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December 23, 1988 - Image 72

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-12-23

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real Jewish concerns
to the non-Jewish audiences
who attend."
Some of those concerns stem
from a yearning for stability
in a world not historically
hospitable to the Jewish
experience.
"We are starting to see a
search on the Jewish stage for
a meaning in our past," says
Dr. Eric Goldman, a promi-
nent specialist focusing on
Jewish media.
It is a search with in-
teresting discoveries, notes •
Greg Poggi, producing direc-
tor of the Philadelphia
Drama Guild, which has stag-
ed several plays of Jewish in-
terest over the years, in-
cluding Shayna Maidel with
Tova Feldshuh, and Teibel
and Her Demon.
"We live in a society in-
terested in our forebears, says
Poggi. "People are touched by
the past; they want to get
back to simple truths. Drama
has been good for understand-
ing historical perspectives."
But is it good for the Jews?
Yes, says Avi Davis, associate
director of the Streisand
Center for the Jewish
Cultural Arts in Los Angeles.
"Jewish theater provides an
outlet for many Jews," says
Davis, whose center, finan-
cially endowed by star Barbra
Streisand, stages an annual
playwrights' festival.
"Jewish theater is especial-
ly meaningful for unaffiliated
Jews, those Jews who look for
expressions of Jewish identi-
ty in creative ways."
Audiences are not the only
ones in search of identity;
they are joined by the theater
movement's playwrights, ac-
tors, producers — all the
world's a stage," but it is the
Jewish world that is their
special domain.
"As an artist," says
Brechner, "you feel that
you're cheating yourself if you
don't fulfill your own respon-
sibility" to honor your Jewish
heritage.
However, fulfilling such
responsibility can leave one
less than satisfied, he notes.
"I am caught between two
currents," Brechner says of
the secular and Jewish stage,
"and I feel that I don't belong
to either world wholly. Just
like a dybbuk."
Audiences themselves are
caught in a maze of choices.
While some seek out
dramatizations of the
Holo6aust, ignoring what is
generally referred to as urban
Jewish comedies, others are
concerned only with grabbing
up tickets for the latest Neil
Simon smash.
Indeed, a wide spectrum of
experiences fills up the
American Jewish stage. From

Graeme Malcolm portrays Franz Kafka in Jan Hartman's
K, a new play at the American Jewish Theater.

Simon's autobiographical
trilogy (Brighton Beach
Memoirs, Biloxi Blues and
Broadway Bound) to Herb
Gardner's I'm Not Rappaport
and Shayna Maidel, the
parameters of American
Jewish theater are defined by
only the vaguest of notions.
Those in the know, however,
say there is nothing am-
biguous about what makes a
Jewish play successful.
"I think the best plays work
on a universal level," says
Margery Klain, a producer of
Maidel. "If you calculate your
play solely for a Jewish au-
dience . . . well, I'm not sure
a Jewish audience wants to be
manipulated that way.
"Arthur Miller succeeded
because he wrote good plays,
such as Death of a Salesman;
the same with Herb Gard-
ner."
"When • non-Jews see
Shayna Meidel, says Poggi,
"they are affected by its
humanity. The play touches a
core beyond race or religion;
there is a universality to the
piece."
In depicting a Jewish fami-
ly that is at once disrupted
and remolded when a Holo-
caust survivor arrives from
Europe to join her father and
sister at their New York home
years after the war, Maidel
speaks to the tensions of all
families struggling to recon-
cile love and guilt.
The play, says Poggi, "is not
parochial in its concerns or
values. Plays such as this
transcend literal cir-
cumstances."
"The important thing," says
Patricia Appino, managing
director of the Studio Y
Players of the Jewish Com-
munity Centers of Greater
Philadelphia, "is to
remember that good theater
is good theater, whether Irish
or Jewish."
But is the frezer stocked

with enough staples to
nourish them? Or will Jewish
audiences simply be frozen
out in the future by producers
catering to other concerns?
The future of American
Jewish theater may be a
choice of feast or famine, say
those concerned with its sur-
vival. It all boils down to
what kind of support the
American Jewish community
is willing to offer.
"The Jewish community
just doesn't understand the
vagaries of Jewish theater,
what it's all about," says
Brechner. "If you have a
failure, they just don't unders-
tand it. And the wealthier the
people are who support it, the
less they understand."
Brechner has learned that
philanthropy can have its
limits. Last year, before he
left the 92nd Street Y, where
his New York company had
been based before moving to
Theatre Guinevere on W 28th
St., he invited the Cameri
Theatre of Israel to perform
there.
"One philanthropist gave
us money to bring Cameri
over. But when I asked him
for a contribution to the
American Jewish Theatre, he
said, 'No, I don't give to the
arts: " Brechner just shakes
his head.
Nothing can shake Naomi
Newman's resolve to bring
her audiences the ultimate in
avant garde and experiemen-
tal Jewish theater courtesy of
A Traveling Jewish Theater,
based in San Francisco. Yet
she claims success for her
company in spite of the
Jewish community.
"That we have survived for
10 years is a miracle, and not
because the Jewish communi-
ty has supported us," says
Newman, the troupe's artistic
director.
"The Jewish community
does not understand that the

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