Category Archives: 2010-2011 season

With Sadness, We Reflect

I just want you to know that I’m so happy you’re my friends.

And I hope we’ll be together until we’re old.

We’ll be freaky old-ladies, always together, holding each other’s hand so we don’t fall.  We’ll be like a secret sect with its own language that no one else can understand,  members only.  And everyone will know that our friendship is above everything, above boys, above children, and above grandchildren…

– Tirzah, from Anat Gov’s BEST FRIENDS

Anat Gov, Professor Gad Kaynar, and Edna Mazya at IsraDrama 2011.

Anat Gov, Professor Gad Kaynar, and Edna Mazya at IsraDrama 2011.

Shirley here.

On the fourth day of our IsraDrama experience last year, Ari, Stephen, Jen and I  sat down to the first conversation that gave voice to the many women writing and creating theater in Israel. Sitting before us was Anat Gov, looking stylish and sleek in jeans and a short haircut; and Enda Mazya, distinguished and composed in silk and slacks. The two worked as a team in every respect. Not only has Mazya (a playwright in her own right) directed nearly every one of Gov’s popular comedies, but she served as her mouth piece even now, in a relatively intimate conversation. Questions went to Anat, she’d speak quietly in response to Edna, and then Edna would share the response with the gathered audience (all members of the IsraDrama gathering).  Mazya (and Anat–via Mazya) explained that it had nothing to do with Gov’s familiarity with English, but was rather a result of her extreme shyness. And–perhaps just as important–it was the way they liked to do this, the method they preferred to speak about their work. I was struck, even a little taken aback, by the intimacy of this relationship. What collaborator would I ever trust to be my mouthpiece? Who could ever know me that well? Who would I ever want to know me that well?

The discussion was led by one of the male conference heads, from whom we’d already heard quite a bit during the first several days of the conference. They were strong voices, these men of Israeli theater, and our moderator faced this discussion with an already familiar assertiveness. The pair talked about their working dynamic; their commitment to  left-leaning politics and how that plays into their work; and mostly about the very personal experience that inspired Anat’s most recent play–her ongoing battle with Cancer. The moderator pushed harder, “Tell us about a disagreement you’ve had while working together? Tell us about a fight you’ve had”. Both women smiled cryptically. They didn’t have to go in that direction, and they knew it. “He’s trying to create drama here!” Anat/Edna said with a smile and an under-lying subtext that I couldn’t help but fill in: “We prefer to keep our drama on the stage”.

It was one of my favorite–and for me one of the most revealing–moments of the conference. I’d been looking to better understand Israeli society and gender politics. This exchange said a lot.

We went on to see Gov’s “musical fantasy” about cancer, HAPPY END. Ari wrote of the piece:

And the work?  How’s the work? Well, it’s funny; it’s emotional; and it cleverly, deftly touches upon tough issues but in, almost always, warm and humane ways.

We received the very sad new today that Anat Gov’s battle with cancer ended this weekend.  Profiles of the writer are online here and here. Theater J mourns this loss, made even more poignant by the recent death of the brilliant Israeli actress Rozina Kambos, who appeared here in Washington, DC as Miriam in RETURN TO HAIFA. Rozina received a much deserved nomination for the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Non-Resident production, making her the first Israeli actress ever to be nominated for a Helen Hayes  Award.  

Suheil Haddad and Rozina Kambos in the Cameri Production of RETURN TO HAIFA, presented by Theater J in 2011.

Suheil Haddad and Rozina Kambos in the Cameri Production of RETURN TO HAIFA, presented by Theater J in 2011.

Continue reading

A Little More Conversation…

Shirley again.

Unlike Elvis, we love the conversation here at Theater J.

Re-visiting PHOTOGRAPH 51, we now share clips from the Sunday, April 10th discussion: Women Scientists: Breaking Through the SiO2 silica + sodium carbonate Na2CO3 + CaCo3 Ceiling

That afternoon, we were joined by a stellar team of women scientists, and women dealing with issues surrounding gender in the science world:
• Moderated by Elaine Reuben: Board Member, The Feminist Press, one of founding trustees of Tikkun Olam Women’s Foundation of Greater Washington and a Theater J Council Member
• Catherine Didion: Director of the Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine (CWSEM) of the National Research Council (NRC) and Senior Program Officer, National Academy of Engineering
• Erika Milam: Professor of Science History, University of Maryland
• Alice Popejoy: Public Policy Fellow at the Association for Women in Science
• Dahlia Sokolov: Staff Director for the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education of the House Committee on Science and Technology

In this first clip, Erika Milam talks about the class she teaches in women in the sciences, and the challenges of retaining women in the STEM fields.

In this excerpt, Alice Popejoy explains the research that the Association for Women in Science has done surrounding the differing ways in which male and female scientists are valued within their communities.

Keep checking back, as I’ll be posting more clips throughout the next week!

A Conversation with Kindra Crick

Last night we had the great pleasure of hosting the following post-show discussion:

A Conversation with Kindra Crick, Visual Artist and Grand-daughter of Francis Crick, moderated by Dafna Steinberg, Gallery Director of the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery

Kindra’s a delight, charming, brilliant and engaging–a fact that is further reinforced when you take the time to peruse her show in The Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery near the Q Street entrance of the DC JCC.

We’ll be posting clips from our discussions as frequently as we can. Here’s a peek at the conversation last night, as Kindra discusses the phenomenon of created history:

And later in the evening, when she showed the audience a letter from her grandfather to her fourteen-year-old father; explaining the discoveries that he and James Watson had made, which were soon to be published in the renowned Nature article. As he explains to his son “You can understand that we are very excited”.

The Return of 5 x 5

Shirley here.

I have to give Grace Overbeke, our new-ish (going on six months now!) Director of Marketing, full credit for encouraging the resurrection of our 5 x 5 Programming. In addition to her mad skills with Photoshop and press releases, she’s worked as a dramaturg and director in the DC area and beyond, and was willing to take on producer and directorial duties if we revived the series.

Hannah Hessel, our fantastic former Theater J Director of Programming, launched the 5 x 5 readings as a creative way for audiences to react to the shows we produce. It asks that audiences go further than just talking about the play; and actually process the work through their own artistic lens by writing a five minute play inspired by the show.

We had a great response to the call for submissions during SOMETHING YOU DID; which inspired us to program for not one, but TWO afternoons of 5 x 5 readings to go along with THE ODD COUPLE (a chance to see your own crazy roommate story on stage!).

As a follow-up to the SOMETHING YOU DID 5 x 5 readings, I’ve asked our Literary Intern Rebecca Gingrich-Jones to write about her experience from the perspective of a playwright participating in the program. Take it away Rebecca…

I recently had the pleasure of participating in another example of Theater J’s commitment to new voices and local playwrights in its “5×5: Scenes from the Revolution” staged reading. Playwrights were asked to submit a 5-minute play inspired by the 2010-2011 season opener, Something You Did by Willy Holtzman.
Continue reading

Who Would Have Imagined? Imagining Madoff in the News

Shirley here.

As Summer 2010 wraps up I’ll share some final reflections (for now at least) on the phenomenon that was “the Madoff story”. Or “that Wiesel situation”. Or the “wait a minute, what happened with that play you were going to do and then couldn’t do and why was there a cover story in the City Paper all about it” incident.

During my two years here at Theater J we’ve been involved in our fair share of media-feeding controversies. You’d think that I’d be used to it by now. But I’m still always a bit surprised when the press picks up a story and runs with it. The purist in me wishes that the work itself got this much ink. But alas, the play, is not always, “the thing”. Continue reading

Back from vacation!

You might have noticed a(nother) lull in the blogging action — while facebook is FULL of status updates (such as “Back… Is it possible to gain 5 pounds on a 9 hour car trip eating an entire box Wheat Thins and a jar of honey roasted peanuts?” or “Oil changed: Check. “Born Guilty Cycle” cut? Not quite enough (13 pages), but enough for this pass. Onto what’s next!” or “Who wants to co-author a play about Elie Wiesel and Deb Margolin? Here’s an offer”), the blog suffers — poor blog — this on the heels of today’s NY Times Week in Review cover piece on the rapidly shifting tech regimens we work ourselves into and out of; to wit…

College freshman don’t wear watches — cellphones are their timepieces — and seldom use e-mail. Instead of e-mail, young people prefer to communicate through social networks, or instant-messaging or cellphone text messages, to which their friends are more likely to reply quickly. Americans are talking less on their cellphones. When they do talk, the conversations are shorter, according to industry data.

So we’re keeping in touch, but differently, and maybe saying less than we said a year ago. And maybe there are a myriad reasons for it. Which we can come back to. But something’s missed in the process of chronicling the happenings; and even contemplating the meanings and the possibilities. After a weekend of writing and reading on Cape Cod for personal R & R with the family while the cast of SOMETHING YOU DID put in a good 38 hours of work for the week, I’m left ruing the under/writing, wondering why we’re communicating less with each other, having enjoyed that process of re-connection, writing to the self about what’s most important. It seems that kind of expression is called for in the coming play; one that invites a fascinating prismatic take on an individual activist/accomplice to murder and the time–the 60s–that spawned her.

Listening to the bloviations of FOX TV this morning bring to mind the fierce social criticism–and personal criticism directed at SOMETHING YOU DID’s protagonist–by Rick Foucheux’s character, Gene Biddle. We live in an age where we can’t agree on basic facts or how to interpret the ones we do agree on. Can I leave it at that? There’s a run through in 30 minutes and I can’t wait to catch up with it!

The play begins previews on Saturday – 6 days from now. What a tart, timely, pungent, and provocative play to open with. I’m rather pleased that Willy’s play — and Willy the playwright himself — have taken up residency with us. There’s some real fire and fury taking shape on the stage — I’ll be back to report on how much; and what lies ahead for us in this week of launching the new season. Welcome back, blog. Welcome home too.

Okay, It Wasn’t TONY Week, but What a Week it Was for Welcoming Super Cool Playwrights!

Washington is paying more attention to the Tony’s, which is great, as Arena board members, Signature fans of Eric, and Wendy Goldberg groupies from the O’Neill all send missives from Party Town Central in advance of tonight’s Awards Ceremony. Meanwhile, it’s been a week to make note of at our little “Playwrights Theater” as we got to rub shoulders with 4 amazing writers (Mona Monsour, Sam Forman, Athol Fugard, and David Ives) all in town this week on various projects.

On Monday (June 7), we concluded our hugely successful “Voices From a Changing Middle East” Festival with a packed, standing room only reading of Mona Monsour’s THE URGE FOR GOING. Mona made a long weekend of it coming down on Saturday to catch the final performance of MIKVEH, staying for our closing night cast party, before being with us all day for rehearsals on Monday. Her play is at once bracing (grabbing you by lapels from the get-go, shoving a Palestinian squabble about 1948 and Dir Yasin before that, arguing about numbers and who lost more) before, just as quickly, turning into a lovely family play, set in a Lebanese refugee camp, involving a 17 year old daughter intent on living out the thwarted intellectual dreams of her perpetually ambivalent father, cursed with feeling like he’s an exile where ever he may go, whether in Lebanon or London where he was a promising young (albeit displaced) scholar thirty years and where his daughter now yearns to return.

Mona was great to have around and her play may have been the most accomplished piece of literary drama that was presented during our festival. Of course it was the ONLY play proper written by an American author, everything else being less play than performance piece or written originally in Hebrew and then translated. Mona’s stagecraft was deft, subtle; her references to American cultural artifacts permeating Lebanese life (“The ‘Baywatch'” becomes the mythological narrative that unites the family around the television) shrewd and vivid. We hope to meet up with Mona’s sequel/prequel, THE HOUR OF FEELING, very soon.

Tuesday brought Sam Forman to town for auditions for THE MOSCOWS OF NANTUCKET (shall we remind ourselves of the gorgeous image of that show? Here it is:
We saw wonderful people — a few other wonderful people couldn’t make it in and so we’re holding until we figure out how to account for them, or put them on flipcam, as it were. Sam’s play is laugh-out-loud funny and that really was the great story coming out of auditions; that this new play keeps getting funnier from draft to draft and, after seeing some 75 people come in and out of the room, we still were in stitches. Good play.

On Wednesday I got the rare privilege to meet South African playwright Athol Fugard who was in town for a one night only presentation of his new play HAVE YOU SEEN US? at the Folger Theatre starring Sam Waterston. The play premiered at the Long Wharf Theatre last season and was brought down for a special reading sponsored by The Faith & Politics Institute and the Connecticut Congresswoman from the Long Wharf’s district, Representative Rosa LeLauro. Fugard read stage directions for his own play. It’s a confessional play about how an Afrikaner, who’s lived with hatred, racism, and prejudice stitched into his soul his whole life, and now adrift himself in Southern California, stumbles into one testy confrontation after another. He bickers rather endlessly, during the first hour of the one act play, with Adela in a sandwich sop in a strip mall. She’s Latina, he’s critical of brown skin and brown skin culture. Then in floats Solly and Rachel, Jewish refugees from another century it seems, nursing wounds and loss. Henry (the Sam Waterston role) is haughty at first and confesses to never forgetting the “Fuck You, Jew” epithet that was always near and dear to him growing up Afrikaner. But somehow, in this magical encounter–which we’re alerted to early on at the outset of the play and that only comes to pass at the very end–Henry is touched by Solly’s Yiddish singing–and in an instant the hateful encounter turns into a touching departure. As Henry says in the play’s most moving line, “The journey from Hate to Love is the shortest journey I’ve ever made.” Or as Fugard said in the post-show talk-back with NPR’s Nina Totenberg, “Henry walks out with all his dominos down.” And then this gem, “The central transaction of the universe is one person dealing with other; one person healing another…” “The hope and faith in the future is that of personal transformation.”

And so it was a singular honor to break bread with him after the reading at the home of Rep DeLauro and her pollster husband, Stanley Greenberg (whom I’d written about in the BORN GUILTY sequel for his work in the Vienna mayoral campaign earlier this decade). In short, a heady evening; triggered by another cool playwright coming to town.

And after that… yesterday’s visit from our NEW JERUSALEM playwright. Continue reading