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December 23, 1988 - Image 80

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

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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All The World's

Continued from Page 61

service." Too often, she says,
Jewish organizations view
culture as a frill.
"After 15 years in this
business," says Brechner, "it
becomes clear to me that the
time has come to be complete-
ly independent of any
organization.
"Of course," he adds with a
wry smile, "with in-
dependence come a lot of
negatives — like constantly
looking for support."
Support means more than
financial aid. It also means a
playwrighting community
committed to good work and
a public willing to risk a
thought-provoking, rather
than solely entertaining,
evening of theater.
"I don't know of any Jewish
playwrights of my generation
who deal seriously with
Jewish issues that afflict the
community," says John Her-
man Shaner, film writer/pro-
ducer (The Last Married Cou-
ple In America, Goin' South)
and playwright (After Crystal
Night).
"Most Jewish plays are
negligible works, inestimably
kitsch. They're jokes. Most
are anti-Jewish."
Shaner observes that some
American Jewish producers
are reluctant to tackle con-
troversial Jewish issues: "one
of the leading theater men in
New York said to me that he'd
been running from dealing
with what I wrote about all
his life."
Difficult and complex issues
seem anathema to many
Jewish playwrights, who
would rather rely on quips
than quandaries. But going
for the easy laugh as
dramatic implications for the
future of Jewish theater, say
many of those involved in the
movement.
"A lot of times, Jewish plays
are carcicatures of situations,
even though they're written
by Jewish people," says pro-
ducer Margery Klain.
And a lot of times, Jewish
plays are rehashes of previous
successes." Our greatest pro-
blem," says Brumlik of
Chicago's National Jewish
Theater, "is finding new
material. Many playwrights
seem to have gotten stuck on
the Holocaust."
"The Holocaust," she quick-
ly adds, "is central to every
Jewish theater; what we do
emanates from all that." But
she thinks the Nazi era and
its aftermath should not be
the sole source of inspiration.
"We need more new
material."
"American playwrights just
don't deal with big issues,"
Shaner says. "They lack
courage. They allow
themselves to be flimsy and
insubstantial."

He has a point — up to a
point, says Richard Siegel,
associate director of the Na-
tional Foundation for Jewish
Culture. "Do today's Jewish
playwrights meet the
challenges before them? Yes
and no," he says. "But then if
you ask me that question
about American theater, I'd
have to say the same."
The biggest challenge fac-
ing the Jewish playwright —
and theaters — is an
undemanding audience, ac-
cording to many in the field.
Give them a spritz of Neil
Simon, a dose of Herb Gard-
ner and they'll go home hap-
py, concerned theater people
say.
"Jewish audiences, for the
large part, are conservative,"
says Avi Davis of the Strei-
sand Center. "Anything of-
fered that is not conventional,
any play that is deemed too
bold . . . well, you're treading
a very fine political line."
While that reality often dic-
tates the lineup of plays of-
fered by Jewish troupes, some
producers resist that line of
thinking. Acknowledging
that "Jewish comunity
centers are in the position of
drawing a much more conser-
vative audience," Dorothy
Silver of the Cleveland com-
pany goes against the grain.
"We may be the only JCC
theater not to do Brighton
Beach Memoirs, she notes.
"Now, there is nothing wrong
with that play. But so many
others have done it. I do not
see it as our responsibility to
do that or the 17th production
of Biloxi Blues."
Playwrights themselves are
often not thrilled with
undemanding audiences. One
such writer is Jules Feiffer,
whose witty and sarcastic
Grown Ups, focusing on an
urban Jewish family, failed to
grow on Broadway audiences.
"Serious plays in American
literature do not do well," he
says matter-of-factly. "A
Jewish audience does not
want to see [itself] portrayed
except in a gentle way.
"If I had turned the family
into a Southern Jewish fami-
ly, the play would have had
more of a chance."

He might be right. Alfred
Uhry's Driving Miss Daisy
has picked up a Pulitzer Prize
and SRO signs since opening
off-Broadway last year.
This tale of an elderly
genteel but in no way gentle
Southern Jewish woman and
the black chauffeur she
employs has caught the atten-
tion of the Jewish community.

The message seems to be
that if you want to attract
Jewish interest, make sure
the play has catholic appeal.
Such seems to be the case

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