On the Eve of the Close of Our Festival… We Extend!

The stars came into alignment from the place where it matters most – the schedule books of our creative team – and we were able to get everyone to sign onto make a return engagement of PANGS OF THE MESSIAH fly. And so now it’s official: Motti Lerner’s play will come back for an extended three week run August 28 through September 16 for seventeen performances!

Why extend this show?

Because it’s so damn deserving. Because it shows our theater doing what we do best; what makes us most unique; because it’s an unequivocal calling card that gets us confused with no one else, and it packs a wallop, and it shows sensitivity and a moral fierceness and a high level of artistry and it’s informed by a lot of love and a lot of passion and a broken heart and it leaves you speechless and saddened and conversely elevated by the extreme catharsis; by the total vividness; by the cry of conscience and the force of vitality and those all seem like more than one very good reason to keep a show that’s making money alive for another three weeks, don’tchya think?

But will it keep making money?

That is the drama. Would it be better to take our gains and squirrel them away? Well, it’s too late for that now! We’ve gone and taken the plunge, once again. Just like we took the plunge on this festival. keep reading

And this Middle East Festival was quite the leap off a high dive; a series of jumps off a six-pack of diving boards, twirling and twisting with jack-knife variations on a common descent into the heart of vexation and crisis; of human conflict and existential redemption. This series has plumbed some depths. And it has laced together so many motifs; from Zionism’s foundation to the costs of Occupation to the enduring beauty and the beckoning call of the sea. It’s been like a trip through Israel and Territories itself; a topographical mélange of mountain top and valley; theatrical wadis and dramatic boulevards in both Tel Aviv and Ramallah; passing through the Yeshiva and the Madras while walking down the Via Dolorosa. Tonight is Saturday night – our last Saturday night of the season – and we’re giving voice to twin journeys through the Holy Land as lived through David Hare’s 1998 travelogue and Aaron Davidman’s much more recent gyrations through a land castigated by the Left as the Township of Jewish Apartheid as we watch Aaron wrestle his way through one abrasive challenge after another trying to locate the deepest pang of humanity within the Jewish soul with a conscience that grieves both for Rachel Corrie and Daniel Pearl; weighing the relevance of moral relativism in a Jewish community that, more and more, asks us not to.

This festival reflects the richest programming we’ve ever done at Theater J. And it’s lost some money. Not a tremendous amount. But more than a few hundred, and less than ten thousand. Box office has been a bit of a disappointment. Attendance, not so. We’ve had over 1,400 ticket holders attend performances over the past 9 days. But too many came in for repeated series access on overly cheap Festival passes. Those passes cost us our break-even point. But they built a steady stream of repeat attendees. And as a result the continuity of experience and conversation was a beautiful collective experience.

Next year we’ll find an underwriter. Next year there will be anticipation. And the festival will be paid for before we even get started. For this year, a shortfall of $3,500 is nothing to lose sleep over. As the season has shown, our theater’s capable of escaping much more harrowing scenarios than that!

We’re confident about what lies ahead, and tickled pink about the success of the week that was. We’ll charge more next time. And maybe not run so athwart the programming of Capital Fringe. We’re strong enough to stage this festival in the weeks leading up to Fringe – and then perhaps join the festival, but in a lighter way, for the week. We won’t set up a wall-to-wall parallel festival like this again next year. We want badly to go attend some other Fringe events ourselves! And during hectic Fringe, some of our most coveted potential young new theatergoers are being courted and drawn by the 90+ other offerings. This Middle East Festival will take up more time in earlier in July and run a bit more leisurely next time. But for this year, let me say that the intensity of this cascade of theater has truly been uplifting. And I leave DC tomorrow, for a family vacation, feeling proud and even high about the job we’ve collectively done here at Theater J.

My hats off to the excellent Theater J staff and to everyone else, on Council and off, who’ve helped make this summer, this festival, indeed this whole year, such a stunning—fulfilling—success.