Author Archives: Ari Roth

FIDDLER Closes Out Fall Theater-Going for Students

So we all got dressed up and went to see FIDDLER ON THE ROOF at Arena Stage on Thursday evening, our last theater-going expedition of the semester. What did we make of it?
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Almost everyone seeing this classic show (celebrating its 50th anniversary) for the first time; many unfamiliar with the show’s iconic songs, one after another they roll out, stupendously, in one of the most amazing first act collection of songs in Broadway history (how’s that for stating the obvious?)… What did we make of book-ending the semester with two musicals——YENTL 10632581_10152669946859883_8759886788855477763_nand FIDDLER——that tell us something about the dynamics of community; of classic story telling (both shows adapted from classic stories by legendary Jewish authors IB Singer and Sholom Aleichem, respectively); plays about marriage, tradition, modernity, and exile. What to make of the portraits we’ve seen on DC stages of the Jewish experience, from FIDDLER, to YENTL, to AWAKE AND SING, to BAD JEWS? That’s quite a trajectory! Who wants to make some meaning of it?
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I open the blog up to these wonderful students who’ve invested so much of themselves in these comments these past 3 months. Perhaps there’ll be one more posting opportunity to reflect on the larger picture — Theater at the cross-roads — Theater approaching the end of a calendar year — Theater aspiring to climb new heights and to remain relevant… Yes, we’ll give ourselves another opportunity to reflect more deeply on the art form and our institutions approaching a new year… For now, we look back and look at the production of a piece of heritage brought lovingly back to us for our entertainment and enlightenment… FIDDLER lives! Let’s appreciate what it still can do so masterfully.
Fiddler on the Roof

“I-Ho” Opens and Inspires Rapturous Acclaim. So What Inspired “I-Ho?”

The review round-up here showcases local reviewers largely rising to task of wrapping language around Tony Kushner’s high octane gathering of smart progressives problem solving the impending fall of their patriarch. The play is meeting up with hugely enthusiastic audiences following Tuesday night’s triumphant opening.

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Here’s an aggregate of the first wave of reviews, from…

- The Washington Post (And this kinda sums up the thematic dart to the heart of the play in one-fell-swoop)  “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide” attempts to embody as well as illuminate a paralysis that is overtaking Gus’s children and the society at large, a slow-moving, money-fed decay that is neutralizing dissent, neutering the environment and smothering the working class.”

- Theatre Bloom  5 Stars from this pretty new (and obviously excellent) publication: “Penned to perfection with riveting plot sparks that expose deep vaults of emotional trauma the work is exceptional and divinity to the written and performance craft.”

- DC Metro Theatre Arts - 5 Stars – and this: “this show is a surfeit of surprise and substance, of significance and delight, of density and shimmering wit. And the long and the short of it is…don’t miss it.”

- Broadway World (and we’ll take a headline with “Wild and Rollicking” anytime!)

- CurtainUp - The most mixed review thus far, but even still, there’s this: “To say that Director John Vreeke has squeezed every last bit of emotion, vigor, and intensity out of his cast would be an understatement. Every actor is working at full tilt and all are a pleasure to watch. Even their physical gestures are memorable. Tom Wiggin’s Gus, Lou Liberatore’s Pill, Josh Adams’s Eli and James Whalen’s Adam are particularly strong. Lisa Hodsoll as Maeve is very funny indeed. Rena Cherry Brown as Zeeko has some of the most sardonic lines and she delivers them with dead-pan grace.”

- Maryland Theatre Guide A great shout-out to the set and scenic design: “Misha Kachman’s set is a good place to spend a few hours; its overstuffed bookcase denotes a life of reading (though it slants right instead of left). The cracks in the walls above the fireplace would denote fissures in the family as well, if they don’t crack open further when the angry son throws the bust of Italian patriot Garibaldi into it. Her brownstone facade floating ominously above them may be something you don’t notice until two hours in because of all the action on stage. The projections and sound of Jared Mezzocchi and Eric Shimelonis, respectively, perfectly frame the action and time. But there’s something timeless about the work of Kushner, brought to us in this stirring production, creating something that will stay with us.”

So that’s the first batch of reviews. The question I’ve posed to students — If, as we point out in early postings, Tony Kushner is paying homage to certain iconic American family dramas, how are those resonances manifesting themselves? Besides the aformentioned parallel between Gus and Jacob in Awake and Sing, in what ways does Kushner reference and spin and pay post-modern homage to some of our greatest American dramas?
Here’s just a partial list of some works that might come to mind as mash-up source material:
Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Clifford Odets’ Awake And Sing
Arthur Miller’s All My Sons or Death Of A Salesman
Tennessee Williams’ Cat On a Hot Tin Roof
Or, in a more contemporary vein
Tracy Lett’s August: Osage County

I’m interested to read how I-HO aspires to pay its due to the masterpiece(s) and how, to whatever extent, it succeeds in establishing itself as a new family powerhouse of a play.

With more Kushnerian musings to come.

Tony Kushner Comes To Town, We Benefit, Finish Tech and then Previews Begin!

It’s been a whirlwind week. Kushner came, he shared, he conquered. Read all about his benefit appearance and our MCCA celebration of his prodigiousness in film, prose, music and theater here in this amazing recounting of the rich full evening we presented on Monday, November 10.

Tony Kushner in Conversation with Arena Stage's Molly Smith at the DCJCC

Tony Kushner in Conversation with Arena Stage’s Molly Smith at the DCJCC

By Thursday night, we were previewing The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide To Capitalism and Socialism With a Key To The Scriptures. Our running time is 20 minutes shorter than at Berkeley Rep. It’s an achievement, to have come up with such a different version in look and length from the West Coast premiere. And still we are in rehearsal; still we are refining our work; but the satisfaction in getting something manageable up there; something controllable and refine-able… is profound. Our great work continues.

Tom Wiggin and Susan Rome (C. Stanley Protography)

Tom Wiggin and Susan Rome (C. Stanley Protography)

Tom Wiggin and Tim Getman  (C. Stanley Protography)

Tom Wiggin and Tim Getman (C. Stanley Protography)

Lou Liberatore and Josh Adams (C. Stanley Protography)

Lou Liberatore and Josh Adams (C. Stanley Protography)

“Bad Jews” Rages Bright, Tight, Hot, Disturbing – What’s Not To Love?

Josh Harmon’s play has an amazing production history; a total home-run first-time outing for a young, talented playwright who scored big with this chamber play getting not one, but two Roundabout Theatre productions for this study of young American Jews mourning the loss of their “poppie” and practically gouging their eyes out in the process. I struggled with this play when I first read it 3 years ago in spite of all the talent bounding off the page. But by the time I made my peace with the excoriating portraiture and the horrid behavior we see on stage, the play’d become a bonafide hit and Studio Theatre landed it before we could get a response from the agent. Our loss. Studio’s winner. Congratulations to Serge Seiden once again. I think our student subscribers were quite taken by all the onstage viciousness and, more importantly, the negotiation of religious identity and family legacy. Should be fun to read these responses.

Alex Mandell, Irene Sofia Lucio, Joe Paulik and Maggie Erwin from the Studio Theatre production

Alex Mandell, Irene Sofia Lucio, Joe Paulik and Maggie Erwin from the Studio Theatre production

And from the New York production at Roundabout Theatre.

From left, Tracee Chimo, Molly Ranson, Philip Ettinger and Michael Zegen in a studio apartment setting in "Bad Jews," at the Black Box Theater in Manhattan.

From left, Tracee Chimo, Molly Ranson, Philip Ettinger and Michael Zegen in a studio apartment setting in “Bad Jews,” at the Black Box Theater in Manhattan.

Throwback To The Birth of Something New – “How We Got On
” at Forum Theatre

We took in something new this week, in Idris Goodwin’s new play at Forum Theatre (which premiered at Actors Theatre of Louisville in the 2012 Humana Festival), a play about the early days of hip-hop and rap as adopted by three suburban kids, Hank, Julian, and Luann and how they “navigate tumultuous family relationships, cultural isolation, and the search for authenticity.”poster_GotOn_2011-2012 How We Got On is directed By Paige Hernandez with a lot of reverence for a cultural expression that’s still very much with us today and the old days of hip-hop still feel very fresh and relevant (to these ancient ears at least) to what’s coming out now. The play’s use of music feels new even as it looks back almost 30 years — that’s an interesting irony and an effective twist.

So curious about how this production——added late in the planning stages of our political theater course (just after the semester started, by something of a popular demand to give more diversity to the line-up of thematically related work we were seeing)——feels both a part of, and a departure from, what we’ve been seeing up to this point. We’re bearing in mind that what we saw on Thursday night was a very first preview performance, with more rehearsals still to come for the talented ensemble and creative team still refining this lively 90 minute production. A big thanks to Forum Theatre for convening (as they always do) a great discussion on stage for all of us to participate in.

Rabbis In The News & Remembering our Mikveh Dramas

We began the season on September 1st with a reading of Renee Calarco’s G-d’s Honest Truth; a fictionalized account inspired by local headlines of a rabbi who perpetrated a fraud on his community.  That play comes to full life later this season.

Four years ago, we offered a play from Israel that involved an unseen rabbi’s violent tendency towards his wife, as she slowly revealed her drama to a group of women in her monthly visits to the neighborhood mikveh.  Hadar Galron’s play, Mikveh, was a long-running hit in Israel and caused a sensation, and some concern, when we presented the English language world premiere on our stage in 2010.

MIKVEH by Hadar Galron, directed by Shirley Serotsky

MIKVEH by Hadar Galron, directed by Shirley Serotsky – illustration by                   David Polonsky

The play showed the beauty of the mikveh ritual and the power of women coming together to seek solace in the cleansing, healing waters and blessings associated with ritual submersion. But because the play involved not just spousal abuse but also a death by drowning in the mikveh (and not just one suicide, but ultimately, in the end, two!) it was feared that the play would “give a black eye to the orthodox community” in its melodramatic portrait of life in and around the mikveh.  It’s worth a visit back to our blog entries from that Voices From a Changing Middle East 2010 Festival dedicated to the Voice of the Woman.  Lots and lots of drama surrounding that show.  Was it right to put such a frank (or heightened) portraiture on our stage?  Certainly at the time, the Embassy of Israel thought it was worth it.  They loved the play and bought the entire house for one performance to share it with friends from the diplomatic community.  This was the kind of work coming out of Israel—a play that brought Israeli audiences from secular as well as religious background together by the thousands—that wanted to be shared with American audiences; that demonstrated the Israeli theater fulfilling its cultural mission and purpose.

Amal Saade and Tonya Beckman Ross in Mikveh

Amal Saade and Tonya Beckman Ross in Mikveh

Now a new real-life mikveh drama has unfolded before us and I’ve asked those who want to, to respond personally and associatively to what they’ve been reading or hearing.  Many will be learning about the mikveh ritual for the first time in reading about this terrible violation.  But most of us—especially the women amongst us—know what it means to be watched and to be made to feel unsafe because of that furtive gaze.
This is a chance to share your thoughts about the recent scandal at Kesher Israel Congregation in Georgetown.  And to reflect on the sensitivity of discussing—and indeed, perhaps, someday maybe dramatizing—such events in public.
I’ve ask students to think about this story, and its relation, in whatever ways come to mind, to G-d’s Honest Truth.  We’re approaching our comments with care and sensitivity.
Here’s the powerful opinion piece I hope people will have a number of thoughts about (having very little to do, likely, with G-D’S HONEST TRUTH, and much more with issues folks are very familiar with from their own lives): “For the victims of voyeurs, a terrible theft of trust

What does it mean when these crimes and violations are made public?

How do we feel about the theater’s role in returning to these stories of religious scandal?

Tony Kushner’s Latest Epic – And Recalling His First

Earlier this week, we began rehearsals for Tony Kushner’s thrilling new masterwork, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide To Capitalism and Socialism With a Key To The Scriptures. I want to share with you my own opening remarks to the company of amazing actors, designers, staff and supporters, and our always extraordinary partner in art, director John Vreeke. But first let’s hear from John, and productions designers Misha Kachman and Ivania Stack. Here’s a video peek from our first day of rehearsals:

Inside_Look To see the video, click here.

Opening Welcome Remarks, from the Artistic Director:

As concerned as we are with the clock [because we want to make sure we get to the end of this play before 11:00 and it’s 6:15 now and we’ve got presentations and breaks to account for, so I’ll talk in a hurry]
It’s important that we lead with our love; how it leads to why we’re here
That we open with passion in presenting our purpose:

Which is to bring a great thing-—this thing called I-HO—-to life.
To do justice to a great mind, a brilliant voice, and bring this fabulously fractious family into vivid relief as they say try to goodbye to each other
while trying to save each other
from the shattering loneliness of losing; losing the battle, losing memory…
while striving to renew their union (to each other).
Some quick context about why we’re here — about what this play is doing here of all places?

This first question:
Do you remember where you were when you first encountered Angels in America?
You were younger, I’ll bet.
So was Tony Kushner. In Angels, Tony wrote, as a young gay renegade, brilliant and better than anyone.

What was your first impression of Angels?
[That’s the prompt for our student theater-goers—To respond to the blast of reading Angels for the first time.  Or alternately, talk about reading Homebody/Kabul, so near and dear to Theater J-goers’ hearts.]

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