APPLES Opens! Week 1 of Voices From a Changing Middle East is Complete!

We got in another wonderful opening under the wire before the Christmas Holiday came upon us and now we’re both exhilarated and exhausted, just catching up from the whirlwind of activity that we’re entirely still in the midst of, with two shows today of Apples From The Desert, in between which yet another stirring post-show discussion, and then, I think (!), we’re finally off for a day or two, before we crank it up again!

Let’s recount the week that’s been, because it’s well worth it.

The start of our Voices Festival coincides with the arrival of two new Theater J staff members, Molly Winston (our new director of Community Outreach and New Media) and Alice Magelssen (our new Development Associate), both of whom  have seemingly brought us lots of good fortune, and great skills too! Molly’s made some wonderful upgrades to the website, including a really clear listing of the daily events of our festival. Check out the new listing format here.

Meanwhile Alice has helped usher in an extraordinary week of gifts to our theater as end-of-year giving has proved to be fruitful and abundant, to which we can only say “thank you” and “yes, we’ll keep doing what we’re doing because, obviously, it’s resonating.”  (No, that’s not how we’re signing our acknowledgment letters, but it is what we’re registering: An uncommon depth of loyalty and support from an ever-expanding base of well-wishers.  So if you want to support our efforts on producing new work from all over the world, and from right here in our own backyard, click here!)

And now onto The Week in Review:

• Saturday, Dec 15 – We have our first preview in front of 150 and realize what a beautiful production we have.  It’s the culmination of an intense week of tech, and our playwright, Savyon Liebrecht, has arrived from Israel the night before.  She’s with us for rehearsals during the day, but too jet-lagged to make it back to the theater for preview #1.  It’s okay — tomorrow’s a big day for her with three public speaking responsibilities.  Better for her to rest, and for us to get a first performance under our belt.

• Sunday Dec 16            Savyon Liebrecht: From Page to the Stage


The afternoon begins with a wonderful reception with friends from The New Israel Fund and Theater J Council members, toasting our partnership on several post-show discussions during our festival.  It’s Savyon’s first official welcome to Washington, and she’s met with stirring words from NIF Washington Director, Karen Paul-Stern.  Savyon crosses the DCJCC lobby to go from a reception in the library to a talk in the Community Hall to share with us the journey from short story to stage play that so many of her works have made over the years, beginning with “Apples From the Desert,” a four page short story (that you can read here) that made its way to a 70+ page 110 minute play.

That same Sunday night, we have our first Pay-What-You-Can preview of the play and we’ve got a sold-out house.  Laughs that weren’t entirely in place during the first act of Saturday night’s show appear Sunday, and we’re all relieved.  The play is now (almost) as funny as when it played in Israel, where laughs of recognition were plentiful, and yet here, on our first night, it seemed less so.  Now there’s there’s the hope that this production will be every bit as entertaining as the Israeli production, a hit that ran for years… (ours has barely 4 weeks!)

The post-preview talk-back with Savyon goes great.  It’s a time for us to talk to each other, about her play, her process, her career,  and bring in the audience at the same time.  That audience, like the night before, is focussing principally on the out-sized force of anger that is the character of Reuven, the father to Rivka and husband to Victoria, who never even appears in the story.  And yet it’s Reuven’s transformation during the penultimate scene of the play that really proves to be the motivation for Savyon in going back to the story and turning it into a play some 20 years later.  She had something to say about this orthodox patriarch who’s inflicted much hard.  She’s not out to condemn him, but to break him, you might say; to cause an evolution that just might break our hearts, as it breaks him.

• Monday  Dec 17 – Another PWYC preview.  The production settles into its groove.  No line difficulties.  We finish our adjustments on tech.  The laughs are even more generous in Act I, and I have no notes to share with our director after Act I is done!  We won’t need a production meeting that night.  Instead, we have Savyon, and director Johanna Gruenhut with me on stage and another great post-show audience sticking around to talk about the deeply affecting play.  These discussions are what Voices From a Changing Middle East are all about.  And if you look at the entirety of the first week, there’s a discussion after every single performance (Sat, Sun, Mon, Thurs, Sat, Sun) save for opening night and Sunday night.   Why is it so great to talk about plays after we experience them?  Frequently it’s not.  At OTHER THEATERS.  But in our house—maybe because it’s our house—or maybe because we’ve got such a smart and experienced audience, or because we really like the interplay and we’re good about sticking to a constructive and concrete conversation, we just create something important in that post-show forum.  Such has been the case with APPLES thus far.  And remember, the talk-backs are FREE.  Anyone can come, once the play is done.

• Tuesday, Dec 18.  We open.  We have 300+ RSVPS on the books.  We have to turn away 20 earlier in the day.  We expect 20 or more no-shows.  We wind up with 249 jammed to the rafters.

• Thursday, Dec 20.  Another pre-show event:    Rabbis for Human Rights-North America Boaz_Gaon_headshotPresents a talk by Boaz Goan, lead playwright/adapter of Boged: An Enemy of The People and Return to Haifa, speaking on the Social Protest Movement in Israel of both 2011 and 2012.  Notes will follow.  For the 16 people who assemble for the talk, later joined by DCJCC CEO Carole Zawatsky, it’s a moving presentation of Israel’s version of The Occupy Movement, in all its grandeur and limitations, except that this Social Protest movement saw its impact manifest in a way that Occupy America never quite did.  Boaz recounted the night in July 2011 when 500,000 out of a country of 7 million (anyone wanna do the percentage?) took to the streets both in Tel Aviv and in other major cities in Israel, to protest inequities and economic injustices within Israel.  The Israel-Palestine question was left. for that extended moment, almost entirely off the table.  This was about making Israel itself a better place.  And so it remains, a social protest movement no longer sleeping in tents in the middle of Tel Aviv.  But still fulminating, creating more new Non-Governmemtal Organizations within Israel than at any other time in recent memory.  A new way of achieving social and economic transformation; a new form of political engagement (with the old being largely impermeable and impossible to combat); there’s hope in this fragile enterprise.

And later that night, following our first performance after opening:

A Post Show Clergy-in-Conversation – Moderated by Cantor Susan Bortnick of Washington Hebrew Congregation

And there was more; there is more!  We’ll stop with the other highlight:

• Friday, December 21 — a Tea @2 Reading of

The Aristocrats by Edna Mazya

(Author of Games in the Back Yard)

in the Theater

Israel, 1953. Yair Ben-Canaan is devoted to defending the new Israeli state while his wife Hagar is committed to welcoming newly arrived survivors. They are passionate about their pursuits–which leaves little time for their two children, Oz and Devorah. Add to the mix Rudy, Yair’s flamboyant fashion designer brother, and this picture perfect pioneer family proves to be more complex than they originally let on.

Edna Mazya was born in Tel Aviv in 1949. She is one of Israel’s most lauded and popular playwrights. In 1997 she received the Margalit Prize for her play Family Story. Her performed plays include Wien by the Sea (Haifa, 1995), The Uncle from Capetown (Haifa, 1995), Games in the Backyard (Haifa, 1993), The Rebels (Cameri, 1999).

The play is brilliant.  One of our best Friday readings ever.  We’ll recount more as time allows. You’ll be hearing more about this 11 actor, gracefully structured play.  For now, we thank an extraordinary cast, assembled by our amazing casting director, Naomi Robin.  Jason Schlafstein during the reading with the following breakdown:

Yair: Michael Kramer
Hagar:  Susan Rome*
Rudy:  Rick Hammerly
Oz:  Alexander Strain
Devorah:  Laura C. Harris
Vera:  Susan Lynskey
Valeri and Photographer:  Sarah Taurchini 
Yamima and Evyatar:  Dani Stoller
Tinchi:  Brynn Tucker 
Boaz and Leg Breaker:  Carlos Saldana 
Nachum, Anthony and Man in Garden:  Brandon McCoy 
(All asterisks indicate actors are members of AEA, Actors Equity Association)
* * *
Of course, there’s more…
• Like the start of rehearsals for BOGED (TRAITOR): AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!  So much to say about Week #1 of rehearsals…
But that’s for another posting.  As are the great reviews for APPLES… For now, suffice to say, that VOICES is launched… And all is well…