Something Beautiful

Grace here.  I wanted to share something beautiful today, so here is this picture from the newspaper.


It’s a picture of Johanna, the director of Apples from the Desert, from today’s Washington Post article about the upcoming Middle East Festival.

I love the picture because it captures so much of the play’s themes of hope, healing, and reconciliation. With all the terrible things that have happened in the news today, I needed to see something that reminded me of all the promise and beauty that exists in the world. I understand that different people find beauty in different things, but here are some more things that I find beautiful, and I hope you do too.






From Inside the Rehearsal Room- Joshua Morgan

Joshua Morgan

I asked Joshua Morgan – who you might remember from THE CHOSEN (at Arena Stage) – how were rehearsals for OUR CLASS were going.   Joshua will be appearing as Wladek in OUR CLASS.

Enjoy!    ~Becky, Director of Community Outreach & New Media

From Joshua: 

Our Class
Oct 10-Nov 4

“Week two comes to an end!

I’m exhausted! We’ve been reading, singing, dancing and staging like mad and are two days away from our design run. Every day I realize more and more how mammoth this play is and how incredibly lucky we are to be at the hands of Derek Goldman. He cares so deeply about this story and is allowing each of us to bring our ideas, passion and talent to each of these complex people. He has this amazing way of speaking fairly ephemerally about a moment or a character and yet being SO clear. I know exactly what he wants each time he gives me a piece of wisdom about any moment in the play. I trust him and I think that’s allowing me to allow myself to take risks.

This play reads differently on the page than what I’m experiencing. It’s so visceral and full of so much danger, heart, humor and the list goes on. Speaking of humor! We spend a good 40% of rehearsal laughing as an ensemble which is so refreshing and so needed working on this play in particular.

I can’t wait to share it with DC.”

Below are images of dance rehearsal for OUR CLASS:

Dance Rehearsals for Our Class
Dance Rehearsals for Our Class

“Insane and Wonderful”

Grace here. I saw a great article in the Washington Post today about the beautiful and talented Annie Baker. It seems she is as charming in person as she is through her work…just don’t call her gentle.

Here’s a bit of the article:  

“She seems low-key and practical, perhaps because her success isn’t exactly as out-of-the-blue or as absolute as it seems.

After college Baker stopped writing plays while working still more day jobs, culminating with an enjoyable gig as a fact-checker for “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” (Baker considers herself an eternal student; she downloads free lectures from major scholars in religion and philosophy on iTunes University, saying, “I highly recommend it.”) Seeing two plays, Young Jean Lee’s “Pullman Washington” and then Caryl Churchill’s “A Number” prompted her to apply for a playwriting group with Ensemble Studio Theatre.

She got in, and support, from development to full productions, rapidly followed. Even Hollywood picked her up quickly, though Baker says in a diverting singsong voice, “I don’t like to talk about it.” (She wrote a couple screenplays and developed a half hour show for HBO; nothing has been filmed.)

For now, at least, the theater is her metier, with Baker’s fine-grained characterizations and fundamental compassion drawing sober comparisons to Chekhov. Not coincidentally, her adaptation of “Uncle Vanya,” directed by Gold, just closed off-Broadway…

Baker is now part of the inaugural Residency Five group at New York’s Signature Theatre. The program offers five playwrights cash awards and guarantees each dramatist three full productions of premieres over five years.

“I’ve been really lucky in that I have a couple theaters that have said, ‘We stand behind you,’ ” Baker says. “Signature, especially, is like, ‘Write your weird play. We’ll do it.’ It’s actually, like, daunting. But really awesome.”

MaryBeth Wise and Michael Kramer in Annie Baker’s Body Awareness–now at Theater J

Why Women’s Voices?


In connection with our production of Annie Baker’s BODY AWARENESS, Theater J is asking women to submit a portrait along with a brief sentence answering the above question.

We would love to hear from ALL woman – artist or not, affiliated with Theater J or not. Men and women alike please share this to the women whose voices you value

About the portrait: This can be whatever encapsulates YOU. Is it the picture where you feel at your best? An image of your cat? Your headshot? A photo of your family? You decide.

Email your name, photo and answer to with the subject MY PORTRAIT.


Check out some of the fabulous portraits we’ve received thus far!

Inside the Actors’ Rehearsal Room

Adi Stein

Adi Stein, currently playing the role of Jared onstage and the role of Theater J apprentice offstage, joins us today with a peek into the rehearsal room for Theater J’s upcoming production of Body Awareness, opening August 25!  Adi says:

Well, rehearsals for Body Awareness are in full swing.  We just finished staging the entire show (which is no small feat considering the fact that a full meal is made on stage in more than one scene) and we are now on to working out and perfecting each moment.

The Rehearsal Room

(the Israel flags aren’t actually part of the play. Those plays come later in the season)

Working on this show is a blast. The cast, director, and stage managers are just hysterical and terrific people who clearly love what they do. It’s one of those super rare situations where all the pieces are just clicking. In the coming weeks I’m excited to start working with the actual set and incorporating our costumes. I can’t wait for people to see what we’ve been creating!

“It’s Not Just for Jews Anymore!”

Grace here. I recently saw this posting on Craigslist:

“Anyone out there interested in catching the History of Invulnerability at Theatre J tomorow night, on 16th at about P, NW?

… Me: 41, fit, attractive, well-traveled, multiply degreed, floss my teeth, cut my toenails blah de blah. also certified shiksa..this play comes highly recommended by a friend…

if interested write and tell me a little about yourself. as a convo starter, will note last book i read and enjoyed was Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. You???”

The thing that disturbed me about this posting was the part where she said she’s a “certified shiksa”coming to Theater J because the play was recommended by a friend. The implication there is that her ‘shiksa’ status would have prevented her from coming to the J (were it not for her friend’s recommendation) suggests that she perceived Theater J  as a place primarily for Jews.

That is so last century…

JCC stands for Jewish Community Center, yes, but let’s not forget that central word: Community. If you live or work in DC, regardless of your religion, come on in–you’re part of the community! As a theater staff (half of whom are not Jewish, by the way), we strive to create plays that appeal to a universal audience.

With the immortal words of  Neil Patrick Harris’s deliciously satirical opening number of the 2012 Tony Awards, we learned that Broadway’s “not just for gays anymore!” So let me take up his tuneful cry and add my own rejoinder, “Theater J: It’s not just for Jews anymore!”


Everything’s Coming Up Guthrie!

Woody Guthrie Makes Front Page News in the Washington Post (Take that, TomKat!)


The Inaudible Man

Grace here. This movie poster terrifies me:

In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream

And I’m not alone. It’s one of the most effective movie tag lines ever used, because it taps into a very basic human fear: not being heard.

Who hasn’t had the nightmare of screaming without any sound coming out? Who hasn’t felt invisible at some point in their life? We’ve been grappling with the fear of being unheard since we first found comfort in God: The ultimate all-seeing, all-comprehending, all-forgiving audience.

Deb Margolin kicked off the Theater J season by saying, “I have always felt that the kindest… most committed and generous thing we do for each other, is the bearing of witness” On Monday night, at a reading of his new performance piece Lucky Penny, David Deblinger (who is closing our season with the fabulous History of Invulnerability) noted  “The act of listening is generous.” Plus, I’ve heard enough bad-date stories to know that the easiest way to infuriate someone is refusing to let them get a word in edgewise.

But it goes even deeper than that.

There’s a man experiencing homelessness who has taken to asking for change on the streets. As you can imagine, he encounters a pretty vast array of responses. But the one that cuts deepest is total lack of acknowledgment: no money, no words, no eye contact. “That’s what scares me,” he says, “I would rather people cuss at me, would rather they spit in my face; because then at least I would know that they see me. Enough people don’t look at you, you start to get scared that maybe you don’t exist.”

Before this year, I hadn’t put a lot of thought into the population of people experiencing homelessness. I had a very fixed idea in my head of what a ‘homeless person’ was like. However, when I started volunteering at Miriam’s Kitchen, that idea shattered like cheap glass. The guests that I have met are brilliant, accomplished people, wonderful people.  They are professors and Fulbright scholars; artists and musicians; government employees and immigrants.

They are also people who share my passion for theater. So Theater J started inviting Miriam’s Kitchen guests to see the productions in the 2011-2012 season. As another facet of the partnership, Miriam’s graciously invited Theater J artists to come hang out in their Studio Series. So fantastic performers like Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey, David Emerson Toney, Rick Foucheux, Tim Getman and more have spent afternoons trading stories with the Miriam’s guests.

I’ve traded a few stories too. For the past four Monday mornings, the guests and staff of Miriam’s has welcomed me in with warmth, enthusiasm, and coffee. We’ve sat at the round table, and shared stories of triumph and loss; of youthful indiscretions and of future aspirations.  Some of the guests allowed me to transcribe their stories.

So on Tuesday night, the guests of Miriam’s came once again to Theater J, this time to see a play that they had written. Some of the actors who have gone to Miriam’s over the 2011-2012 season came together to perform a reading called “Stories from the Kitchen: Monologues Written by the Guests of Miriam’s Kitchen.”

It was a very simple reading. Bare stage. No costumes. Just people telling stories. People listening to each other, and bearing witness. But it reminded me why I love theatre.

I think there’s a shortage of listeners in the world. We’re lucky at Theater J, because we’ve got audiences who listen with their whole hearts. But they’re probably in the minority, because if everyone had a listener like that at home, you probably wouldn’t find so many people desperate to tell their stories online, right?

The instant you sign on, you’re barraged with people bursting to tell their stories: Tweeting, blogging, publishing their diary to Kindle and getting way too personal on Facebook.

Even with this post, I’m joining the chatter, flinging my own two-cent tale into the pile of stories that nobody asked for. So I’ll stop in just a moment, but before I do, I’ve got to ask a favor of you, Mr./Ms. Anonymous, (possibly nonexistent) reader. It’s an eccentric favor that most people probably won’t do, but it’s worth a shot.

Would you please find someone who is usually invisible to you, and ask them to tell you their story?  I’ll do the same, and you and I can sit (in our respective locations) and listen as the invisible becomes immediate.

I promise you, it’s the best ticket in the town.

Isn’t it warm? Isn’t it rosy? 5 By 5….

Grace here.  It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, partially because I’ve been reading the exciting scripts submitted by local playwrights for this season’s 5×5, Playwrights Respond. This time, the playwrights were responding to Theater J’s production of The Whipping Man by writing their own five minute ‘Scenes of Liberation’ dealing with issues of freedom, oppression, and race relations.

This  Sunday, May 20th at 5:00, a group of  wonderful DC-based actors including Monty Cones, Natalie Cruz, Jim Epstein, Elizabeth Heir,  Shaun Johnson,  Martha Karl and TD Smith will do staged readings of the following five submissions:

Contrabands In the Desert by Victoria Mares

Picking up where The Whipping Man left off, John and Caleb journey north, attempting to put their lives back together and reconnect with those they’ve lost.


Lake Titicaca by Kitty Felde

In the tense period of unrest following the ’92 Rodney King trial, a car accident between two women turns into a meaningful connection.


Row H Seat 9 by Drew Courtney

President Abraham Lincoln reminisces about the haunting moment he met The Whipping Man’s protagonist Simon in the streets of Richmond, Virginia.


The Fair Face of Freedom by Greta Ehrig

A victory parade for the Union Army prompts a heartbreaking confrontation between Floyd Banner, a freed slave and veteran, and his devoted wife.


Evolutionary Haggaddah by Ron Kampeas

The unconventional seder in The Whipping Man inspires another quirky Passover celebration, as a council of rabbis commemorate the exodus from Egypt and The Partridge Family.

Admission is Free! Like you and me!  Hope to see you Sunday…

Spinozium on The Forward

Centuries Later, Spinoza Back in the Fold: Editor’s Notebook

By Jane Eisner

Read more:

After more than 350 years of enforced exile, Baruch Spinoza has been invited back into the Jewish community — at least by the people who participated in a mock trial and symposium at Theatre J in Washington D.C. earlier this month. The vote was 108 to 41. The controversial writ of excommunication was lifted by a trio of rabbis who made the pronouncement and then ceremoniously snuffed out a black candle.

Dramatic Decision: Participants at a recent symposium reenacted the 1656 decision to banish the controversial philosopher from Amsterdam’s Jewish community.

Dramatic Decision: Participants at a recent symposium reenacted the 1656 decision to banish the controversial philosopher from Amsterdam’s Jewish community.

Yes, this was theatre, and brilliant theatre at that, dramatic and engrossing. The daylong event culminated Theatre J’s revival of the David Ives play “New Jerusalem,” a retelling of the story of the 1656 interrogation of Spinoza, arguably the most controversial philosopher in Jewish history, if you could call him Jewish at all. There was plenty of debate about that, too.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that a modern audience sophisticated enough to sit through hours of scholarly and artistic presentations would vote in such a lopsided fashion in favor of inclusion and free speech. As one of a few journalists to take part in the “Spinozium,” I didn’t cast a vote or argue a position, but if I had, I guess that my personal and professional allegiance to the First Amendment would have trumped all.

Having Spinoza inside the communal tent is far more interesting and challenging than pushing him away.

Still, I found myself conflicted. My unexpected sympathy for the rabbinic edict that irrevocably placed the 23-year-old Spinoza into cherem was fueled by two revelations that day: about the Amsterdam Jewish community from which he was forever banished, and the philosophy that he preached.

The community had largely fled from Portugal and, while the Dutch were far better hosts than the Jews’ previous rulers who demanded conversion to Catholicism on pain of death, they still were hosts. Jews were guests. Freedom of worship was granted, not innate

Read more:

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