A Standing O for NJT

Gary Wayne Barker and Courtney Bailey Parker in the New Jewish Theatre production of ‘District Merchants.’   


A record 21 nominations for the New Jewish Theatre in the 2020 St. Louis Theater Circle Awards shows that the local drama scene is catching up with what many of us have known for a long time: The troupe’s performances are first-rate.

The honors for outstanding achievement are awarded by a group of theater critics and reviewers for local media, including the St. Louis Jewish Light. NJT’s previous high was 12 nominations in 2014.

The awards are truly a feather in the cap for Edward Coffield, who succeeded Kathleen Sitzer as artistic director of the NJT two seasons ago.  Sitzer was a tough act to follow, having received a Lifetime Achievement Award for her two decades at the helm of NJT, which is a program of the Jewish Community Center.

This year, NJT received nine nominations for its production of Neil Simon’s tender comedy “Brighton Beach Memoirs”; four for the one-man show “Fully Committed”; and eight for “District Merchants,” a reframing of William Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice.”

The Shakespeare adaptation was particularly relevant for local audiences, Coffield said, with the action transported to Washington, D.C., in the aftermath of the Civil War.

“In Aaron Posner’s version, a lot of the conversation is about what is happening racially after the Civil War,” Coffield told the Jewish Light’s Eric Berger, “and I thought it was a parallel to the ongoing racial conversation in St. Louis.” 

The 2019 season was Coffield’s first to select the plays for the entire season. Starting off with a sold-out production of Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” set the stage for a balanced season of comedies and dramas.

This year’s Theater Circle Awards will be presented March 30 at the Loretto Hilton Center for the Performing Arts at Webster University. 

We offer a standing ovation to Coffield and all of his colleagues at New Jewish Theatre – the directors, actors, production crews and its loyal fans – and hope they “break a leg” in the seasons to come. We can hardly wait for the curtain to rise on the next season.