The last time I blogged from LA…

…I sat shiva with DAVID AND SHADOW AND LIGHT librettist (and friend), Yehuda Hyman for his mom and then blogged about the bittersweet sense of it all from my friend Greg Germann’s dining room. I’m heading there again in a few minutes. A year and a half ago, with that wonderfully ambitious, risky musical we were joyful about a run of an additional hundred tickets sold over the weekend (or something like that) as we licked our wounds over the critical divide that sealed DAVID’S disappointing (for now) fate and knew that, despite the little weekend spike in sales, the show would leave blood—and broken hearts—on the floor. And yet it was sunshine in LA, theater far behind, the vicissitudes of life lapping up against the shore as we strolled the Venice beach boardwalk, Greg and I, after paddle-tennis and yapping about middle-age, intersections, art, family…

It’s nice to be back and to hear and see the box office reports that Lost in Yonkers is SOLD OUT ALL WEEKEND! That’s right, another wonderful week of audiences, last night’s, apparently, laughing from the word go (or actually the word “hot” and in “I’m so hot!”) and leaping to their feet at the end. While Simon’s fate on Broadway has been indeed loudly lamented and might have even cut into our advance ticket sales—yes, it’s no longer the record breaking clip of early November—a sold out weekend is a sold out weekend and there’ll be only two more weeks to go.

We’re rolling out our first online ads with the Washington Post for Thanksgiving Week which promises to close out our run with a wonderful bang. So as we look at the surf, and commune with friends, and think about the times gone by and family and work and all that human stuff, it’s nice to remember that artists are hard at work back in DC, laying it all on the line emotionally every night, engendering real warmth and deep feeling every night.

Soon I’ll be posting some of my students’ reactions to YONKERS. They’re truly amazing and insightful. And we’ll have much more chance to hear from a special group of audience members this Wednesday with our Washington Hebrew Congregation member friends who’ll all have seen the play as we gather at a warm home to discuss the depths and the heights of the work with Rabbi Bruce Lustig, other Theater J Council members and myself as part of their L’Chaim series. So thrilled that 50 wonderful (and mostly brand new) friends of our theater will be sharing their impressions and getting to know us better.

And now, it’s off to tackle the freeways!

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Believe It Or Not (2008) – It Was a Very Good Year (Our Best)

If we had time today to reflect instead of crazy prep for two shows tonight — the 7:30 sold out performance of SHOLOM ALEICHEM: LAUGHTER THROUGH TEARS (our 12th sold out show out of 13 performances thus far), followed by the 10 PM New Years Eve concert of Serendipity 4 (Theo Bikel’s quartet comprised of the equally estimable Tamara Brooks, Merima Kljuco, and Shura Lipovsky) –we’d be perusing through this year’s blog entries–not to mention box office night end reports–to recount Theater J’s most popular and financially successful season ever. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? In the midst of this economic turmoil and all our nation’s–not to mention Jewish community’s–financial instability, Theater J offerings were never more boisterously attended, nor more remunerative. Dare we review?

SHLEMIEL THE FIRST: A musical derided by Mr. Marks as “Jewish Hee-Haw” eclipsed projections, built an enthusiastic following, divided our regulars, and made us smile every single night as audiences lingered for the klezmir jam session between the fabulous trio of top-flight musicians.

JUDY GOLD in 25 QUESTIONS… Swore like a sailor. At all of us in the office. All the time. And occasionally on stage. And we loved her all the same. And she brought box office gold too. And tons of mothers and daughters and grand daughters. She’s got a new show that just opened in Boston. She says I’m an anti-Semite if I don’t book her tomorrow. I might have too.

THE PRICE: The Proskys broke all box office records during their historic run–until Sandra Bernhard broke those (in her differently historic run). Until Bikel smashed hers. It’s been that kind of season. But Bob Prosky was irreplaceable. And his performance as Solomon, unforgettable.

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Following Up on Recent Comment Response re: Re: “STOP!”  Don’t Go See New Work!

As promised in my response to Niraj two days ago, here’s part of the correspondence between our office and the Washington Post Weekend section editor and some other colleagues in the theater community. Know that there is already strong behind-the-scenes following up occurring with theater community leaders and the Washington Post about the At a Glance listing as well as the future of Jane Horwitz’s Backstage article. In short, things are in flux, changing not always for the good, and voices are being raised, and heard.

“I was very happy to read the forthright correspondence between Theater J’s marketing director, Rebecca Ende, and Tracy Grant, Editor of the Weekend section, concerning the May 23 AT A GLANCE listing which told Post Weekend Readers to STOP and not go see Theater J’s production of DAVID IN SHADOW AND LIGHT. We accept that reviewers should write whatever they think and feel about a show and the Weekend section does due diligence to reprint capsule reviews that help amplify the critic’s opinion throughout the course of the run of a show. We’ve never, however, been on the receiving end of a “STOP! DON’T GO!” command from the Weekend section. The impact of a poor review is one thing. A theater soldiers on, as does the theater-going public, using the review for what it is — one man’s informed opinion — and the ticket buyers frequently make up their own mind. After the May 20 review, we were still able to sell tickets to our show. In fact we sold $4,000 over a 4 day span. Since the Weekend Sections’ “STOP! DON’T GO!” listing for DAVID, your readership has heeded the command — ticket sales have flat-lined… Completely….

Was that the intention of Peter Marks’ review? To destroy a show and a theater’s season? I don’t think so. Does the chief critic approve of the reductive shorthand that boils down a longish review to the dictate: “STOP! DON’T GO.”

It’s worth bringing this up with a few informed friends in the theater community because I know other artistic directors, like Mark Rhea from the Keegan Theatre, have been very concerned about the appearance of this new exhortation to the Post’s theatergoing readership that they actively stay away from a show that didn’t fare well in a review.

We know Peter Marks to be a critic who would like to see theaters continue to take on risky and new work. Theaters have a right to come up short artistically without being pulverized and the subject of a limited campaign to keep audiences away.

The Weekend’s section listing is performing a very different function than a theatrical review. It is capable of inflicting much damage without shedding much light. I needn’t repeat the brutal facts — our show, as you can see on our website and blog, received mixed reviews and passionate, enthusiastic, but also mixed response from audience members. It’s a huge new musical with much to contemplate artistically. The impact of the Weekend Post’s listing served to pulverize the fortunes of the show.

Does this happen frequently with other shows that receive less than strong reviews?

Will the Post continue to actively tell audience members to stay away from shows all season long. It seems a shame; it seems wrong; it seems injurious. And I hope a decision can be made to save our community from further damage like this.

Criticism can be rough and tough enough. We needn’t engage in overkill.

Thanks for your re-consideration of this practice.

Best,

Ari Roth
Artistic Director

—–Original Message—–
From: Tracy Grant [mailto:grantt@washpost.com]
Sent: Friday, May 23, 2008 12:37 PM
To: Ende, Rebecca
Subject: Re: Weekend Slam on Theater J
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A Regal Silhouette (read this review and learn something)

David in Shadow and Light

By Menachem Wecker

The Jewish Press: “America’s Largest Independent Jewish Weekly”
Date Posted: June 4, 2008

 

Libretto by Yehuda Hyman

Music by Daniel Hoffman

Light and shadow typically assume moral implications in literature, where light is often divine and dark symbolizes the unknown and the scary. In Greek mythology, the dead who could afford it, bribed Charon to take them across the River Styx to Hades, while those who could not, hovered around the river for eternity as “shades”. Plato saw this imperfect world as silhouettes projected on the walls of a dark cave. Film noirs build drama in scenes that are dark and perpetually rainy, while “The Lion King” turned to a dark, shadowy elephant graveyard as the place of supreme chaos and evil.

“David in Shadow and Light”, the current play at Theater J at the Washington DC JCC, builds upon the charged metaphors of light and dark with a new twist. In the play, the gaps between film frames serve as a metaphor for the life of King David. If the information about David’s life in the Bible is the series of film frames, the space between frames “contain” the many details the Bible could have provided but did not – the set of emotions, thoughts, and other actions that the play improvises upon.
 
The cast of David in Shadow and Light. Photo by Stan Barouh, courtesy of Theater J.
In an adaptation of the famous “RENT” song, “Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes. How do you measure, measure a year?” the characters of “David in Shadow and Light” lay out this methodology early on in a song: “Twenty-four frames per second of life/ An even division of shadow and light/ A vision projected on canvas of white/ In 24 frames per second of life.” In between frames, so the song continues, “is the moment between/ Where the vision goes dark to reveal the unseen/ Where the heart has to choose how to play out the scene/ In the moment between every moment between.”

The frames come from a projector upon which Archangel Metatron (Donna Migliaccio) shows the 930-year-old, wheelchair-ridden and dejected Adam (Norman Aronovic) how the future will unfold. Metatron shows Noah, Sarah, Ishmael, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Miriam, Samson, Shakespeare, Napoleon, Einstein, Martin Luther King, and Kennedy. But as she tries to fast forward past the young David, who is only destined to live a matter of hours, Adam insists that Metatron stop the reel.