NJT offers eclectic mix in ’09-’10


For what it is calling its “Bat Mitzvah Season of Tradition,” the New Jewish Theatre is offering five plays that feature an eclectic mix of the poignant, the funny, the historic and the nostalgic. “It is always our goal to offer a variety of theatrical fare for our audience,” said Kathleen Sitzer, artistic director of the NJT in a recent interview, “and this upcoming 2009-2010 season more than accomplishes this important goal.”

Here’s a brief description of each of the five plays follows:

The Rep - advertisement

Conversations with My Father, by Herb Gardner, Sept. 30-Oct. 18. Gardner’s play has been described as “powerful and funny,” dealing with three generations of a Jewish family living in New York’s Lower East Side. The action is set in a Canal Street tavern, and covers four decades, from 1936 to 1976. Through the story of Eddie Goldberg, set against the backdrop of the years from the Great Depression and World War II, through the 1960s and mid-1970s, Gardner dramatizes the efforts by the first American-born Jews of a certain generation to both “melt into” general society without repudiating their Jewish heritage. The play also explores intergenerational conflicts between fathers and sons in a play that combines much laughter mixed with has been called “shattering emotional range.”

Brooklyn Boy, by Donald Margulies, Dec. 2-20. In this bittersweet drama, Margulies, whose work has been previously produced on the NJT stages, chronicles the career of a Brooklyn-born Jewish writer named Eric Weiss. The protagonist publishes a novel which becomes a blockbuster best-seller at the same time that his personal life falls apart. Like the playwright, Weiss returns to his Brooklyn Jewish roots in an effort to reclaim his positive connection to both Judaism and personal integrity. This play explores issues of family and friendship conflicts and resolutions, and does so with both comic touches as well as moving emotions.

The People’s Violin, by Charlie Varon, Feb. 24-March 14. Varon’s play focuses on Sol Shank, an experimental filmmaker and transplanted New Yorker, who is conflicted in his relationship to his famous father. In the course of a documentary film about his psychotherapist father, who also is a Holocaust-authority, Sol learns things that convince him that his father was not the man he claimed to be. The son is forced to confront not only his father’s apparent duplicity, but his own identity issues involving ethnic and tribal loyalty.

Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare, adapted by Robin Weatherall, in partnership with the Missouri History Museum Peforming Arts Series, at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park, April 14-May 2. Shakespeare’s immortal drama about star-crossed lovers undergoes a sharp change in tone with the story re-set during the British Mandate period in pre-Israel Palestine in 1947, during the run-up to the War for Independence. In place of the feuding Verona families, we have warring Arabs and Jews, with the British playing a challenging mediating role. Presented during the period of Israel’s 61st anniversary, the play affords an opportunity to explore complex historical issues through the medium of drama. The Romeo and Juliet lovers attempt to bridge the gaps between Arab and Jew and grapple with issues as old as Shakespeare’s original, and as current as the efforts to attain peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority through a two-state solution.

Laughter on the 23rd Floor, by Neil Simon, June 2-20. Inspired by the real-life experience of Neil Simon as part of a “Manhattan Project” team of comedy writers for Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows TV series, the play is set in 1953, during the Golden Age of TV. Neil Simon, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris, Larry Gelbart, Dick Cavett and Woody Allen were all part of the super-nova of comedy writers who helped shape the wildly successful comedy and variety show. The character Max Prince is based on Caesar, and the action takes place on the 23rd floor in the 57th Street headquarters of NBC. Like other famous shows of this early TV period, the characters and writers not only had to face being part of the funniest team in the medium at NBC, but also the devastating effect of the infamous blacklist, which ruined many TV and film careers of the era. The show captures the rapid-fire, frenetic, funny comedy that has never been truly matched in the decades since Your Show of Shows.

To order tickets or for more information, call 314-442-3283, or visit the New Jewish Theater’s Web site, www.newjeishtheatre.org.