ve gone from strength to strength to strength to strength in 2014 and we’re gearing up for more with the opening of Yentl this week.

How to account for almost 5 months of quiet on this blog?  Let’s let you be the psychotherapist; the detective; the arm-chair observer wondering how this most prolix and self-disclosing of theater companies could be so quiet for so long?  And what does it mean that we’re back? Free to express, and promote, and to share and have conversation with an audience and a readership—one that we’ve neglected; a communication we’ve left unattended to.  Let us fill in the blanks and say that the silence speaks, but the works on stage speak more; the season announcement speaks volumes; how we got to that season announcement—what’s in and what’s out; the drama of selection and approval and budgeting, all in the midst of a producing frenzy seeing us close out a season of some 235 performances in one campaign (no, we won’t see the likes of a 9 production season like that again — 9 shows on a singular stage — playing to more people at the DCJCC than ever before) — it was an awful lot to produce; a lot to host; and the great success of the plays begot more work elsewhere; more showings in other venues; stuff that was difficult to keep up with on the blog and then the auditions, over 500 audition slots filled over the course of these last 4 months to bring you one of the most exciting assemblages of actors ever! Have you see this poster of our casting?  Let’s let this announcement below of our superstar talent be the final testament here for our summer of quieter communication…. WE WERE BUSY HIRING GLORIOUS ARTISTS!!!!

Theater J actors for the 2014-15 season: Lise Bruneau, Deidra LaWan Starnes, Eric M. Messner, Paul Morella, Brandy Burre, JaBen Early, Joe Brack, Kelly Renee Armstrong, Lindsay Elizabeth Williams, Naomi Jacobson, Amy McWilliams, Michael Kevin Darnall, Monica West, Eric Hissom, Shane O'Loughlin, Jonathan Feuer, Shanta Parasuraman, Shayna Blass, Susan Rome, Tom Wiggin, Josh Adams, Jenifer Deal, Sara Dabney Tisdale, Jesse Terrill, Michael Kramer, Sasha Olinick, Judith Ingber, John Lescault, Rena Cherry Brown, Lisa Hodsoll, Brandon McCoy, Sue Jin Song, James Whalen, Michael Anthony Williams, Kimberly Gilbert, Barbara Rappaport, Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, Aaron Bliden, Audrey Bertaux, Tim Getman

Theater J actors for the 2014-15 season: Lise Bruneau, Deidra LaWan Starnes, Eric M. Messner, Paul Morella, Brandy Burre, JaBen Early, Joe Brack, Kelly Renee Armstrong, Lindsay Elizabeth Williams, Naomi Jacobson, Amy McWilliams, Michael Kevin Darnall, Monica West, Eric Hissom, Shane O’Loughlin, Jonathan Feuer, Shanta Parasuraman, Shayna Blass, Susan Rome, Tom Wiggin, Josh Adams, Jenifer Deal, Sara Dabney Tisdale, Jesse Terrill, Michael Kramer, Sasha Olinick, Judith Ingber, John Lescault, Rena Cherry Brown, Lisa Hodsoll, Brandon McCoy, Sue Jin Song, James Whalen, Michael Anthony Williams, Kimberly Gilbert, Barbara Rappaport, Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, Aaron Bliden, Audrey Bertaux, Tim Getman

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.

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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