New season, new venue for NJT

BY ROBERT A. COHN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

Kathleen Sitzer, artistic director of the New Jewish Theatre, has announced the schedule of shows for its 12th season, “which will offer a balance between the humorous, the poignant and dramatic.”

In an interview with the St. Louis Jewish Light, Sitzer outlined the five shows for the coming season and the challenges and opportunities presented by the change of venue for next season made necessary by the extensive renovations to the Jewish Community Center’s Wohl Building, which will include a new theater for NJT. NJT will move from the present Wolfson Studio Theatre venue at the Jewish Community Center to the theaters at Clayton High School.

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“We’re excited about opening our 12th season with Chaim’s Love Song, a light and humorous work by Marvin Chernoff,” Sitzer told the Jewish Light. “We like to ‘bookend’ our season with light or familiar plays as the first and closing shows, with more serious or weighty works in between. We feel that the upcoming season strikes just the right balance for our audience.”

The shows, as described by Sitzer, are:

Chaim’s Love Song, by Marvin Chernoff, runs Sept. 10-28. “The lead character, Chaim Shotsky has problems,” Sitzer said. “His son Reuben, the actor, has changed his name to Rock Cooper. His daughter is leaving her husband to find herself. His love for his wife seems unrequited. So Chaim spends his days in the park talking to pigeons. When he meets Kelly Burke from Iowa, another lost soul, his world is about to change, though he does not know it at the outset.”

“Chaim’s story is rich and affecting and genuinely touching: a story of struggle, humor, humanity and ultimately triumph that is bound to melt hearts in the audience. It has been called a love song for life, and I’m sure our audience will agree.” Sitzer added, “The NJT production will be directed by Deanna Jent, her eighth play in which she has served as director for NJT. She has also started her own production company, the Mustard Seed, a faith-based theater which explores religous faith and cultural identity in the United States. We are thrilled she will direct our opening play.”

The Last Seder, by Jennifer Maisel, runs Dec. 3-2l. “This play deals with Lily and Marvin Price’s four daughters and their respective partners, who have gathered for a final Passover Seder in their family home to say goodbye to a loved one, who has already partly taken leave of them, the patriarch Marvin, who has Alzheimer’s.”

“Yet somehow Marvin magically regains his senses for one last dayenu amidst a seder that can be described as chaotic and fragmented. The ancient and familiar ceremony becomes the vehicle that will heal the past, allowing everyone to move on with their lives. This is a show that every Jewish family can relate to, because all of our families have issues of illness and challenged relationships and the annual ritual of the seder that provides a place for everyone at the table.”

Sabina, by Willy Holtzman, runs Jan. 28-Feb. 15. “This is a fascinating work about a little-known, but documented scandal in the early days of psychoanalysis. Sigmund Freud’s disciple and designated heir, the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, had become intimately involved with a young patient named Sabina Spielrein, who was also involved with Freud. This triangle was described in a non-fiction book called A Secret Symmetry. This is a fascinating and true story about the involvement of the two founding giants of psychoanalysis with this Russian Jewish woman who later pursued her own career as a psychoanalyst, and ended up a victim at a Nazi death camp. Anti-Semitism is a strong subtext for this true life thriller.”

Sonia Flew, by Melinda Lopez, runs March 11-29. “This show differs from the others in two important respects,” Sitzer said. “First, it will take place on the mainstage of Clayton High School’s Auditorium. Secondly, it does not appear to be an overtly ‘Jewish’ play.”

“The Kindertransport, the subject of one of our plays last season was not the only experience of its kind in which children were separated from their parents. Sonia Flew explores the story of Sonia, a Cuban-American woman who as a child in 1961, was flown out of Cuba to the United States as part of Operation Pedro Pan. In 2001, Sonia married a Jewish man and entered a world filled with Jewish traditions has to reconcile with the memories of when she and thousands of other Cuban children were separated from their parents, just as the Jewish children were in the Kindertransport, though in that case their parents often would perish in the Holocaust. The play interweaves Cuban and American issues of separation, guilt, anger, abandonment and coming to terms with the past and forgiving as a means to move on.”

The Last Five Years, by Jason Robert Brown, running May 27 – June 14, will close out the season. This fresh, contemporary musical explores a five-year relationship between rising novelist Jamie Wellerstein and struggling actress Cathy Hiatt. The play is a musical, with the entire story told in song, and featuring only two characters — who appear together on stage only once during the play.

Looking toward the move to the Clayton High School venues for next season, Sitzer said, “We were so pleased we could work things out with Clayton High. We were absolutely thrilled to have reached agreement with our first choice for this upcoming season while the renovations are being made for our new location at the JCC. The Little Theater will work well for us; it actually is more spacious than our present Wolfson Studio Theatre, some 30 to 40 percent larger. It is comparable in seating capacity, about 100, but the audience will not be ‘right on top’ of the action as is the case in our present venue. It has intimacy and yet more comfort for the audience.

“Our 12th season will be our pre-bar/bat mitzvah year of productions for NJT. We are really excited about our upcoming season with a terrific schedule of shows and a venue which will serve our needs and those of our audience perfectly,” Sitzer said.