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

G-D'S HONEST TRUTH_final_IllustrationWe were back 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. 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 Washingnton and was closely chronicled in the local press.  Here are just a few of the links to news coverage for this story:

The original article ran in the Washington Post Magazine in January, 2010:

* http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/22/AR2010012203257_pf.html

And below are the rest of the news stories that follow the unfolding (unraveling!) of the scheme, listed in chronological order.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2010/01/28/DI2010012803483.html?sid=ST2010012500035

* http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2010/01/25/ST2010012500035.html?sid=ST2010012500035

Renee Calarco’s The Religion Thing launched Theater J’s first “Locally Grown: Community Supported Art Festival”kimliz698 in 2012, giving us that rare phenomenon; a world premiere comedy by a local female writer that surpassed ticket revenue expectations and audience attendance projections. In short, it was popular! The Religion Thing was written with a candor and incisiveness that positioned friends and lovers on stage pushing each other to truly explore the subject of faith; how it still divided them, despite all the glossing over; despite the patina of happy creature comforts; Calarco’s characters confronted the humbling realization that they had been living a fraudulent relationship. An authentic relationship—one laced with honesty and forgiveness—was the sadder, truer pursuit, even if it meant that a couple go their separate ways. That play demonstrated Calarco’s gifts as a humane writer of humor who could plumb the depths of experience and touch an audience by exposing raw, unresolved issues and complicated emotions.

That bravery and empathy is expanded upon in G-d’s Honest Truth, as Calarco adapts a real-life scandal that touched religious circles in the Greater DC Jewish Community (and in Baltimore, New York, and New Jersey too).  I’ve taken to comparing Calarco’s creative re-imagining of a real-life episode to what John Guare was doing in his masterpiece Six Degrees of Separation, wittily bringing to life and expanding upon a headline to show how good people become willingly duped out of more than just money and how a craving for spiritual authenticity threatens a marriage, a family structure, challenging a community to put its true values in order.

I’m wondering what folks in attendance think of this comparison.  In what other ways might G-d’s Honest Truth be a Jewish suburban spin on Six Degrees of Separation?  Or does it remind you of another play?  We talked about Our Town today in our discussion as well, referencing the play’s multi-generational portrait of a community.  We’ve had plenty of opportunity this past season to think about Thornton Wilder’s classic, as we presented an updated spin and homage to it in Darrah Cloud’s Our Suburb.

Calarco’s play’s clearly got lots of resonance and lineage and it’s familiar to us from its newsy origins.  But it’s also a pretty original imagining too, no?  What struck you, I wonder, about this play, as being new and revelatory?

We’re going to hearing in the comments from folks who attended the reading today, and from folks who are reading the manuscript; new student subscribers attending their first Theater J sponsored event.  We welcome all responses, as this should prove to be a play that will have the whole community talking once its fully staged. We imagine some sensitivities will be ruffled.  Will some be offended?  Angered?  Moved?  Does the play help make the case for a what theater like our is good for?  What kind of forum (and service) we provide the community?  Or this drama a tad too impudent for its own good?  Those who’ve gotten a sneak peak at this piece can get us started on the robust discussion that’s sure to come!

 

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

  1. As a newcomer to DC and a relative newcomer to the theatre scene, I must say it was a delight to sit through Theatre J’s reading of Renee Calarco’s “G-d’s Honest Truth”. Replete with humor, the play took me on a journey that gave me a sliver of insight into not only the Jewish community, but also complex relationships that arise out of familial and extra-familial dynamics.

    As someone with peripheral exposure to Jewish culture, I appreciated the several asides that defined and clarified certain terms such as “ketubah” and “habdalluh”. As the chorus mentioned at the beginning, it was a Jewish play, but not too “Jewey”, meaning it was still within reach for non-Jewish people, though there were some moments that went over my heard, I couldn’t deny that. Overall, I found the plot and subplots to be interesting and entertaining (it’s not everyday I hear a story about a Holocaust scroll, let alone one that is falsified).

    I did not find myself particularly connected with any character, however. I love to feel invested in characters when I watch a play or movie and that was something I had trouble with in this play. I believe this was the case because the characters were in stages in their lives where though I could appreciate what they had to say on a certain level, I found it hard to relate because I am a 22 year-old.

    My favorite scene from the play was the dress fitting. It was inspiring to see Roberta defend the seamstress and interpret her actions with more understanding against Barbara’s more pessimistic, dismissive attitude. This scene was interesting because though both women were descendants from hard-working immigrants, the way they interpret their ancestry directly impacts the way they treated the seamstress, an immigrant herself.

    Another moment which struck me was during one of Larry’s asides to the audience when he reflects on his marriage and his wife. He said at one point, “I miss the women I fell in love with”, which is a line that terrified me. Love and commitment define Roberta and Larry’s relationship, however it was saddening to know that even when you find “the one”, things change and the spark that was there can modify. His line frightens me because when I fall in love I would never want to lose the spark that was initially there (I know how trite that sounds).

    An interesting observation about the audience was that they were for the most part white, middle-aged and senior men and women, who I will also assume are Jewish. This gives me the impression that Theatre J has a loyal following in DC, which I can see why with the caliber of tremendously talented actors and solid productions such as “G-d’s Honest Truth”.

    • I can really relate to you when you said you couldn’t connect to some of the characters because we aren’t at their age. I think that’s why I was able to understand Josh a lot, more so than Roberta or Larry. To a degree, I was frustrated at how naive they were, and the scene where Roberta was asking about Google Translate, was something that I was able to relate to as a daughter. With that said though, the play gave me an insight into how old conservative values are held on to as you age. I couldn’t really pinpoint it but the play still conveyed the shift in priorities as you age.

    • Juan, I really like that you touched on the makeup of the audience! I also noticed that the majority of the audience seemed to be older or of jewish heritage. As I’m not jewish, there were a lot of jokes and references about judaism that went over my head. However, I focused a lot on the reactions of the audience to get some more context of the intent of the play. I think the audiences reactions really helped me connect with the play more, because I also found it difficult to connect with the older characters.

  2. I think that Renee Calarco did a great job of taking a story that was in the news and bringing it to life. She was able to take a very serious and troubling crime and show us the human side of things with heart and humor. Although she adapted the play from the headlines and told her own story, it really helped me to understand how something like this could happen and see all the moving parts that go into an entire community being swindled.
    Something that really struck me during this play was how understanding Larry and Roberta are when they begin to doubt Rabbi Dov. It was even a little bit frustrating for me to watch Roberta confront Dov so calmly about the two scrolls with the same story. It seemed so obvious he was lying to everyone and I just wanted to see Roberta call him out on it. However, in the end the way that she handled things so coolly and quietly made me like her character even more. I could understand why she chose to tell Barbara that the scrolls were buried together. I respected that she didn’t want to tell her friend that all her work and effort was for a lie. I found this relatable because sometimes it is hard to decide if it’s better to tell someone the truth and hurt them, or to tell them what they want to hear and keep them in good spirits. Another instance that showcases Roberta’s understanding personality is the scene with the seamstress. While Barbara only sees the seamstress as someone trying to rip them off, Roberta sees her as an immigrant trying to make a life for herself. This part of the play reminded me that it is really easy to forget that others around you are struggling and it is important to be considerate.
    This was the first time I have attended the reading of a play and I really enjoyed it. As the actors spoke, I could get a clear vision of the sets and everything that was happening. Overall I found this play to be very entertaining, funny, and also very heartfelt.

    • I definitely agree with your feelings of frustration at Roberta’s cool confrontation with Rabbi Dov, especially when he fed her that ambiguous story which she didn’t ask for clarification on. I didn’t understand what I was supposed to draw from his story, but when she relates the story to Barbara in the context of the two Torahs I saw a meaning in the original story that I didn’t see before. It was still BS but it did reflect Roberta’s willingness to understand and to consider other feelings even if it is based on a lie

    • I really enjoy your take on Roberta’s confrontations with Dov. I know that her passiveness and naiveté were a major frustration for me as well. To see the characters get so wrapped up in the emotions surrounding the Holocaust items and the great significance that was placed on them, Dov’s con seemed even more despicable than a usual art or antiquities forger. When it was obvious that Roberta and Larry had put the pieces together but continued to ignore the ruse, I felt as though the dynamic characters they started as died off. However, I completely understood and then admired Roberta and Larry’s commitment to the community to keep the scandal a secret. The children who had read from that Torah for the bar and bat mitzvah, Barbara, Mrs. Klein, her son Henry, and the whole temple community were left in blissful ignorance by Roberta and Larry to continue the good and the stronger sense of community and revitalized faith the Holocaust Torah had brought with it.

  3. This was my first time experiencing a play reading. At first I was confused as to what was occurring with one of the lead actresses, Roberta, but after careful examination I realized that she was not only speaking aloud to the audience, but also performing asides. After coming to grips with this portion of the reading I noticed that the actors/actresses would sit in their chairs as they, metaphorically, exited the stage.

    After overcoming these realizations, which helped deepen my understanding of the reading, I became engulfed in the magic of the actors/actresses. The emotion and facial expressions performed, while standing in one place, was exquisite. It was as if I could imagine them on stage giving this performance; and no props or further dramatizations were needed. This speaks to the level of skill the cast had.

    With regards to the script, and less on the cast, the Jewish culture was prominent throughout the reading, but it was not overwhelmingly “Jewy” because the playwright, Renee Calarco, intentionally and intelligently wrote for an audience that may, and may not, be familiar with Jewish culture. However, I do think that the cast may have read over the information exceptionally fast and at times it was hard to grasp the meaning of certain aspects of the culture. On the other hand, this may not be a necessity because the artistic creativity captured the meaning of the story with a graceful ease.

    Furthermore, the play captures many of society’s current social issues, which tie into any culture, creating universality for individuals of any culture. Immigration into the United States, Gender Issues, and Jewish stereotypes are all current day social issues. Were they comical situations and ideologies, yes, but they captured the audience and created an awareness to these issues nonetheless. This play not only captured different cultures through social issues faced by all, but was capable of apprehending generations of individuals. “Google-Translate, Wikipedia, Soulmates,” and other youthful whims contrasted effortlessly with “traditional and old-school” ways of life and religion. Not to mention the historical aspect of Jewish culture brought to the attention of the audience through Anne Frank. This was all beautifully woven together into a masterpiece.

    In closing, I wanted to raise a few questions I have thought about after the reading: Is “Jew” an acceptable term? I asked this not as a criticism to the playwright, but more for personal knowledge. Secondly, my next question is inspired by my reaction to Miley Cyrus at the VMA’s this year. For those of you who do not know Miley won the Video of the Year and instead of giving a speech herself she sent a homeless youth to accept the award on her behalf and give a speech about homeless youth. At first I was appalled because I thought that this was another publicity stunt, but a friend of mine stated “What does it matter if it is authentic or a publicity stunt because she is raising awareness of a huge issue.” Therefore, I ask the same question about the Torah. Should the authenticity matter when it raised such awareness for Jewish culture, history, and brought the Jewish community together?

    • James,
      I agree with your comments about the play being not to “Jewy,” and that sometimes the cast did read too fast and the information was difficult to understand. However, at some points I did appreciate it. For example, when the cast was speaking in Hebrew, I had no idea what was going on, but because they moved on so quickly without an explanation, I was also able to move on and not get caught up in the meaning or what they were trying to say.
      In an attempt to answer your question, I do think the authenticity of a Torah matters. Although I am not a member of the Jewish community, from the play it seemed as though the Torah was able to bring people together because of the common language and the part it played in life events, such as Emma’s Bat Mitzvah. Because of the rich history of the Jewish culture, I do feel it is important to have an authentic Torah because it celebrates the lives of Jewish people who have lived before, and it shows the power that the writings hold within the religion.

    • Good stuff, James. In response to your last question regarding authenticity, I believe it just depends on who you ask. For Roberta and her friend,it was significant, but for Larry not so much (he encouraged her to not really look into the matter, he wanted her to just “let it go”). I only think it matters that something be authentic as a matter of keeping ones word and how much value you place on it. Is the real “Starry Night” any better than the replica hanging in X person’s home? Why?

      Meaghan, though the story behind the Torah was fabricated, it still was a transcribed version of the sacred text, no? So it is still an authentic pious text despite the lie that shrouds the origins of the text.

  4. Renee Calarco’s, “G-d’s Honest Truth”, presents to the audience one common device to which nearly every watcher of this play can relate and that is the idea of legacy. How will you be remembered after you die, and how will that memory be preserved as time goes on? Dov mentions this to Roberta in his office in the line, “We all want to leave a legacy. Try as we might to deny it, there’s the inexorable pull of legacy.” After Dov spoke of this, I started looking at several characters’ motivations in the play through this lens. For instance, Roberta so desperately wants grandchildren to continue the family line (she says to Dov that she, Larry, and their son, Josh, are all only children), or in other words, to continue their family’s legacy. Furthermore, as we see intense bidding and competition among members of the Jewish community and Beth David synagogue over both the Holocaust Torah and Anne Frank’s writing, we can interpret these behaviors as the overwhelming desire to preserve the legacy of their common past. What these items now represent for the Jewish people is so very important that many are willing to spend thousands of dollars to carry on the responsibility of preserving these precious items.

    The most interesting character to examine with this “legacy lens” obviously is Dov himself. Yes, Dov obviously makes a large profit from the Torahs and other items, but the publicity he seeks out and the elaborate stories he tells only serves his future legacy. In fact, he relishes in his nickname, “The Jewish Indiana Jones,” and appears on radio shows speaking of his discoveries. Of course, the most interesting facet to Dov’s “inexorable pull of legacy” is how he will actually be remembered, revealed at the end of the play when he can be seen wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. Dov secures his legacy, but not in the way he initially intended.

    All in all, “G-d’s Honest Truth” is a terrific and captivating work! I applaud Renee Calarco, the director, the cast, and all of Theater J for their tremendous work with the play, and I look forward to seeing the complete production this coming spring.

    • Timothy,

      I thought that your examination of the play was quite interesting. I had not thought about this “legacy” aspect that you have so clearly defined within a multitude of characters and their motivations. With this new dynamic in mind the play has much more than social issues and culture to bind the audience as a whole. It has an innate and very natural desire, to leave a legacy, which is something everyone can relate to. Everyone wants to be remembered for something, typically something positive, but remembered above all else. They want to leave a mark on this world. Your insights have allowed me to expand on my question as to whether something needs to be authentic to hold weight within society. With your comments in mind I am starting to think that it does not matter much as to the authenticity behind one’s actions, but that the actions created a greater good within the world.

    • Timothy, I like how you brought out the idea of legacy in your original post. Legacy is undoubtedly a prevalent theme throughout G-D’s Honest Truth. However, one of the question that occurred to me after reading your post was whether the “legacy lens” isn’t maybe a view that prompts a pretty narrow interpretation of the play. For one thing, it might be that legacy is only a smaller part of a sort of “narrative lens.” By that I mean something that incorporates the desire that people have to make up stories, or place themselves within broader stories, as the driving force for the actions in the play. In this view, legacy becomes only one part of a broader lens centering on stories that tries to encapsulate the various impetuses of our characters.

  5. G-D’S HONEST TRUTH makes us pause and consider the importance of the stories that make our cultures and ourselves.

    It’s important for us to remember our past because it’s who we are. Roberta tells us she feels she has nothing important to say after comparing her diary entries to those of Ann Frank, and she subsequently stops writing. But as a result, she now “remembers nothing.” How often do we compare our lives to those of people whom we see on television or idolize on social media? Our unique, individual stories should be recorded and treasured as the foundations of us and our families. Renee Calarco furthers this theme by structuring the play as a series of important stories for the characters and allowing the characters to discuss the impact these stories have in their lives.

    “We all want to leave a legacy.” That is why having grandchildren is so important to Roberta, because it’s important to pass on stories and hold on to traditions. Although interfaith marriages are indeed increasingly common nowadays, our children still need cultural roots to hang on to. Today, as Dov puts it, “we all have short attention spans.” We “go on with our lives” once the excitement of a story wears off.

    An interesting topic for discussion is this. Does it matter if the Torah is not real if it’s making people grateful for their heritage and reflective of their stories? As Larry points out, all of these people are making an honest connection with the past. The Torah itself holds stories that did not really happen, but we learn from them. Although the congregations were deceived, these Torahs brought so much excitement and pride to their young people – that has to count for something.

    Although not the same train of thought, I’d like to also discuss the role that stereotypes played in the piece. I understand the discomfort many in the audience felt watching Jewish characters be presented as wealthy and greedy. However, I believe Calarco had something to say. Larry’s response to Jewish stereotyping is spot on… because he acknowledges the grain of truth. Society associates these stereotypes with Jews because their difficult, troubling history has impacted their culture, and that’s nothing to apologize for.

    As a half-Asian student, my peers had always attributed my good grades in school to my race. They claimed it was easy for me, just another trait like black hair or dark eyes. That’s why Larry’s statement regarding past events as the basis for his culture’s values/behaviors was so important to me. It’s a conversation our community needs to have.

    • Hi Kim,

      I love that you touch on the issue of the stereotyping that on one hand can cause discomfort, but on the other hand, can call to mind questions or revelations of identity. This is very important as people are very quick to dismiss stereotypes. I have heard of a saying that goes a little like this: “stereotypes are not harmful because they are completely false, they are harmful because they are incomplete stories.” While I can certainly relate to discomfort with stereotypes, I do agree with you in your saying that there is a story behind every stereotype that is worth hearing/ telling. Ultimately, I would like to see more of a spread of the full stories behind stereotypes than the stereotypes themselves.

      Also, the desire to maintain legacy calls to mind the immortality of stories as long as they continue to be told. Your call to preserve culture makes me wonder how we can arrive at practical ways for interfaith/ intercultural families to be a place where those stories are shared, preserved and passed on.

    • Hi Kim,
      I wish to respond to your comment regarding whether or not the authenticity of the Torah matters if it is doing good in the Jewish community (i.e., allowing members to reflect on their heritage). In all naive honesty, no, it does not really matter. In the play, you see the Torah with its “famed history” bring together families at bar and bat mitzvahs and even further strengthens an already well-established synagogue. The times and feelings experienced by the people affected by the treasured Torah are valid, regardless of the authenticity of the item. Often times, the story we believe to be true, especially if it is an endearing one, brings us great comfort and we deny those who try to oppose it (much like Barbara does to Roberta). This train of thought follows the old doctrine, “What you don’t know won’t hurt you.” However, this is not to say that the truth doesn’t bring forth its own positivity. Once Roberta knows the actual story behind Dov’s fictionalized accounts, it empowers her to begin writing again, something she had lost interest in once Anne Frank’s diary had been revealed. On a deeper level though, maybe by the end of the play, Roberta has a more appreciative understanding of her culture through the fiasco that Dov took her and her family and friends, as she is seen reflecting on her own personal story in the last scene. I hope this brought some insight to your question!

    • I want to pick up on something that a lot of other people are bringing up as well: “Does it matter if the Torah is not real if it’s making people grateful for their heritage and reflective of their stories?”

      Tis isn’t neccessarily an answer to this question, but more of an addendum. I remember reading in the news articles about the actual event that without concrete proof that a Torah was found at a particular site, it is essentially impossible to say for sure that it was used by certain people.

      Experts can roughly identify the date and location where it was created, but because there aren’t usually paper trails following each Torah and because they are all identical by design, any claim of a Torah being used by victims of the Holocaust is extremely hard to validate.

      The wrticles also bring up the idea of ownership of a Torah claimed to have been found at a Holocaust site. Those discussions are hard to have in this medium and by someone as clueless on the subject as I am, but I think both these ideas bring intereesting facets to the discussion.

      For instance, if the Torah’s had been presented as ones that possible could have been used by Holocaust victims, would they hold the same meaning for the congregations?

      Or if any of the Torah’s bought by these congregations were validated as ‘real,’ but obtained through an illegal matter, how should they respond to that?

      I guess it all still boils down to asking whether the means justifies the end, in this case, lying to congregations in order to create a sense of connection and respect for history, but I think the discussion could cover a lot of ground when we think about the other possibilities.

    • Kim,
      I agree with you about the importance of remembering and recording what is important to us so that when we look back we can see what we used to be like and how we have changed. I like how Roberta explained that she stopped keeping a diary after she read the Diary of Anne Frank, and I thought that the symbolism of her writing in the fake notebook at the end of the play was really powerful. It’s as if she finally realizes that what she has to say is worth saying and decides to make her thoughts permanent in pen and paper.

  6. I don’t think G-d’s Honest Truth should be particularly linked with Six Degrees of Separation on the basis that the stories both tell about a community deceived by a con-artist, or with Our Town because the play revolves around a particular community. For that matter, I think this play was very original and it’s hard to draw a comparison with another film or play.

    A generic sentence this is, fraud occurs in every society and in every community. What sets G-d’s Honest Truth apart from other accounts on fraud is the relationship between the Jewish stereotype and the susceptibility to this particular type of fraud involving/ invoking a very tangible history (The Survivor.) When Larry expresses his frustration with the Jewish stereotype, and when he talks about Roberta’s newly-found obsession with Anne Frank, it shows how much the fraud itself plays around with both the ideas of identity and stereotype. By obliging to her identity, Roberta was determined to buy the book all of a sudden. In a different lens, this can be seen as a stereotypical act that Larry talked about. In addition, I think it was precisely this responsibility that Roberta felt that made her so susceptible to the fraud.

    How this con-artist and his scheme somehow managed to reveal the little lies ordinary people carry – Larry’s real-estate business and Roberta’s conversation with Barbara at the wedding- was also very intriguing to me. To what degree can this Rabbi’s action forgiven, especially with the last part of the play with him saying he gave the community a happy ending? Going back to the point before, to a degree wasn’t he trying to fulfill the obligation of his identity, for his community? Sure fraud, but what was he selling at the end of the day, and why were people so attached to what he was selling in the end? (This leads to the theme of the unattainable and the human lust but that’s a different topic to engage in.)

  7. “G-D’S HONEST TRUTH” creates the dinner table atmosphere, where Larry and Roberta are – as I envision them through my reading the script – comfortably sitting and retelling a narrative to familiar faces. Along the way, their conversation introduces a variety of subplots that distract but somehow connect to the overarching story and include explanations of “Jewy” things the couple may feel the audience may not understand. While G-D’S HONEST TRUTH plays off the “main” plot to include the discussion of the “truth” of the Holocaust Torah, the conversations between Larry and Roberta and the interruption of the chorus address various issues criticizing women’s roles within Judaism, immigrants and questions of assimilation, and capitalism. These issues surface alongside the denial of the Arab community, the exaltation of the American identity as worldwide superhero, and the disapproval of mixed relationships between Jews and non-Jews, creating a mismatch of social justice and bigotry throughout the text.

    Beyond the inclusion of the aforementioned topics, G-D’S HONEST TRUTH ultimately brings into question the validity of truth. Can truth still hold truth of its own, even if inseparably buried within an invalid truth? The discovery, introduction, and then sale of the Holocaust Torah matters to Larry and Roberta’s synagogue because of the historical truth they believe the document to hold: that it is, in fact, an actual Torah found in a Holocaust concentration camp (Auschwitz). Larry’s analysis, when Roberta finds Barbara’s synagogue also has a Holocaust Torah with a suspiciously familiar blood stain on one of its pages, directly addresses the question of the Holocaust Torah’s validity, but within the context of the significance of that validity, when he states, “Why does it matter? They have a Torah. We have a Torah. The point is that we’re remembering and honoring our history. People are making an honest connection with the past.” If the Holocaust Torah is, in fact, fake, what would it matter if it served the same purpose for which it was purchased? The play ends without a final, authoritative declaration of the Torah’s truthfulness, but rather ends with Rabbi Dov rehashing the point that the Torah “gave us a story… gave us hope… [and] gave us a happy ending,” reaffirming the uselessness of knowing the Torah’s validity at all. Similar to Rabbi Shoshana Hantman’s comparison to To Kill a Mockingbird in the original Washington Post article about the real events that inspired this play (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/22/AR2010012203257_pf.html), is the ambiguity of the Holocaust Torah’s truthfulness done “for the better of the community”? Perhaps if it were a fake, then the result would be a frustrated acceptance of deception accompanied with a regretful expenditure of synagogue funds. Does a possibly invalid Holocaust Torah hold the same significance of a valid Holocaust Torah, simply through the applied significance to the Jewish community? Most importantly, does it matter if it resulted in the same goals that would have been achieved with a real Holocaust Torah?

    The final scene of Roberta opening her journal, for the first time since she was 13, closes the play with another affirmation of the dismissal of individual truth and validity. While Roberta had felt her own experiences were not worthy – or valid enough to be written down – in comparison to the memoirs of Anne Frank, this final scene recognizes the validity of her experiences because they are her truth. Roberta, through the action of writing in her journal, seems to have reached past the simple question of, “Is it valid?” to understanding that validity is only reaffirmed through assigning personal truth and significance.

  8. I found the play was really good at making the audience, or at least myself, reflect on their sense of identity and their connection with their ancestors. I touched upon this in my response at the post-reading discussion but a quote that resonated with me that I feel speaks a lot to the show’s message is when Roberta says, “I’d never gotten into the habit of remembering things.” Being raised with a half Jewish upbringing, I felt that I would often neglect to acknowledge what my ancestors had been through in their lives and found that discussions of the Holocaust in school would leave me with a sense of guilt because I hadn’t “remembered” an important part of being Jewish. There seemed to be a sense of similar sentiments among the characters in G-d’s Honest Truth. The characters are comically competitive to spend the money on the Holocaust Torah and the journal Roberta and Larry bid on because on a surface level they want to project an image to their peers that they are good, model Jews that are financially sound.

    However, I observed a deeper reason for this sense of urgency to obtain one of the Torahs that stems from the idea of remembering. Larry, Roberta, and the other characters of the play do believe they “owe it to the 6 million” who suffered which is why they feel such a strong, vivid connection when first see the Holocaust Torah and Larry falls in love with it. He has fallen in love with significance his mind has placed on this Torah. The community feels that if they are able to secure this Torah for Temple Beth David then the world will see that its members understand the weight of what the ancestors have gone through and they have never and will never forget the sacrifices Jews have always made for their families. They want to prove that they do “stand on the shoulders of their ancestors” and they want the audience to be aware that they see the support being Jewish gives and the pride they derive from being Jewish.

    G-d’s Honest Truth resonated with me in a way I didn’t expect it would. As soon as I got home from the Kennedy Center I ended up calling my father to discuss how he felt about the significance of the Holocaust Torahs and ultimately how the importance of remembering our past and the idea that “jewish lives are stories”, that the weight placed onto something rather than the actual truth all play into the idea of “being Jewish.” I felt the play as a whole successfully tied many thematic elements together to convey a memorable story. This was a good introduction to the trajectory of self-reflection and self-realization that I feel the performances we view will put me on.

    • Molly, I really enjoy your interpretation. One of my favorite scenes in the play, and one that seems to relate very closely to your point, is Emma’s bat mitzvah. Immediately after discussing the importance of the Holocaust in a speech, she proceeds to participate in an inappropriate dance. While this is a hilarious scene in the play, it is the one that most greatly resonated with me. Much like Emma, and many others, I have discussed very serious issues of religion in church or in other religious settings and then immediately proceeded to forget everything I just discussed after the session or service ended. While it is often very easy to forget and ignore the teachings and history of religions in everyday life, it remains significant, as seen in the play, to remember these issues in our normal lives.

    • I found your post about identity and “remembering things” to be very interesting, as well as extremely important as those two concepts seem to be some of the show’s major themes/discussions. In the show, Roberta makes an interesting comment about how she had stopped writing in a diary when she was young because she felt that what she had to say was ultimately unimportant in comparison to others (such as Anne Frank). But the show’s ending suggests a change of heart on her part. In this way, the show could be suggesting that we all need to take greater care in forming and preserving our identities through remembering our pasts. Identity and memory are as fragile as they are intertwined, and if we are unable to maintain them, we may be susceptible to turning to more superficial ways of bolstering our identities (Roberta and Larry’s obsession with buying the Torah). Furthermore, no one’s memory and, consequently, identity is more important than anyone else’s. Like truth, identity is unique to every person. The meaning it gives to someone’s life cannot be compared or ranked next to the meaning in another’s life.

    • Molly,

      Your interpretation that Larry and Roberta’s motives are centered around striving to remember their heritage as a means for social acceptance is something I find extremely accurate to the play. Throughout their quest to buy the Torah and maintain its story, they were always striving to emphasize its importance, and to compete with other temples.

      While many Jews do strive in their own ways to make an important link with their heritage and the horrific events that struck their people, it brought to mind to me how many Jews do not self-reflect and strive to find their own Jewish story. In my experience, I have met a lot of Jews who try to distance themselves from their heritage and the Holocaust, distancing themselves from being a victimized minority group. However, Larry and Roberta take ownership of this turbulent past– it is theirs, and they will do just about anything to defend their idea of it.

  9. I have always found dramatic adaptations of real-life stories fascinating. However my experiences with them have almost exclusively been centered around feature films and the occasional Lifetime movie, which bring with them their own sets of questions and problems. “G-d’s Honest Truth,” then, is my first experience (that I can recall) with a play that is ‘pulled from the headlines.’

    For me, in my limited experience, theater is less about telling stories than about creating shared feelings and experience through a story. This makes such plays as “G-d’s Honest Truth’ especially interesting, because not only are you sharing that experience with your fellow theatergoers, but also with the people who experience the event first-hand. You’re no longer putting yourself in the shoes of some fictional character, but instead into the shoes of real-life people, whose own lives were affected by the events.

    In this case, your musings after the play’s end are forced from the abstract into reality. After reading both the play and the real life articles, you are left with a bad feeling about Dov/Rabbi Youlus, and a vague sense of punishment for him, but are also left wondering what exactly his crime was. There is nothing clear-cut about this story; the truth isn’t something you can superficially point out as being ‘right.’ Instead, you are forced to confront what kind of truths are out there and what good, or bad, they can do.

    You can paint the Rabbi as the antagonist in the story and make him out to be a swindler and a liar, but then you cause the people who trusted him to face embarrassment and shame. You can argue that his sin pales in comparison to the comfort he brought to the congregations, but then you’re caught in a religious argument about sins and their relative ‘badness’ to each other.

    In this way, you’re almost left feeling that it might have been better if his transgressions had never been uncovered. If he had just faded into the background of society, leaving people with their Torahs and their history. The play addresses this when Roberta chooses to fudge the truth with Barbara instead of trying to burst her bubble anymore. The fact of the matter is that the facts don’t matter as much as we think they should.

    The comparison to “Six Degrees of Separation” is valid, I believe, because of the nature of both stories. In each an individual enters into the lives of a carefully selected group of people and brings them something they might not otherwise have gotten. This individual’s actions changes the groups, in a remarkable way. In “G-d’s Honest Truth,” Dov gives people a physical connection to a history that is falling into our rearview mirrors. In “Six Degrees of Separation,” Paul awakens a compassion in Ouisa (and to some extent Flan) that even her children didn’t stir.

    • Mairéad, I enjoyed your analysis of the play from the perspective of its origin – the headlines. I spent a lot of my time thinking about the play in abstract terms, whether or not truth makes a difference if it accomplishes the same goal, but failed to truly consider the reality inherent in the script. I am also really interested in the “goodness” or “badness” of certain truths and whether you can assign a blanket definition of one or the other to a lie or a truth. Is one sin greater than another, or can one good act can be better than another? It ultimately comes to the right/wrong debate, which leads me to question the goal of G-d’s Honest Truth. Was it meant to evoke a conversation over whether one good is gooder than another or one bad badder than another? Or was it to remind us of a Jewish history the author thinks was forgotten deep in the barracks along with the Holocaust Torah itself?

  10. The reading of “G-d’s Honest Truth” did remind me of “Our Town”, in both the performance and content. First, the direct speaking to and acknowledgement of the audience were common in both plays. As mentioned during the discussion following the reading, this reading was the first time the introduction had ever been done. As someone who is not familiar with going to see many plays, I enjoyed it because it made the play seem more personable and helped me relax because I knew the play and characters would be funny and charming. Another part of the plays I found similar were their story lines with regard to the human life. Like “Our Town”, “G-d’s Honest Truth” touches upon major life moments, especially for the Jewish people. Emma celebrates her Bat Mitzvah, where she transitions into adulthood. Josh and Alanna get married and “become—not the same person—but one functioning unit” (87). And Finally, Mrs. Klein dies, but death meant “eternal life of the spirit” (75).
    A part of the play that struck me was the use of the law from Monza, Italy. Apparently, it was declared “cruel to keep goldfish in curved bowls…because the goldfish would have a distorted view of reality” (90). I felt this served as a good analogy for friends, as seen in the play. When Roberta and Barbara got in an argument about the authenticity of their Torah’s, they both stayed in their synagogue’s bubble, or “curved bowl.” They were too concerned with who bought their Torah first and whose was actually authentic, that they let the argument get in the way of their friendship. Roberta and Barbara refused to step outside of their own personal bubbles, so they were unable to see the other possibilities of where the Torah’s came from. It wasn’t until Mrs. Klein’s death that Roberta no longer had “a distorted view of reality” and was able to see that her friendship with Barbara was more important than two Torah’s with similar back stories.
    “G-d’s Honest Truth” was the first play I have ever attended a reading of, and I was thoroughly impressed. The descriptions written by Renee Calarco provided a backdrop for the reading, and the facial expressions from the actors made it entertaining to watch.

  11. As a novice to theater, I was a bit apprehensive to attend my first theater reading. However this reading managed to spark my imagination, and right from the beginning the characters came alive in a very unique way.
    The plot touched on something we can all relate to in one way or another: deceit. I think this play invites us to evaluate for ourselves how we would handle a deception like this; A deception that is not just black or white. On one hand, the Rabbi’s forged story plays, unfairly, on the memory of the victims of the holocaust but in doing so it has evoked a sense of pride in the people who have come to possess the Torah. Through this Torah, the congregations of the two synagogues are staying connected to their heritage, their story, and their validity as a people. In this way, something positive is occurring even if it is based on a lie. On the other hand, to not expose this lie would mean that a false legacy was being carried on, and it is being done intentionally by a few. I felt the script calling me to explore the following questions: what would you do if you were in Roberta’s shoes? Does the good that comes from this forgery outweigh the bad?

    Roberta was a fascinating character as well, and I could connect with her feelings of invalidity. She found her story not worth telling in the light of Anne Frank’s story. How often do we compare ourselves with others only to conclude that we are of lesser quality? I have found myself in Roberta’s shoes thinking that my story holds no value compared to the suffering of another. I found it absolutely refreshing and empowering when at the end of the story, Roberta reclaimed her story and sat down to write in her journal again. That was a beautiful and solid ending to the story. It could also be argued that she attempts writing in her journal again because she FINALLY has something worthy to write about after being swindled by the rabbi. But I choose to look at it as her FINALLY recognizing that her story is valid simply because she exists.

    • Ann,

      I agree with you that this ending was very powerful and noteworthy as it shows that everyone’s story is important. For example, Anne Frank probably didn’t think that her diary would be read by millions of people but she recorded her experiences because she thought her story was worth telling. So I agree that Roberta finally recognized her story as valid and significant because she exists. However to expand on that, I found it ironic that she found her own ‘honest truth’ through a series of events surrounding a (falsely acquired) Torah, which, for Hebrews is God’s truth.

  12. This was my first play reading, so I did not quite know what to expect. My initial hope(and very minimal expectation) was that I would come out having experienced the play very differently than I would if I had just read it on my own. “G-d’s Truth” exceeded my hopes and expectations in that regard. I was pleasantly surprised at how much the life of the play and level of connection between audience and the humanness of the piece was in the hands of the readers.

    Also, the fact that a compelling story so shrouded in deceit and inner conflict was laced with such humor definitely stood out to me. It drove in a theme of multidimensional ambiguity in our feelings and experiences as humans. I believe that this theme was carried out well throughout the play as well. E.g. love and uncertainty intermingling; skepticism and faith/loyalty coexisting; etc. It was quite easy to sit in the audience and dismiss the Rabbi in disappointment, however, the experience was different for Larry and Roberta, who, in practice, were faced with more ambiguity and confusion in their feelings about the situation at hand. Ultimately, in theory, everything seems black and white, but practically, there is way more grey area than we can see at face value.

    I found that the play centers relationships as another big theme. In my thinking, it might or might not have been a way to depict the importance of relationship within the Jewish community. Roberta and Larry’s relationship with Rabbi Dove and their Jewish community made their approach to the situation very different from what it probably would have been, had they not had that relationship. One could sense denial in their quest to find answers. They felt uneasy about the situation not only because deceit was wrong, but also because of what it meant to their relationship with the Rabbi and his relationship with the Jewish community. Again, going back to the significance of relationship in this piece: since we, members of the audience lack the fullness of a relationship with Rabbi Dove and this specific community, we experience our unease about what he did in a more removed way than the characters experience it. Furthermore, we see the significance of relationship in this piece when what Rabbi Dove did becomes looked at more as something that rocks a community, and less of an issue of an individual’s wrong- doing.

    I also found it interesting that there were a few references to how people individually define perfect imperfection of relationships. We see this in the generational differences in whether or not to build on happiness, or to simply find it and continue to live with it. We also see it in the differences between conflict resolution in Larry and Roberta’s relationship Vs Their Son’s relationship with his fiancée.

    • Kereknaan –

      I appreciate that you touched on the impact of humor in this piece. I certainly felt that the humor allowed people to form their own relationship with each of the characters, which is certainly important to the feelings we took away from watching it. She used so many current pop-culture references that it certainly captured the attention of a young audience as well as older generations. You’re right that Roberta and Larry felt more deeply about the betrayal because he had such a large impact in their lives and those of their synagogue. I mean he was a Rabbi – a spiritual leader. He was supposed to be a man the community could trust and come to for guidance. How could he end up embodying all the things this religious community sought to avoid? The value of a religious relationship can be very powerful. So it’s easy to understand the character’s hesitation to avoid confronting their spiritual leader and friend turned con-man.

    • Hi Kereknaan,

      I enjoyed reading your analysis of the relationships in this play. The “love and uncertainty” that you mentioned applies very well to the relationship between Josh and Alanna. Despite their love for one another, they spend three years in an engagement, occasionally get into fights, and Josh eventually becomes very hesitant about (and almost backs out of) the big commitment. The “skepticism and faith” is best applied to the relationship that Roberta and Larry have with Rabbi Dov. Although it seems obvious to us as the audience that the Rabbi is a scam artist, Roberta and Larry develop a trusting relationship with him and see the situation differently than we do. As you said, “we experience our unease about what he did in a more removed way than the characters experience it.” Although they too are skeptical of his stories, they choose to have faith in them because they benefit the Jewish community. Whether or not the Torah is authentic, the community is better off believing that it is because of what the Torah symbolizes – hope itself.

  13. In the penultimate scene of Renee Calarco’s G-D’S HONEST TRUTH, the character DOV concludes his final monologue, delivered from prison, in the following way: “You question my integrity. You question my motives. You question everything about me, and whether the texts you have are authentic. Good. As you know it, we’re nothing if not a skeptical people. Am I telling the truth? Perhaps. But. Remember this: I gave us a story. I gave us hope. I gave us a happy ending.” This quote, I feel, nicely encapsulates some elements most apparent in G-D’S HONEST TRUTH. We might divide these elements into roughly two camps: those having a timeless quality and those that are circumstantial. By the first, I mean those not dependent on time or place, but ones that point to something universal in the human experience. By the second, I mean in part those that speak to a particular ethnic group, time, place, or historical phenomenon. Though I lack even a rudimentary understanding of art and its purpose, it does seem to me that art, properly understood, speaks at least as much to the former as it does to the latter. In G-D’S HONEST TRUTH, we are confronted with both elements, nicely blended together in an intensely human drama. The characters are confronted with questions having to do with truth and falsehood, group identity, and the significance of symbols. As part of the tension apparent even in the brief monologue above, we are left to reconcile the seemingly positive effects on a community that integrates a fraudulent manuscript into their community life and identity. One opinion, expressed by the fraudster himself, is that, ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. More important than truth, at least in small matters, is the narrative and happy ending that falsehood contributes to. To relate this to the distinction that I made earlier, I am willing to buy into this idea, but only as it pertains to small matters—ie the second, circumstantial elements from G-D’S HONEST TRUTH. This argument doesn’t seem to scale up when considering bigger questions having to do with universal, timeless themes. In this view, we might consider DOV’s explanation to be a perfectly reasonable conclusion for the Jewish cultural and community life element of the story, but one less convincing for any deeper theological underpinning to the Jewish faith. To do would betray a vastly reductionist view of any deeper philosophical or theological forces at play. This, I think, is a worthwhile distinction in light of the various questions posed by what is, ultimately, an enjoyable and thought-provoking play.

  14. “G-d’s Honest Truth” provided a captivating introduction to the Washington theatre scene. Prior to reading the script, I was chock full of misguided conceptions regarding the direction the play was heading. Would it really be ‘not that Jewy?’ How believable would the story be? Would there be more dimensions than the simple old-couple-swindled-by-young-con-artist? Within the first few scenes, I feared that my preconceived notions were correct. However, the work soon developed into much more than a Jewish Indiana Jones adventure novel.

    I am quite possibly the furthest removed from the Jewish experience; I am a white, Irish Catholic who attends Notre Dame. As such, I was worried about the religious aspect of the story. I am by no means zealous in my faith, and I was hoping that this work would not be either. It was not. Calarco wove an intricate tale of adventure, deceit, faith, and family, while avoiding the traditional, simple plot line of a masterful con artist. Immediately, we were thrust into the inner turmoils of Josh’s engagement, Roberta’s friendship with Barbara, even Roberta and Larry’s marriage.

    The relationships between Larry, Roberta, and Josh echoed so perfectly the relationships of so many parents and children, from the existential questions of one’s youth to the cold feet on the eve of one’s wedding. I cannot help but be drawn to the youthful Josh asking his dad about death, remembering my own naïveté growing up. Calarco’s play instantly became about more than the mystery surrounding the Holocaust Torahs and Anne Frank’s English diary. I felt much more engaged as soon as the various other stories started emerging. Instead of a play about a Rabbi passing off fake Holocaust Torahs, a story I could hardly relate to, the work appealed to the trials of our own relationships with our parents, our children, and our faith.

  15. Calarco’s portrayal of the ‘Jewish Indiana Jones’ and his shifty dealings with the Washington D.C. Jewish community provides a captivating, and often comical, storyline. However, the brilliance in Calarco’s work comes not from her interpretation of the real-life Torah counterfeiter, but from her main characters’ ongoing struggles with tradition, relationships, and legacy.

    From the first scene of the play, it becomes apparent that Roberta and Larry’s relationship with their religion is anything but perfect. Along with many other members of their synagogue, they devote far too much thought and discussion to the material worth of the objects of their religion, such as Roberta’s mother of the groom dress, the ketubah and, most importantly, the Torah. While Roberta mentions that the new Torah inspires the kids of the synagogue to “remember their ancestors”, it appears that even the children have misguided views of their religion. Instead of embracing the history of their ancestors, they unfortunately, although quite amusingly, attempt to outdo each other with their ancestors’ tales of hardship. Rather than embracing their charity work, the children again compete with each other regarding their organizations.

    Roberta’s internal struggle with legacy and tradition similarly demonstrates her tense relationship with religion. Her overwhelming need to possess Anne Frank’s long-lost diary, her continuous problems with her son’s nontraditional engagement, and her intense desire for grandchildren demonstrate this dissonance. Roberta’s need for legacy and tradition are clearly portrayed when she proclaims to Barbara that grandchildren provide a “second chance to get it right”. The Rabbi even says, in reference to Roberta’s longing for grandchildren, that there is an “inexorable pull of legacy”. This longing for legacy and tradition can most clearly be seen in the synagogue’s purchase of the Torah. Roberta and Larry, along with everyone in their synagogue, spend almost a quarter of a million dollars to bring the Torah to their synagogue. While their attempts may seem honorable in many ways, one of their primary motivations was that another synagogue in the area had already acquired a Torah. The overpowering want of legacy makes the members of the synagogue vulnerable to the deceitful story of the Rabbi. Although Calarco’s play focuses on Jewish characters and objects, I found large similarities with the play’s religious tension and my personal struggles as a Catholic. As a developing member of the Church, it was often a competition in school to see who could sit closest to the altar at mass, who would get to serve as an Altar Server, who could sing the loudest, and who could rack up the most community service hours. While on the surface, these pursuits may allow you to appear to be a “good” Catholic to others, the internal reasoning for these decisions is flawed and troubling. My desire as a growing Catholic student to outdo my peers in service and in church for want of attention and acknowledgment is much the same struggle as those seen in this play.

    At the end of the play, although Roberta and Larry are disappointed by the true nature of their beloved Torah, they move on. They realize, as seen in Larry’s dialogue with Roberta, that the true importance is in the Torah itself and not in its story. While the Torah’s outstanding story of its Holocaust survivorship is obviously false, Roberta and Larry understand that there is no point in obsessing over it. In like manner, just as Roberta and Larry’s relationship is flawed in many ways, they understand their flaws and work with them. Just as Josh and Alanna’s relationship starts off eerily, they too come to realize the insignificance of perfection. They too ultimately come to realize that, although things may not be as perfect as once thought, one must find a way to establish significance in the mundane and carry on.

    • I find it interesting that the longing for tradition and the intense desire to ‘be the most faithful’ is what drives Roberta to be led astray from her true faith. For much of the play, Roberta tried to demonstrate that she was truly pious and devoted, but she really only cared about outward displays of her faith. As such, Dov had no problem swindling her. As a Catholic myself – albeit a developing and challenging Catholic – I am fascinated and almost discouraged by the obsession with ‘being the most faithful.’ I absolutely relate to your childhood experiences with Mass and community service and the like; I had a very similar experience, being told that I wasn’t a true Catholic if I did not do these good works. It’s an incredibly interesting and yet almost disheartening relationship between faith and the desire to be faithful, and Calarco really honed in on that struggle shared by so many people of so many faiths.

  16. Renee Calarco’s G-D’s Honest Truth at Page-to-Stage at the Kennedy Center today was my first experience hearing a play in advance of its full production. As a student completely new to theatre, to Washington, D.C., and to Jewish culture, my perspective is likely quite distinct from most audience members’.
    Normally when I see a play, I am accustomed to taking the plot for granted as something that cannot be changed. I am used to people critiquing the performance and the delivery of the production, but in this setting, it was clear from the audience feedback portion that other people were looking for ways to improve the story line, which I found to be extremely constructive and enlightening.
    The narrator was correct at the beginning in saying that although this play is centered on Judaism, its themes are much more universal. Yearning for truth, skepticism, and accepting of a reality that is not completely grounded in truth are concepts that traverse religions and cultures, making these messages to personal to a wide audience.
    In most stories where we feel like screaming to the protagonists, “he’s a fraud!!”, the audience has more information than the characters do—but this case is interesting because we were working with the exact same information. This shows that the hope and investment that Roberta and Larry had put into the rabbi was their motivation to continue to believe him. And then after it became impossible to believe him, their motivation was maintaining the honor and hopes of their temple. I have no doubt that Roberta and Larry’s intentions were good—but what is bizarre the whole time is that even the offending rabbi’s intentions seem to be good. He is portrayed throughout the play as a likeable man, who may incidentally have a fondness for making up stories, but never as the con artist that he is. This makes it hard to hate the rabbi, and easy to sympathize with Roberta and Larry’s plight. I think that relating to both parties in this story make it distinct from the reality it was based on, where the good-guy/bad-guy were played out much more clearly.

  17. I’ve never been much of a theater or playwright fanatic, but I must admit that the play “G-d’s Honest Truth” was very entertaining, comedic and informative. This play took me by surprise as it was chock-full of Jewish and historical references and real life issues. I truly applaud Renee Calarco for adapting an actual event into an amusing and relatable play.

    This play had many subplots and personally, I believe that it is imperative to see it actually being performed or else much of the meaning would be lost. It starts out with several Jewish references which the cast later explains. This play also addresses Jewish stereotypes and attempts to explain it and teach the audience about the culture in a very charming way. As someone who has never experienced the Jewish culture, I found this extremely helpful and informative. While I watched the theater reading I felt more connected with the presented and not at all as an outsider. Calarco did a good job of making this play suitable for every one by making it easy to follow and inclusive for all audiences.

    Another thing that caught my attention is how self-reflective some of the characters were, especially Roberta. All of the characters presented their own personal flaws and experiences and reflect on them later. In the earlier stages of the play, Roberta discussed her decision to not own a journal. She believed that since Anne Frank wrote a journal and Roberta didn’t believe that her writing could compare. In the last scene of the play, she is seen writing in her own personal journal showing that she now has something to say, an honest truth that she believes everyone should hear.

    To conclude, I really enjoyed and appreciated this reading. It was a good introduction to playwrights and also Jewish culture that kept me very observant.

    • I agree that the play gave insight into the Jewish culture. I’m Roman Catholic, so it was nice to better understand the Jewish faith. I especially liked the speech by Larry, in which he talked about stereotypes. It felt real, and it helped me to better understand his character. You were also right to point out that the characters were self-reflective, and that their flaws were made apparent. It seemed as though the characters not only faced their flaws, but worked through them in a realistic fashion. Oftentimes I feel stories want to jump ahead to the end, but this play took the time to develop the characters in a way that was not only realistic, but also light and funny as well.

  18. I thoroughly enjoyed “G-D’s Honest Truth”. The wit, the humor, the navigation of American modern family issues combined with the traditions of a strong faith community, all set to the backdrop of a “Jewish Indiana Jones” really made for a full theater experience even though I was reading it to myself. I approached the play apprehensive that the Jewish setting would leave me missing some of the nuances and themes, but I was wonderfully surprised to find a great balance between showcasing a rich culture while also explaining it to the audience members that were outside of it. By the end of the play, I felt I had been drawn in to the lives I saw playing out before me.
    While I am not Jewish, the themes of a very traditional family centered on religion and the blending of faith and modern American life were very relatable to me, coming from a Roman Catholic family of Irish immigrants. The scene in the seamstress’ shop concerning immigrants and assimilation, the pressure the parents placed on Josh to get married and have children quickly, the humbled prestige that Larry and Roberta felt bringing a religious artifact forward and providing for their religious community were all fascinating for me when I realized that the emotions and the motivations behind these were not just from a Jewish worldview, but a worldview that has been experienced by many.
    However, this sense of connection I felt with the characters was frequently snagged whenever the scenes shifted to discussions of the Holocaust. The pain, the reverence, and the deep-rooted psychological trauma of the Holocaust went far beyond anything I had ever experienced when I read the Diary of Anne Frank or visited the Holocaust Museum. It was during these moments of the play, especially hearing Larry talk about the NPR story, that I was introduced to what it meant to be Jewish in America today. That moment, that emotion, and that insight this play granted are exactly what make theater so wonderful. Revelations like this one that shift the view of the audience, even if only for a moment, are why we go to the theater. The fact that this play balanced these revelations with wonderful humor and lively characters was a beautiful thing to experience.

  19. What is the meaning of truth? Is it absolute? Or is it subjective, ever-changing? Does every person actually have a different definition of truth, tailor-made to fit comfortably within the context of their own lives? And do these questions even matter? What, if anything, really matters in life? These are some of the issues that I felt were raised during the reading of “G-d’s Honest Truth” at the Kennedy Center.

    This theme of “truth” and the question of its definition are, in my opinion, developed expertly throughout “G-d’s Honest Truth”. The obvious skill and talent of the actors, as well as the brilliant script writing, helped to effectively present and illustrate topics that are otherwise quite difficult to articulate and answer. For example, there is an argument in the play between Roberta and Larry on the importance of ensuring that their Holocaust Torah is “real”. Roberta seems quite upset at the thought of having bought and shared a fake with numerous people. To her, if the Torah story is not absolutely real, then it is of no value. Larry, however, argues against his wife. He explains that the story need not be entirely accurate for it to have real meaning for the community. And besides, revealing to people that the story and object that they had grown so attached to is actually a “fake” would be devastating for the community’s morale. Here, Larry makes an interesting point. To the community, the story of the Holocaust Torah is “truth”. It is something that they deeply believe in, and this belief creates a real sense of meaning and feeling. Therefore, does it matter if every fact concerning the Torah’s story is checked and verified? Or does it matter more how the Torah’s story is perceived and the real way that it inspires others in their thoughts, actions and feelings? Larry also extends these questions to the concept of religion, as he asks Roberta if she believes that the stories of the Ark and the parting of the Red Sea are to be understood literally. She responds with a quick “no”. Neverless, the stories hold an important and meaningful place in her life.

    Though potentially uncomfortable, I believe that the show’s challenge to audiences to contemplate their own definitions of truth will be powerful and successful. “G-d’s Honest Truth” is smart, funny and entertaining. And moreover, it is relatable to all audience members, regardless of their backgrounds and own personal truths.

  20. Truth is relative. Or is it absolute? I’m not sure. All I can say is that this play helped explore this question. Told through the lives of a Jewish family and community, the play focused on universal themes such as truth, family, and religion. Even though I’m not Jewish (I’m Catholic) I was able to easily relate to each one of these major themes. Throughout my own life, I’ve had to attend many religious celebrations with both my family and community, and I have seen the great happiness and hardships that my religion has caused. Because of this, I especially enjoyed the play because I was able to view some issues of which I relate to in a different light. Seeing it in a Jewish perspective allowed me to expand my perspective and better understand a culture with which I thought I was quite different from.
    However, as I alluded to before, the biggest point for me was about truth. It is easy to say that the truth is the truth is the truth, and that true reality is all that matters. It is easy to say that lying is wrong and deception is a sin. But the story illustrates the complexities of these statements. As one can see, the lie told by the rabbi can hurt people and their beliefs, like Roberta. However, it can also bring people together, such as the community when it purchased the Torah and the many children who took pride in reading from the historical text. Maybe it just comes down to deciding what is more important: the means, or the ends? The rabbi used deceptive means to achieve a seemingly positive end. Whether you view this as redeemable or despicable is determined by your view of the world. The play simply asks the audience this question about truth through a specific lens. It is open for interpretation.

  21. The major theme I picked up from the script of Renee Calarco’s “G-d’s Honest Truth” is that of faith and believing vs reality and doubt. Is it better to have faith in something that likely isn’t true, just for the sake of believing? Are there consequences that come with believing only in things with concrete evidence to support them? For example, when Roberta realizes that there is a second Torah with the same history as the one at Beth David, she becomes upset and tells her friend Barbara about the likelihood of a scam. At the end of the play, however, Roberta tells Barbara that the Torahs have the same story because they were buried and found together.
    Although she later admits this interpretation (of Rabbi Dov’s story about his grandparents) is only a lie, Roberta seems to have had a change of heart regarding faith vs doubt. This is likely due to the discussions she has with her husband about whether or not they should question Rabbi Dov’s credibility. Larry sees the Torah, real or fake, in a positive light because of the spirit it brings to their synagogue: “the point is that we’re remembering and honoring our history. People are making an honest connection with the past,” (79). I would find it extremely difficult to think this way if I spent six figures on something that I later found out was unauthentic, but Larry does not worry about the deception, let alone the money. Although Rabbi Dov might not be telling the truth, he did give the Jewish people a miraculous story and a sense of hope. This sense of hope, in my opinion, arises because the survival of a Torah from the Holocaust is symbolic for the survival of the Jewish faith in one of the most trying times in Jewish history.
    Another scene where this theme emerges is when Josh asks his father about whether or not death hurts. Larry wants to assure him that death is painless, but he hesitates because he knows that that is a lie. He tells his son that death is peaceful for most people, but concludes their talk by telling him that it doesn’t hurt when you die. This “lie” relates to Rabbi Dov’s stories. Telling Josh that dying doesn’t hurt and that they will all live for a long time will give him faith to live each day without worrying about pain and loss. Selling Holocaust Torahs to synagogues will keep the memories of the Jewish Holocaust and the spirits of those who survived, and also those who did not, alive.
    Contrary to the play’s message that faith is more important than having concrete evidence or revealing a fraud, a Washington Post article on the true story (for which the play was based) revealed that many people did in fact feel angry and victimized. Menachem Rosensaft, the vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, had this to say: “Those stories are not just fantasies but desecration of memories… You have well-meaning people who think they are commemorating victims of the greatest atrocity in history and instead have really turned out to be victims of a scam.”
    I like that this script did not focus on the victimization of Jewish people, fooled by a scam artist trying to make a quick buck. Rather, it demonstrated how having faith in something is the basis of religion, and that without it we might lose sight of what is really important. Hope is about remembering that we can make it through the rough times, against all odds. The Holocaust Torah gave this feeling to the synagogue of Beth David. Even if the story might not have been true, the people would be happier believing it were as opposed to questioning it.

  22. This reading of the G-d’s Honest Truth was my first experience at a play reading, and I must say I enjoyed it. The reading felt like the conflation of a friend telling a story and a full theater production. At times I would let my stare into space (or the back of the man’s head in front of me, not hard because we squeezed into seats on the far left) and simply listen to the actors’ and the audience’s reaction. I found the medium of a reading versus a full play gave me an opportunity to let my imagination fill in the blanks.

    I particularly enjoyed the scene in which Larry and Roberta are in the car and he asks her if it really matters if the holocaust Torah’s story is real. Roberta doesn’t necessary believe many of the stories in the bible are literally true, so what does it matter if this Torah’s story is simply a story as well? But I found Larry’s perspective to be very interesting. The amount of joy and learning that resulted from the Torah was definitely a positive consequence. However, in the end, I think I took more to the side of Roberta. Though stories can be exaggerated without doing harm, what Dov told was a lie. It was a lie because the result of the exaggeration brought him great personal gain. I certainly appreciated Larry’s stance, however I have to disagree. If I were Roberta I would feel like the rabbi had stolen from me. Not simply because he took my money, but because he capitalized on my desire to connect with my ancestors and won big.

    • Rosii,

      I found this scene particularly striking as well. Larry’s reasoning struck me because it was something I had not even thought of. I definitely saw things from Roberta’s perspective, as you had, up until that scene. But, Larry’s rhetoric specifically the line (that I’m roughly paraphrasing) “the Jews are the people of the book” I found roused some sort of emotion in me that wanted to stick up and agree with him. I understand that Dov lied to them and definitely agree with you but I capitalized on their desires to connect with their ancestors but I see a valid point in Larry’s reasoning. If they were to come clean it wouldn’t be for their community it would be for themselves. It would be to cleanse themselves of their mistake and the lie they know. Larry is correct in the amount of people it would harm and the bigger picture of how Holocaust deniers would use this to their advantage. I thought this was a strong scene because it’s a debate I have with myself even now about each of Larry and Roberta’s reasoning.

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