NJT looks forward to ’07-’08


The New Jewish Theatre will have its busiest and most wide-ranging season in 2007-2008, which for the first time will include a play by Neil Simon, perhaps the most successful and enduring American Jewish comedy playwright.

Simon’s Broadway Bound, the third in his award winning, semi-autobiographical series about the Simon-like Eugene Morris Jerome’s childhood and young adulthood, will be the opening production at NJT’s Sarah and Abraham Wolfson Theatre in the Carlyn H. Wohl Building at the Jewish Community Center, running from Oct. 10-28.

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Asked why it took 11 seasons before NJT got around to putting on a Neil Simon play, NJT Artistic Director Kathleen Sitzer told the Jewish Light, “All of us love the tremendous body of great work by Neil Simon. But in our opening seasons we wanted our patrons to know that there was more to theater with Jewish content than Fiddler on the Roof and the plays of Neil Simon.”

“Now we feel that we have more than established the wide variety of work being produced by newer Jewish and other playwrights, and so we are pleased to open our 2007-2008 season with Broadway Bound,” Sitzer said.

The play is the third in the series that began with Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs, about growing up Jewish in Brooklyn in the 1940s; Biloxi Blues, about the young Eugene Morris Jerome’s encounters with the non-Jewish world of the U.S. Army, and Broadway Bound, which deals with Jerome’s “breaking into the world of comedy just as his nuclear family seems to be falling apart.”

All three of the plays earned Simon and the actors numerous Tony Awards.

Moving from Simon’s poignant but still trademark funny approach in Broadway Bound, the NJT’s second offering next season will be Kindertransport, by Diane Samuels, from Nov. 28-Dec. 16.

The play is described as “a powerful and resonant study in dislocation, denial, abandonment and the guilt of survival through one woman’s journey” as part of the Kindertransport, the separation of 10,000 European Jewish children from their families so that they could be transported to Great Britain to escape the Holocaust.

Sitzer said that following performances of Kindertransport, “we will not only have local St. Louis Holocaust survivors who were actually part of the Kindertransport, but also psychologists and psychiatrists discussing the many issues of family separation, issues of abandonment and guilt which resulted from that traumatic but necessary experience.”

Sitzer added that NJT “strives to have a mix of lighter fare along with more serious and even controversial themes” among the plays it presents each season.

The third production is the riveting and challenging Cherry Docs, by David Gow, which will be presented Jan. 23-Feb. 10.

The play is described as “the harrowing story of the neo-Nazi skinhead perpetrator of a vicious hate crime, and his defense by a Jewish attorney.” The play was transformed into a film, re-titled Steel Toes, which opened the 2007 Jewish Film Festival in St. Louis, and which had been presented as a dramatic reading in several settings by NJT in 1999, two at the NJT, two at Washington University’s A. E. Hotchner Studio Theatre and a special reading at the St. Louis County Juvenile Center in Clayton.

“We feel that it is the right time for NJT to present the play as a finished production,” said Sitzer who said that she personally believes that the play is better than the highly acclaimed film version.

Shifting gears sharply after the serious Kindertransport and Cherry Docs, NJT will next present a relatively new work, Bluish, by Janece Shaffer, from March 19-April 6.

The play is described as “a tender, funny and romantic work that explores the tricky balancing of love, faith and loyalty, providing a provocative cultural commentary.” Sitzer said that the play takes place in Atlanta, the playwright’s home city, where it was first produced to very positive reviews.

“The play is about a Southern Jewish family; the son is engaged to a very WASP-ish young woman, who discovers through a medical test that her birth mother was Jewish,” Sitzer told the Jewish Light. “The young man, who is a TV sports announcer keeps moving away from his Jewish roots, while his seemingly WASP-ish fiancee becomes more and more interested in her Jewish background, providing an interesting dramatic and humorous tension to the play.”

The season, which begins with a comedy by Neil Simon, ends with another comedic work, The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, by Charles Busch, May 12-June 1, described as “an intelligently funny and satirically written story of mid-life malaise on New York’s Upper West Side, and a modern parable.”

The play appeared several seasons ago at The Fox Theatre starring Valerie Harper in the lead role.

The play’s main character is Marjorie Taub, described in the play as “an attractive, stylish woman,” who speaks in “a somewhat studied manner….a New York accent with a strange overlay of affected theatricality.”

“Marjorie is in a kind of depressed funk, when a friend from her past visits her,” Sitzer said.

“The experience invigorates and transforms Marjorie in a positive way as the action unfolds on the stage. We wanted to book-end our more serious productions with comedic fare with Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound to start, and The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife to complete our busiest season ever. We can’t wait to get started, and look forward to presenting our very loyal audiences with a season they can all truly enjoy and treasure,” Sitzer said.