J is for Journaling (aka blogging)

Shirley here.

Some good news and some sad news to share, we’ll start with the sad.

Larry Gelbart–writer for stage and screen, and a creative force behind the television series “M*A*S*H,” Broadway hits like “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and film comedies like “Tootsie”–died on Friday at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 81. (ed. note: it’s been pointed out to me that this information was already linked to in a comment from this weekend. Sorry for the repeat!)

You can read his obituary in the Times here; which quotes his fabled statement “If Hitler’s still alive, I hope he’s out of town with a musical.” That line also appears in ZERO HOUR when our “Zero” talks about FORUM’s somewhat rickety road to the great white way.

It’s so strange when real life and theatrical life intersect in this way. I’d heard of Larry Gelbart before, but only put together the full picture of his career recently, as I did research for this show. For me it’s more about the tail end of his career–I saw his show CITY OF ANGELS as a freshman in high school; three years later I used a song from it for my college auditions (while I was a poor excuse for a femme fatale, I loved the song).

We’re glad to play (even a small) tribute to Gelbart’s humor and commitment in ZERO HOUR.

As for the good news–we hosted the third of our town hall meetings Sunday evening after the matinee of ZERO HOUR–with yet another solid house and lively discussion. This one, titled What Does the J in Theater J Mean? aimed to “delve into Theater J’s identity as it applies to both Jewish and non-Jewish patrons, and what the various expectations and wants from a Jewish theater company might be.”

Ari and I were joined by several of our Theater J council members and actress Naomi Jacobson, notable at this event as one of the few Theater J actors who is of Jewish decent. Naomi was, as always, charming and compelling, as she shared her own perspective on the question of Jewish identity, including a story featuring an agent in LA who, twenty years ago, tried to get her to change her name so that it would sound “less Jewish”. She didn’t do it.

The question of “Jewish identity” and “the identity of Theater J” (by proxy) was tossed around the room as people came up with other “J” words they identified with the theater. Justice. Joyous. Join Us (a shout out to inclusiveness). Jokes (as we’ve already established, the Jews invented comedy. Ha! I’m joking. Kind of.) And Jumbled (our “J” word meaning diversity).

But before we get too self-congratulatory (Ari’s student has made me paranoid) I’ll bring up a few of the trickier points that were raised that afternoon. There was the gentleman who, after volleying around all of the great things that make up our collective sense of our Jewish identity (education! service to others! improving the world!) pointed out that not ALL Jews ascribe to these same values. And actually, what he appreciated about the J was our willingness, at times and with a sense of balance (we hope) to look at both sides–the good and the bad, without blinders.

There was also the man who, after hearing several people speak of the theater we do as “outsider art” protested that “I haven’t felt like an outsider for forty years!” (has was eighty, so the first forty were probably quite a different story). It’s an interesting point–as being Jewish becomes, in many circles, progressively more “hip”, what effect does this have on Jewish artists and writers? Lacking a single cause to rally behind, what DOES come to define “Jewish identity”?

These kind of questions are issues we wrestle with frequently both in the J’s offices and at our Council Meetings. It’s been illuminating to welcome our audiences into the discussion.