“Why were human beings created?” asks a traditional Jewish saying. “Because God loves stories.” Of the many traditional and modern forms of telling our stories and exploring the issues of our day, live theater is one of the most powerful. And one of my personal favorites.
The Jewish Plays Project has taken on the mission of putting “bold, progressive Jewish plays on world stages.” They seek new plays that hold the mirror up to our nature, as human beings and as Jews: Who am I? How do we live as Jews in today’s world? What is Judaism becoming? Where does it fit into our lives? What do we believe? Who is part of the Jewish community? Not to mention all of the other questions we ponder and discuss. Through thoughtful, challenging theater, these issues come alive.
The JPP process is as exciting as the plays: Playwrights from North America, Israel and Europe have submitted over 900 plays dealing in myriad ways with Jewish issues. JPP’s artist panel selects 10 semi-finalists each year, and Jewish communities across the country read the plays, discuss them, and select a winner that will go on for further development and production.
I have been privileged to serve on the Boston committee for the past two years, and have read 20 intriguing plays. I loved some, hated a couple, and was struck by the creativity of them all. They are vibrant plays featuring strong characters struggling with perplexing issues of family, war, belief, identity and other topics of the modern Jewish world. Many are plays that have stuck with me.
In Boston, a group of Jewish theater lovers, including both professionals and theater-goers, met recently with Sara Brookner and Helen Kadish of the Jewish Arts Collaborative, and David Winitsky of JPP, to discuss each of the 10 plays. Fifteen Jews; 20 opinions. But there were thoughtful, insightful opinions that dug into the plays, looking for larger relevance, artistic merit and personal resonance. A couple clear favorites emerged, while other plays were championed vigorously by a few. In the end, we voted and selected three to go on to the next round.
This is where you come in: It’s your turn to see scenes from each of the three semi-finalists, performed by local actors, and vote on your favorite. Treif takes us inside a mitzvah tank (van), where we meet two young Lubavitchers who reach out to potential new members, look inward toward their own faith, and encounter an explosive outside world. In Match, two men who are waiting for kidney transplants learn about altruism and charity as they grapple with the emotional burdens of life-threatening illness. Redder Blood introduces us to Sadie, a young woman with a crazy family, a new boyfriend, and a direct line to God. All are funny, all are serious, and all are worth seeing.
Please join us on Tuesday, April 12, at 7:30 p.m. to see scenes from these plays, vote for your favorite on your cell phone, and contribute to the development of modern, meaningful Jewish plays.