A Note From The Kinsey Sicks

Grace here. For a moment anyway, but no one can express themselves quite like the Kinseys, so I wanted to share with you a lovely note that Irwin Keller, one of the group’s founders, wrote for us back in 2010. It’s a great reminder of why these irrepressible ‘ladies’ bring so much joy to the J. Sadly, they and their fabulous world premiere Electile Dysfunction: The Kinsey Sicks for President!  have to leave us on the 19th, so hurry to, as DC Theatre Scene puts it in their rave review, “swing your vote their way and stop in. Do your duty, people.”

Photo by C. Stanley Photography


You’re probably asking: what is this bunch of overly pancaked, gaudily dressed, atrociously coiffed divas doing at Theater J?

But enough about the audience. Let’s talk about The Kinsey Sicks.

For nearly 18 years The Kinsey Sicks have been shoveling dumploads of Jewish angst, queer politics, overt silliness, less overt erudition, an adolescent attachment to the vulgar and an abiding love of music into our productions.

But nu, are we Jewish?

Early in our career we were asked to perform at what is now a San Francisco institution: “Kung Pao Kosher Comedy”—a Christmas event for Jews. The producer asked, “Do you have Jewish material?” “Tons,” we crowed. She hired us.  And then we sat down to come up with some.

But writing Jewish came naturally. Ben Schatz, our chief songwriter, merely had to open his mouth and something Jewish would come out. Something about worry, food, assimilation or the undeniable attractiveness of gentiles. From there it was just a short jump and we were singing litanies of Jewish feminist heroes and doing production numbers in Yiddish, careful to make the mother tongue the premise, not the butt, of the joke.

But it doesn’t matter how many Jewish references we have. It doesn’t matter how many Jewish members we have. We have a Jewish outlook. We see the absurdity around us and choose to laugh. We recognize the inability of people ever to really understand each other, and find amusement in it. We are aware of the ultimate misguidedness of hope, and persist in hoping anyway. Very Jewish.

We are delighted to come home to Theater J and we welcome you into the world of The Kinsey Sicks.

An Important Letter From a Wonderful Friend and Artist (and Producer)

Actor, director, writer and producer Aaron Davidman is no stranger to Theater J audiences. He played the central role of Reuven Malter, the narrator, in Chaim Potok’s The Chosen, this past spring in our production at Arena Stage. And while in rehearsal for that show, he presented the latest installment of his solo performance piece, Wrestling Jerusalem, as part of this past winter’s “Voices From a Changing Middle East” festival, which appeared three seasons earlier under the title, Chasing Justice/Seeking Truth: Or It’s Just Not That Safe Anymore as part “Voices From a Changing Middle East, 2007.” Aaron’s been here performing in his theater company’s 2003 production of God’s Donkey: A Play On Moses, and that company, Traveling Jewish Theatre, which would go onto be renamed “The Jewish Theatre San Francisco” has been a stalwart and a beacon and a sister theater to ours for a very long time. So long, in fact, that TJT, as it remains affectionately called, has announced that this, its 34th season, will be its last. And that this season too will go forward without Aaron as its artistic director.

So, with his blessings and permission, I share with our community Aaron Davidman’s graceful letter of farewell to his community. And in it, he urges folks to come out and see an important new production inaugurating TJT’s final season. It’s a play we’ll be talking much more about. I’ll let Aaron introduce it herein.

Blessings to Aaron, a true brother and comrade in art.

From Aaron Davidman:

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

As many of you know I recently stepped down as Artistic Director of The Jewish Theatre San Francisco (formerly Traveling Jewish Theatre) after 9 years serving in that position and twelve years working with the company. The board, founders, and leadership of TJT decided that this current season, 2011-12, would be the company’s final season. Financial challenges, due in large part to the recession, prove to be too severe to continue.

I was blessed to call TJT my artistic home for more than a decade. I am grateful to Naomi Newman, Corey Fischer and Albert Greenberg for the vision they brought forward in 1978 to create a unique theatre that valued craft as much as content; that pushed the edge of form as much as sought diversity in subject matter; and that bravely pursued an inquiry into Jewish identity that has served public discourse and moved communities around the world to consider and re-consider what it means to be Jewish.

While there is sadness in the closing of TJT, the fact that the company had a 34 year run is something to be celebrated. The business model of the non-profit theatre company is a challenging one in the best of economic times, and TJT’s longevity—some might say tenacity—is a testament to the commitment of the artists and technicians and administrators and audiences who drove TJT for more than three decades.

I salute you all.

I am honored to have worked with each and every one of you; to have performed for, written for, directed for all of you. I remain moved by the enterprise. By the act of gathering in a darkened room to create something together that reminds us of our own humanity, that gives us the chance to laugh at our own shortcomings, that calls us to rise to our potential to create change. The art form of the theatre has been my greatest teacher.

The Jewish tradition and the theatre tradition share many things, but the deepest common link, to me, has always been the call to question.  Why? Deep inquiry pushes back against the hubris that dominates our airwaves, the hubris that blind-sides our politicians, the hubris that compromises our corporations. This inquiry has reminded me, time and again, that there is always more to learn. And while I am developing a career outside the theatre—very few of us these days can make a living solely in the field—I remain as committed as ever to the inquiry. I will continue to write plays and work on projects and wrestle with stories that feel vital and worthy of attention.

This week, TJT opens its final world-premiere, a play about The Group Theatre by Corey Fischer called In The Maze Of Our Own Lives. It feels like an auspicious moment to encounter the story of America’s first ensemble theatre. A cadre of idealists who came together to change the world through the art of theatre, and the achievements and challenges they faced along the way. This story has Jewish roots and theatre roots and couldn’t be a more fitting play for TJT’s final year.

As for you and me, I’m sure we’ll see each other around. If you’re interested, you can stay in touch with what I’m working on by stopping by my web site: www.aarondavidman.com.

I also started writing a blog last Spring when I rode the AIDS Life/Cycle Ride. The blog is called STORIES AND REFLECTIONS and I’ll be posting more material there when projects call for it: http://aarondavidman.wordpress.com/.

My email address is ad@aarondavidman.com.
Be well and stay in touch.

Seven Questions For: Mike Nussbaum

Mike  Nussbaum in Imagining MadoffMike Nussbaum is currently starring as Solomon Galkin in Theater J’s critically-acclaimed production of Imagining Madoff. He’ll also be speaking about his life and career working with David Mamet, Peter Brook, Roger Stephens and more on Monday night in the free program An Evening with Mike Nussbaum, Star of Stage and Screen. We sat down with him in his dressing room before a performance to ask him the seven questions.

1)    How would you describe what you do to someone from the 19th Century?
I’m sure they would be familiar with what I do. Stage actor today is the same as stage actor then. The technical aspect of what surrounds the actor has changed, but no performance.

2)    What did you want to be when you grew up?

An actor. I’ve wanted to be an actor since I was a child at camp. I went to Camp Ojibwa in Wisconsin and my first role was as a clown who introduced the show to the parents and visitors who were in the audience. I did a big cartwheel onto the stage and froze. I slunk off the stage crying. And the fact that I still wanted to be an actor after that is insane.

3)    Is there a book you’re embarrassed to admit you’ve never read?

I’ve never finished A Remembrance of Things Past.

4)    Woody Allen, Pro or Con?

Pro! I love Woody Allen. His most recent film about Paris is wonderful. I auditioned for him once and I was told before I went in, “Don’t look at Woody!” He also has a giant mirror that runs the entire length of a wall behind him and you’re told, “Don’t look at the mirror.” It’s kind of limiting. I didn’t get the part.

5)    What’s your favorite non-English word?

I guess the one I’m using in the play, “menschleichkeit.” It’s become a favorite. It means compassion.

6)    What issue do you wish other people knew more about?

At the moment I’m thinking about the attitude towards unions has become so harsh and there is a failure to remember the enormous good that unions have created in this country. Standards of living. Work rules. They created the middle class for God’s sake.

7)    Historical figure, living or not, that you’d want to share a bagel with and what kind of bagel?

Poppy seed! That’s my favorite. Right now I’d say Tony Judt, I’m reading his book Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. He recently died; a brilliant writer, a polymath, linguist and his knowledge of the political world is so deep.

Read all of the Seven Question interviews.

Seven Questions For: Deb Margolin

Welcome to a new feature of The Blog at 16th & Q! Our team of writers, researchers, SEO aficionados, Google algorithm seers and Jewish social media machers were brought together at a secret underground bunker located in the sub-basement of the DCJCC to distill the seven most important questions ever. Over the next few months we will pose these questions to some of the fascinating and creative people who we bring to the J as part of our programming.

Our first subject is Deb Margolin, the playwright of Imagining Madoff, which has been enjoying sold-out previews at Theater J and has its press opening Tuesday night.

Deb Margolin1) How would you describe what you do to someone from the 19th Century?

I’m a playwright, and a teacher. You guys had people like that!

2) What did you want to be when you grew up?

Between the ages of 6 and 10, a physicist during the week and a ballerina on the weekends; between the ages of 11 and 13, a menstruating person; between the ages of 14 and 20, a blues musician; between the ages of 21 and 27, I wanted to be Henry Miller; thereafter, I wanted to be what I am now.

3) Is Is there a book you’re embarrassed to admit you’ve never read?


4) Woody Allen, Pro or Con?

con/pro i.e: I have enjoyed his cinematography, I have enjoyed moments of his comedy, like when he gestured with a record cover and the LP flew out of the jacket and smashed against the wall; his sense of vaudeville, and his sense of topography and culture, as in Vickie Cristina Barcelona. I did not think it was in particularly good taste for him to marry his partner’s daughter, and I have not enjoyed his portrayal of women in many cases. I’m confused as to why no Jewish women EVER appear in his movies.

5)What’s your favorite non-English word?

oiskedrait: Yiddish for messed up, confused. Literally translated: turned-out

6)What issue do you wish other people knew more about?

Misogyny, and its pervasive corrosion of world ethics.

7) Historical figure, living or not, that you’d want to share a bagel with and what kind of bagel?

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. And I’m gluten-intolerant, so I’d buy him an everything bagel with scallion cream cheese, and I’d eat the scallion cream cheese.


You can learn more about Deb Margolin on her website or watch video of her talking  about the genesis of Imagining Madoff at our first rehearsal along with explanations of the set and costume design on the Theater J Blog. Deb and director Alexandra Aron will be participating in a post-show conversation following the Sunday, September 4 evening performance.

An Evening with Mike Nussbaum: Star of Stage and Screen

From Becky Peters, Director of Community Outreach and New Media at Theater J

For me – there are people who when they cross my path something tells me that I should drop what I am doing,  pull up a chair and listen to whatever they are willing to share.  Mike Nussbaum is one of those people.

Maybe it’s because as a fellow actor I am intrigued by his 50+ year resume as an actor/director and I can only imagine the stories that he has to share about the work he has done or the personalities he has come across.  Maybe it’s because when you meet Mr. Nussbaum there is a genuine warmth that fills the room.    Maybe it’s simply that the older I get the more I realize how much I still have to learn and as a gentleman who is nearing 90 and not quitting but instead in rehearsals right now for Imagining Madoff – he is someone I want to learn from.

I’m not entirely sure which intrigues me more.  But whatever the reason – I am grateful to have chance to see him work and hear him speak.   In addition to performing in the show we asked Mr Nussbaum if (on one of his nights off) he would let us all just pull up a chair and listen.  And thankfully he said yes.

And to paraphrase my grandmother – I am ready to put my “listening ears” on and settle in for what I think is going to be a pretty wonderful evening.   I do hope you will join me!

Mike Nussbaum*: A Life in the Theater (and on the Screen)
Monday, September 19th at 8:00 pm   FREE

Join Theater J for an evening of clips and conversations highlighting eminent Chicago actor Mike Nussbaum’s illustrious career in the films and plays of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and screenwriter David Mamet, as well as Mike’s work with directors Peter Brook, Roger Stephens and countless other heralded productions over his half-century-long career.

An Excerpt of Recent Theater J Interview with Mike Nussbaum

TJ:  You have a rich history with playwright David Mamet, appearing in the original production of American Buffalo, and many more.  Can you share a particularly memorable experience from that collaboration?
MN: David and I were in a play together (written by Dick Cusack–father of the acting Cusacks)and I teased him about being such a bad actor. The next day he brought me a copy of “Duck Variations“, a beautiful play he had written, and I knew from that moment that he was a major talent.

TJ: When you look back on your formidable history in show business, what are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned?
MN: Most of what I’ve learned has come from watching other actors work. I am constantly amazed and thrilled by the quality and artistry of actors. I borrow shamelessly from the great ones.

TJ: You have been a major player in the Chicago theatre scene for some time now—how have you seen theatre in Chicago change over the years?
MN: When I started out over 50 years ago there were only New York touring companies in the downtown theatres–today Chicago has over 160 theaters of all sizes, doing inventive quality work by established and new playwrights (many of whom are Chicagoans) creative directors, and a huge, ever growing source of wonderful actors, all supported by the press, and an educated and demanding audience.

TJ: You are currently involved in a production of Broadway Bound, by Neil Simon—how is that going?
MN: It’s a 900 seat theater, and we’re drawing large audiences. Broadway Bound is a Neil Simon “dramady”, and most of what I do is comic. Getting the laugh is as good as it gets.

TJ: What else would you like the Washington, DC theatre community to know about you?
MN: My daughter and her family are long-time DC residents. It’s a major plus that I will get to spend a good long time with them. At least I hope they think so and don’t pitch me out after a few weeks.

TJ: Can you tell us a joke?
MN: The Frenchman says: “I’m tired. I’m thirsty. I must have wine!” The German says: “I’m tired. I’m thirsty. I must have beer!” The Jew says: “I’m tired. I’m thirsty. I must have diabetes”.

Israel, Dialogue & Our Community

by Carole R. Zawatsky
CEO, Washington DCJCC

The Washington Post has an article today about the challenges facing Jewish institutions and Jewish artists who seek to engage with the difficult issues surrounding Israel and its quest for peace and security with the Palestinians. The case-in-point concerned the controversies that arose from this past spring’s presentation of the Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv’s production of Return to Haifa at our resident, professional theater company, Theater J. We are at a unique moment in American Jewish life. The reality is that in the process of seeking to understand and grapple with this large issue facing Israel and ourselves, our community is still searching for a safe way to engage in this discussion with honesty, civility and respect for the passionate sincerity on both sides. This conversation goes beyond the boundaries of our local Jewish community and speaks to its importance and relevance.

Thus, the Washington DCJCC is committed to inspiring balanced, thoughtful and relevant Jewish culture through film, theater, literature and music, that welcomes all perspectives both from right and the left living up to the highest principles of our Jewish tradition.

Monday evening as we observe Tisha B’av – the anniversary of one of the most calamitous dates in Jewish history that marks the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem, it is taught that the Temple was destroyed because of the “senseless hatred of one Jew for another.” (Yoma 9b) It is tempting to conclude that the past is prologue and that the strains placed on the ancient Jewish community by Babylonian and Roman invasions parallel the threats of today. Our Jewish future continues to hold great promise when we encourage all those who hold a stake in our destiny the opportunity to immerse their intellect, their creativity and their spirit in preserving and enriching the Jewish present.

On Israel Engagement, De-Legitimization and Our Community

The Washington DCJCC is proud to present professional and authentic examples of Israeli culture in film, theater, art and music. The artistic output of Israel is one of its great achievements, and we were privileged to host the Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv’s production of RETURN TO HAIFA at Theater J. The sold-out run was hailed by audiences and critics alike and brought together individuals from all over our community to engage in serious conversations not just about the politics of the Israel, but about the underlying humanity of the men and women on all sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict. There was no single message to be derived from the play, nor were the reactions of any two theater-goers alike — well-wrought dramas can elicit complex and contradictory thoughts and emotions. It was gratifying that our audiences received the production in the spirit it was offered; that rather than shielding ourselves from difficult histories and complex questions, we can engage them with our intellect, our humanity and our capacity to see beyond political sloganeering. We feel that such programs constitute Israel-engagement in the very best sense of the term and make no apology for the art or the artists we present. Increasingly, there is an acknowledgment in the public square of the American Jewish community that fighting the de-legitimization of Israel is poorly served by attacking organizations and individuals within the Jewish community who present challenging portraits of the Jewish State. Implying that such Jewish organizations serve as Trojan horses for those bent on the destruction of Israel plays to our worst fears. While such campaigns may throttle funding to this program or that organization, its ultimate effect is only to narrow the boundaries of allowable conversations and alienate all members of the Jewish community who dare to think outside those strict confines. If we continue down this path, the result will be less Israel engagement, fewer advocates for its cause in the court of public opinion and a poisoning of the intellectual well of American Judaism. The Washington DCJCC will present nearly 100 programs this year that deal with some aspect of Israeli life: some will make you proud, some will make you laugh, some will make you cry and many will make you think. Occasionally one might make you angry. But that is okay, so long as the conversation continues and we express our love for Israel by our honest engagement, through wrestling and hugging and through our ability to disagree civilly.

Reacting to Elie Wiesel’s Reaction to “Imagining Madoff”

by Francine Zorn Trachtenberg

Theater J has been in the crosshairs of the press in the past few weeks, the subject of a controversy between a playwright and a world citizen, with an artistic director caught in the middle.  The crux of the matter is two-pronged:  whether or not a public figure can be the subject of a work of fiction without his consent; and whether or not a community theater should ever bow to pressure in making artistic decisions.  Two heady issues, indeed, are on the table.  Let’s look at them one at a time.

A new play has been written by Deb Margolin titled, “Imaging Madoff.”   Madoff is of course the infamous Bernie Madoff, a.k.a. gonif of the Western World, who duped his friends as well as strangers, stole billions of dollars and upset the financial network of hundreds of families, foundations and social organizations around the world.  His escapades have come to symbolize chicanery and evil.  His misplaced sense of entitlement ruined lives, set back programs and epitomizes the phrase, “it is a shanda fur die goy”  – he is a Jew who did something embarrassing and wrong in front of non-Jews. 

The setting of the Margolin play is a fictional (made-up, never happened, imagined) encounter between Madoff and Elie Wiesel.  Mr. Wiesel, of course, is the most famous writer, thinker and spokesperson for understanding the Holocaust.  He has won the Nobel Prize.  He is a survivor.  He is the symbol of righteous indignation about all that is evil in the world and how to make wrong right.  He and Madoff are opposites, the extreme edges of morality. 

Ari Roth, the Washington DCJCC’s artistic director of Theater J read the play, liked it and placed it at the beginning of next season’s lineup.  Like almost everything Theater J presents, this play, Roth believed, would get people thinking and talking.  Theater J is known for its provocative productions. 

Ms. Margolin sent her script to Elie Wiesel.  She is proud of her work.  She believed her pairing of good vs. evil – Wiesel vs. Madoff – showed the Nobel Laureate in good light.  Mr. Wiesel, however, though a writer of fiction himself, took her play literally not figuratively and said in a letter back to Margolin, “This is not me.”  And then, with all the melodrama of the movie Casablanca, he went to say, “I am shocked, appalled and offended…”

Theater J and the playwright were stunned by Wiesel’s response.  The condemnation of this work and its pending public production is coming from a man who is the paragon of freedom, a man who in a concentration camp understood that his thoughts were always free from oppression.

There are a handful of public figures in the 20th century who life work commands the respect bestowed up Wiesel, including Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Menachem Mendel Schneerson and Mother Teresa.  These are individuals whose courage and/or ethical standing puts them in a category above most women and men.  If any one of them asked any one of us to look carefully at something, we would do so.  Their requests command respect. 

Elie Wiesel said, “I formally oppose it [the play] being performed any time in any venue.”  Strong words.  He got everyone’s attention.  He stopped production in its tracks.  For a brief moment, he left everyone speechless.  And then, in a whispering voice people said, “Wiesel said ‘no’ to the play.”  (In full disclosure, no specific person said that specific phrase – it is a made-up sentence to make a point).

What now should the theater and its artistic director do?

Ari Roth is not known as a shrinking violet.  He likes plays that are edgy.  He likes plays that arouse strong feelings and he likes the audience to ponder deep questions.   He is articulate and eloquent in his explanation of choices for Theater J.  He is not one to cut and run.  He enjoys debate, is good at confronting controversy and gets his “opponents” to hone their arguments and he can stand his ground with almost anyone. 

Why offend a paragon of virtue?  Ari Roth had to make a very difficult choice.  Should artistic freedom trump personal objection?  He had to step back from the rim of controversy and ponder if perhaps it isn’t the time to go forward with this particular play.   Roth is quoted as saying about Wiesel, “He’s had in our minds an overreaction,” and Roth is probably right.  Wiesel overreacted and the Washington DCJCC, rather than meeting him at the barricades of indignation, thought it best to let cooler heads prevail and move on to other plays. 

Does this mean Theater J has capitulated?  No it does not. 

Elie Wiesel will be 82 on his next birthday; his life is long and he has witnessed much, far too much at times.  After winning the Nobel Prize he established the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity whose “mission, rooted in the memory of the Holocaust, is to combat indifference, intolerance and injustice through international dialogue and youth-focused programs that promote acceptance, understanding and equality.”   The endowment funds supporting Wiesel’s foundation were decimated by Bernie Madoff; over night millions of dollars were lost.  Dreams disappeared.  Wiesel is once again pushing the rock up the hill.  The imagery is biblical. 

Ari Roth and Theater J and the Washington DCJCC decided that Elie Wiesel was allowed a little wiggle room.  Wiesel over-reacted.  No need for the rest of us to do the same. 

Ms. Trachtenberg is a past-president of the Washington DC Jewish Community Center. She is a former Senior Vice President at WETA and adjunct faculty member at the George Washington University’s art department, teaching the history of photography.


Engaging Israel in Our Community: The Arts Programs of the Washington DCJCC

Theater J’s participation in the upcoming J Street Conference is part of a long-established and agency-wide tradition of engaging in conversations about Israeli society through a variety of artistic media, public lectures and policy debates. It is through this legacy of programming that the Washington DCJCC has established itself as a place where conversations about Israel from multiple viewpoints can take place. Because of our expertise in this area, Theater J agreed to participate in the J Street Conference around its discussions of “Culture as a Tool for Change.”

Over the thirteen years we have been at 16th and Q we have tackled almost every hot-button issue in Israeli society either through film, theater, literature, music or visual art. In presenting David Hare’s Via Dolorosa in 2000 we partnered to create the Peace Café in order to create the safe space to discuss many of these highly volatile and deeply felt issues. We have encountered the issue of the West Bank settlements in Motti Lerner’s play, Pangs of the Messiah, and how to confront an Iran with nuclear intentions in Benedictus. We have explored the lives of Israel’s gay and lesbian community through films like Yossi & Jagger, Orthodykes, Trembling Before God and Jerusalem is Proud to Present. We have explored the issue of foreign guest workers in Israel in films like James’ Journey to Jerusalem and plays like The Accident. We have grappled with the on-the-ground reality of relations between Israelis and Palestinians in films like Lemon Tree, The Bubble and Promises. We have shown documentaries that look at the role Palestinian laborers play in the life and economy of Jewish Israel in films like Another Road Home and Nine Star Hotel. On the walls and exhibition floor of the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery in the exhibit “L(A)TITUDES” we have grappled with different artists’ interpretations of the map of Israel and Palestine – showing everything from a map comprised of oranges meant to extend the plight of settlers evacuated from Gaza to the whole of Israel, to an abstract representation of what a two-state solution transport system would look like.

In all of these endeavors we have sought partners with which to discuss the real world issues the artwork raises. We have collaborated with everyone from the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, the Embassy of Israel, Taglit Birthright, the American Jewish Committee and the New Israel Fund, Jews United for Justice and Americans for Peace Now. Now we are partnering with J Street in a conference environment to examine what practical effects artwork and discussion of it have in-practice.  

We’re involved in J Street’s conference not because of its political agenda, but because of its spirited commitment to culture as a tool for energizing discussion and transformation in our Jewish community, and in bringing forth meaningful discourse between communities of different faiths.  The conference, entitled “Driving Change, Securing Peace” is presenting a number of highly informed, creative and committed Israeli and American-Jewish artists who represent a cutting edge, new generation of artists who, like J Street, see themselves as both pro-Israel, pro-dialogue, pro-peace, and pro-open cultural interchange.

While we do not endorse any of J Street’s specific policy positions, we do appreciate the opportunity to be included in the broader discussion they have convened.

Theater J, the professional theater of the Washington DC Jewish Community Center is participating only in the cultural track of the upcoming J Street Conference.  Theater J and the Washington DCJCC do not engage in legislative or political advocacy and our participation should not be construed as an  endorsement or sponsorship of other aspects of the conference or of J Street’s  programs and policies.

Here’s a complete list of the programs Theater J is participating in as part of the cultural offerings at the J Street Conference.

  • Sunday, October 25 at 5:15 pm : Pre-Conference Event – Arts and Activism in Troubled Times

A panel made up of artists active in Middle East issues, as well as artists involved in social causes on a local, national, and international stage. Presented by Theater J following the 3 pm matinee of Lost in Yonkers

  • Monday, October 26 at 8:00 pm:  Music – Rocking the Status Quo Party with JDub’s Soulico

Soulico, a DJ crew from Tel Aviv, is literally one of the biggest names there.  The music is a unique mix of hip-hop, Middle Eastern melodies, dancehall, and electro, in English, Hebrew, and Arabic.  Their debut album Exotic on the Speaker, is being released in October.  The group appeared at the Washington Jewish Music Festival in 2008, as have many JDub Bands throughout the years.

  • Television – John Marks and Search for Common Ground

Search for Common Ground’s founder John Marks discusses the groundbreaking soap operas that promote tolerance and reconciliation among Israelis and Palestinians.  The innovative peace building organization is the second largest producer of soap operas in the world.

  • Storytelling – Noa Baum’s A Land Twice Promised

Storyteller Noa Baum, an Israeli who began a heartfelt dialogue with a Palestinian woman while living in the U.S., weaves together their memories and their mothers’ stories. She creates a moving testimony illuminating the complex and contradictory history that surround Jerusalem for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

  • Short Film – Other Israel Film Festival presents 6.5 Minutes in Tel Aviv, Shnaim, and Roads

Founded in 2007, the Other Israel Film Festival, a program of the JCC in Manhattan, fosters awareness and understanding of Israel’s Arab citizens. Two short films from the festival explore the complex and unexpected connections between Israelis and Palestinians. Join Festival Director Isaac Zablocki for a conversation about the films and the festival.

  • Documentary Film – Just Vision previews Budrus Has a Hammer (working title)

In this upcoming documentary, a Palestinian community organizer unites political factions in a Gandhian struggle to save his village. Just Vision staff Ronit Avni, Julia Bacha, and Irene Nasser present selected scenes from this timely, powerful documentary and lead a discussion with the audience.

Later this season, Theater J will present its annual Voices From A Changing A Middle East Festivalwhich will continue to give voice to a variety of Israeli, American-Jewish, and Arab and Muslim-American writers, involving collaborations between Israeli and American designers, directors and more. In addition to our mainstage production, Hadar Galron’s Mikveh, Theater J will present additional readings by contemporary Israeli playwrights including: Savyon Liebrecht’s Apples from the Desert.  Readings will take place at both Theater J and the Embassy of Israel’s Jerusalem Hall.

And in case you haven’t heard, the 20th Washington Jewish Film Festival will be presenting the best in current Israeli cinema, beginning on its Opening Night on December 3rd, with the DC Premiere of A Matter of Size.

Why Do a Reading of Caryl Churchill’s “Seven Jewish Children” at a Jewish Theater?

Cross-posted on the Makom website

You can understand the outrage. Imagine it: a non-Jewish, British playwright has the temerity to write something as provocative as the line, “The Jews do not belong here” and a Jewish theater, in a fit of obvious self-loathing, gives that voice a venue by placing it on its stage. I am not speaking of the sudden controversy surrounding Caryl Churchill’s short-play, Seven Jewish Children which the Washington DCJCC’s resident professional company Theater J will present readings of this week. Rather, I am referring to the same Theater J’s production of David Hare’s Via Dolorosa nearly a decade ago, in the fall of 2000.

Back then we knew we were undertaking something with the potential to be controversial for its outsider’s observations of the Israel-Palestine conflict. We braced ourselves for outrage. We prepared our leadership for potential protests, even boycotts. We were not doing this merely for controversy’s sake, but because of our belief, that the work – consisting mainly of Mr. Hare’s channeling the voices of the various Israelis and Palestinians he met – confronted us with a challenging and artful portrayal of ourselves and our Israeli cousins. But so concerned were we about the potential for outraged audiences that we built into the presentation of the play a response vehicle, “The Peace Café” co-created by artistic director Ari Roth, Theater J councilmember Mimi Conway and a frequent participant in Arab-Jewish dialogue, restaurateur and Iraqi-American Anas Shallal. Following the performances, audiences gathered around tables, broke bread and picked from a menu of discussion questions and quotations of some of the play’s most provocative lines.

In spite of all our fears, or perhaps because of them, the tidal wave of controversy never materialized, but the Peace Café experience gave us a model with which to engage more controversial material in the years to come. Meanwhile, the work itself, Via Dolorosa has gone on to productions both at other Jewish theaters and in Israel itself.

If you have an opinion in this matter I hope to G-d you’ve taken the time to read the seven pages of verse that’s causing all the ruckus. I have neither the space nor the charge to do an explication of the work here, but if this is to be a Jewish argument, which is to say, an argument amongst Jews, then I hope we can all work from the source text and not just the commentaries.

So what’s different about Seven Jewish Children? Via Dolorosa was the theatrical equivalent of a documentary in its specific attribution of comments and ideas to individuals either named, like Benny Begin and Shulamit Aloni, or unnamed but definitely real, like the American settler couple Mr. Hare spends Shabbat with on the West Bank. Ms. Churchill’s work goes as far in the other direction as possible: neither the speaker nor to whom they are speaking, nor when they are speaking are ever made explicit. Ms. Churchill doesn’t assign statements to individual actors, instructing instead that,

The lines can be shared out in any way you like among those characters. The characters are different in each small scene as the time and child are different. They may be played by any number of actors.

The result is that it becomes difficult to find an authentic and specific Jewish voice in a work so broad that it is somehow attributable to all Israelis and no Israelis, to all Jews and yet no one Jew. Which speaks pointedly to the fact that while David Hare traveled the land of Israel gathering the cacophony of voices in his play, Ms. Churchill participates in an obstinate cultural boycott of Israel and does not even permit her works to be performed there. So there’s two strikes against Ms. Churchill. Let’s even throw in for argument’s sake that maybe she’s also a bit of an anti-Semite. That doesn’t take away from the power and verisimilitude of the compressed language she puts on the page for I would argue, five-sixths of the short work. That last part, suffers not from the caricature of a racist, belligerent, ultra-Nationalist (anyone caring to read material equally offensive but of more estimable provenance need only peruse Amos Oz’s essay “The Tender Among You and Very Delicate” from his collection In the Land of Israel); but its lack of attribution.

So why bother putting her generic opprobrium on our authentic Jewish stage? Why sully ourselves with the association? Because the only way to parse that which carries the merit of specific resonance from that which sinks under weight of shapeless assumptions is to inject the Jewish voice back into the monologue. To engage the work and respond to it with Jewish voices like Robbie Gringras and Deb Margolin, and the intelligent audience members that have sought us out for years now because of our mission to engage and discuss the most pressing moral and political issues of our time. To decide for ourselves after hearing a collection of generic poetics placed in the mouths of specific actors whether they land with the force of truth or disappear with the speed of your average smoke screen and with just as much substance.

Speaking only for myself, there is plenty of both in Ms. Churchill’s work. One may decry the ideological axe she brings with her, but one would be hard pressed to simply dismiss her mastery of craft and phrase. She has created a compelling work. And for every line as politically artless as “Tell her we killed the babies by mistake” there are aching verses that acknowledge the complex and contradictory world we Jews inhabit:

Tell her there are still people who hate Jews
Tell her there are people who love Jews
Don’t tell her to think Jews or not Jews

Ultimately, precisely because it is about us, we owe it to ourselves to apply our skills as artists and our intellectual rigor as audiences to divine what the worth of this piece is. I suspect Israelis are going to want to hear for themselves (although I would demand that they be allowed a production of Top Girls or Cloud Nine in exchange) and decide on their own whether or not they feel blood libeled. Ultimately, what Ms. Churchill has written “for Gaza” will be less important than the conversation Israelis have with each other as new accounts by IDF soldiers are published in Ha’aretz and Ma’ariv.

And while she’s no Shakespeare, the Bard himself never visited Italy, but still managed to write The Merchant of Venice. On second thought, let’s not go there. Not today.

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