“The Admission” Diaries – Preview #2

March 22
1 pm
Writing outside, at Glen Echo Park, while daughter takes in a show with The Puppet Company, evaluating it for her Puppetry Theatre Practicum, and we all still bask in the afterglow of a warm Friday night Shabbat dinner party for 50 celebrating our Israeli Creative team and cast members at the home of one of our generous Council members; a party attended by our DCJCC president, supporters from the community, and by supportive family members as well. We sang songs, once again (a second shabbat eve in a row) with Habib Shehadeh playing oud, me on guitar, singing in Hebrew, English, and Habib Arabic, with Hanna, and Leila.safe_image.php People again joked, “this should be the real post-show discussion; a song festival on stage!” But so it was, another warm living room hootenanny, singing songs of fellowship, of peace, with a little epic rendition of “American Pie” thrown in to make it inclusive.

There was rehearsal the day after our first preview and those two 10 hour days of tech leading up to it. Friday morning was a day for Motti Lerner to meet with Sinai Peter, his director, and me as review the written feedback comments off our workshop questionnaire as we debriefed from our first post-show conversation that (focusing now on just the usefully critical observations) noted a small slipping of tension in Act II—-a sense that the breadth of the journey that Giora, our protagonist, was making in Act I was more pronounced than in Act II. There was a concern that there were some repetitive-seeming moments-—Was there a danger of a line sounding didactic? Motti came into the meeting intent on making cuts of the more overtly didactic-seeming lines, and emerged from the script meeting with a notion of what cuts he would explore in scenes 11, 12, 13 and 14 and away he went. Back to his hotel. For more rewrites. There hasn’t been a day during the 4 week rehearsal process where there haven’t been script refinements; big and small; all with different goals in mind–smoothing out the translation; giving a great sense of depth to the characters; incorporating the impulse of the actors (especially our Arab-American actors, contributing and collaborating with Motti in the portraiture of their characters); refining dramatic objectives; we focus particularly on Giora’s objective, as it evolves from Act I to Act II, and zeroing in on his investigative research and his primary desire to write a book WITH his father; then to write a book (when Dad refuses) to write a book with his partner Samya but necessarily incorporating his father’s memories into the book so it’s a valid and rounded. “The difference will clarify the complexity of the truth”–a line we’ve been wrestling with/refining/and ultimately rendering in a way we all accept.

As we prepare for tonight’s second preview and our first formal panel discussion, I once again want to focus on the animating question, as we examine both the script and the community conversations we’ve been having around the play. Here’s the panel line-up:

Sat, March 22 10:00 pm Playwright Motti Lerner in conversation with the audience and invited special guests• Lydia Diamond, Playwright and Board Member, Dramatists Legal Defense Fund
• Naomi Paiss, Vice President of Public Affairs for the New Israel Fund
• Jonathan Tobin, Senior Online Editor of Commentary magazine

And here’s the focus of our inquiry:  The politics and the psychology that informs a convening or a suppressing a contested historical narrative; the desire to shut down the inquiry Giora eventually launches in the play is mirrored in our community by the desire to shut down the performance of this play.  Let’s discuss; with some great panelists covering a number of bases.

We’ll report back on the discussion shortly.


“The Admission” Diaries – We Start Tonight

from Ari
8 am

March 20 has arrived. First day of spring. First day of performances for our workshop. First audiences coming to first preview. Students seeing work move from talked-about possibility to actuality. The first video introducing our cast to the community goes on line as they reflect on the play; what it’s about; what it means to them; recorded in the lobby of Studio Theatre where we rehearsed for three blessedly quiet weeks, digging into the play.

How furious will it be tonight? As the 6:00 hour rolls around and people line up for the remaining Pay What You Can tickets?

I will try to document events now on a daily basis, now that we have gotten to this moment.  And perhaps I’ll go a little bit backwards too.

This morning, my charge is to remember this point:  That each post-show discussion wants to have us look at a particular question — not just the title of that panel discussion — but a focal point for discussing this brand new play in and of itself,  keeping our focus on the play; advancing its development as a work of art.

At tonight’s first preview, the talk-back question I’ll ask is one we ask all the time with new work:

“How are we doing as story-tellers?”
Are we engaged? How does the play sustain suspense?
Does the play maintain its hold on you?
Are we clear in defining the characters
Are we complex enough to respect the collision of narratives?

The play as craft — the play as art — the play as family drama and romantic triangle. Let’s begin with that tonight, shall we?

A post-show report to follow….

* * *

These facebook postings might say it all:

Amazing outpouring of support from longtime peace activists and committed Middle East Peace organizers – gathering before the first public performance of THE ADMISSION. The number of COPMA protesters last night? Zero. Inside the theater? Powerful unstoppable show!
Photos from last night’s show of support and solidarity with Theater J’s presentation of THE ADMISSION. 17 supporters strong! 
Artists and Advocates For The Admission's photo.
Artists and Advocates For The Admission's photo.
Artists and Advocates For The Admission's photo.
Artists and Advocates For The Admission's photo.
Artists and Advocates For The Admission's photo.
More street theater pix! Community Action at work!
Ari Roth's photo.
Ari Roth's photo.
Ari Roth's photo.
Read students first reactions to The Admission after reading the script here.

Post-Script to “The Lead Has a Broken Ankle? Get the Artistic Director!”

Rebecca Ritzel’s piece is out today in the Washington Post’s Backstage column, and it fills in the chronology that we kept adding to on facebook, as Yellow Face cast member Al Twanmo went down with an injury the morning after opening night. Al was kept at Suburban hospital  and underwent surgery the next day, receiving screws and a metal plate to stabilize a shattered ankle. Director Natsu Onoda Power returned to the theater 20 hours after opening to block out in her own mind a strategy for moving forward as a production. Al would return to the role eventually–his performance is brilliant and indelible–but he would need recovery time for the post-op pain to subside. When would he be back? How would he continue? With crutches? The show was staged at too much of a break-neck pace (pardon the literalness) to allow for slow entrances and exits. Natsu conceived of a restaging for actor in wheelchair, with Al’s track being slimmed down a bit to encompass playing “only” Henry Y. Hwang and Wen Ho Lee; the other smaller roles being redistributed amongst the extraordinary cast.

I was summoned by the director to sit in on wheelchair in Al’s stead. I was reluctant. I was teaching on Thursday night! I had a paper to present Friday morning at the Washington Center for Psychoanalysis “New Directions” Conference (and hadn’t come close to finishing it yet). Never mind all that; Natsu was imploring, cajoling, begging. I finished the paper Wednesday morning, notified my TA about class, and got to work highlighting (with early assistance from our production manager) the Yellow Face script.

Here are  notes from my journal written before and during the show itself, from Al’s chair in the Men’s dressing room.

Me and the cast as HYW

An Actor’s Diary.

It’s 6:24 and I’m the first in the dressing room as I prepare to go on for Al… Well, I’m not really going on — not off-book — and it’s not really taking over — I’m sitting in for the night… It’s a tribute performance to Al, honoring his rhythms, his humor, his pathos in the role of the playwright’s father, as Al channels the voice of this own Chinese-American immigrant father. I’ve found his performance and his own acknowledgment of his father as being an inspiration for the role to be tremendously touching. So I’m most mindful of channeling that. In many ways, the father-son relationship is the heart of the play–all its sincerity resides there–and its particular immigrant texture is terribly important. And in my version of it, it’s potentially being compromised; a white Jewish man taking over where only, it would seem, an Asian-American actor could do justice to the pidgin English intonation of a major success story (a minority owned bank company president) who still talked kinda funny.

How to pay homage? How to find character without resorting to caricature? The character’s essence is in the melody of his expression; the lilt; the humor; the boastfulness and self-effacement; so I must embrace that; find the humor. Find the variety. The impishness. The euphoria and disappointment. He is a true immigrant father, like my [German-Jewish] immigrant father… Offering his son money, and a seat on his board, and a title: Director of Nepotism!

…I haven’t looked in a mirror this much in years! Decades! If I did this more often, I’d be a lot better groomed! I’d have better hair management all over. I’m without all my gadgets right now — no iPhone, no Macbook, for the past two hours, and it’s glorious; liberating and quieting and meditative and fun. I should do this more often!

I’ve always admired those actors who refuse to get on facebook; who keep to an unplugged routine; who get centered and connected to the self in the most elemental way; through a complete and thorough checking in, externally and internally.

“The show’s going to be beautiful,” that’s what our Assistant Stage Manager, Truth-Ann Watkins says efficiently moving in and out of the dressing rooms, getting so many little things ready. “It’s like a first preview; remembering  new blocking; getting into a new rhythm,” says cast member Mark Hairston. Who knows how it’s going to go!?

Woops, it’s 7:10 and Natsu’s swung by to wish us well, plied with a glass of wine or two beforehand, and she’s startled to see that I have forgotten to put any grey in my hair! No one told me I was supposed to put grey in my hair! What to do? We find the Beu Nye brand Snow White Hair Color bottle and begin to tooth-brush it into my thinning pate. Too much. Too little. Our other great ASM, Jessica Soriano comes in with a towel to dab out the excess, spread the Snow White around evenly. She’s patient, calming. And it’s 1 minute to places!
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Huge Turn-Out For Reading of “The Admission” in Jaffa

A Standing Room Only audience took in the 1 pm reading of Motti Lerner’s play and post-reading panel discussion on Friday, November 1. It was a Who’s Who of Israeli Theater Bigs in attendance, veterans of the Israeli theater establishment and the young garde too, taking in the newly edited, super taut, 88 minute one-act version of the work. Last time the play was read publicly at The Lark Theatre’s HotInk Festival back in April in New York (with generous support from The Israel Consulate who supported Motti Lerner’s residency and the staged reading as well), the play was a two-act, two-hour affair. Here’s where the benefits of all the constructive post-reading comments and professional notes and Motti’s commitment to making his play a more refined piece of writing come into play. The summer workshop following The Lark’s was the Cameri Theatre’s intensive at the end of July which brought the play further into shape, and new rewrites based on notes from the Cameri artistic staff led to the revision we heard on Friday. With the Cameri senior artistic staff in the person of artistic director Omri Nitzan and his wife in the crowd for both the reading and the spirited discussion, the gathering featured a healthy cohort from the States as well, including Theater J Council members and members of the Roth family (siblings on sabbatical!). And the play was presented by the same cast that read the work at The Cameri under the direction of Sinai Peter. We’re poised to receive big news and some exciting announcements about next steps on this project, both in the States and in Israel, but nothing to share just yet.

We’ve got video from the panel discussion to translate and edit — that’ll be easier to do back in the States when not working 10 hours a day on refining the translation. We’re almost done. It’s exciting and powerful — the live dynamic in any productive collaboration. And it’s most gratifying to know that this play plays so very well; that it’s so extraordinarily well-argued–that it was deeply appreciated by the audience–and that the complex relationships in both the Israeli and Palestinian families provide the compelling front text for a work that’s much more about the present than the past, and is completely unrecognizable from the gross mischaracterization of it offered by those critics from Copma who read this blog so devotedly and cherry-pick from it so mercilessly but have yet to read a full copy of The Admission beyond scene 4 (that’s as much as has been published on line — note, that the full play is 14 scenes long).

We’ll share more from Jaffa shortly. For now, here’s a pic or two to share (trouble uploading the rest – we’ll post more when there’s more bandwidth!) — and know that we’re energized by the acceptance of the play as play in Israel and pleased for our role in helping to usher it forward.

Sinai opens event