9 Con­tem­po­rary Jew­ish Plays

Ellen Schiff; Michael Pos­nick, eds.
  • Review
By – June 25, 2012
This is a var­ie­gat­ed and invig­o­rat­ing anthol­o­gy of nine of the many plays that the Nation­al Foun­da­tion for Jew­ish Cul­ture has encour­aged Amer­i­can pro­fes­sion­al the­atres to devel­op and pro­duce through its pro­gram New Play Com­mis­sions in Jew­ish The­atre.” 

God of Vengeance, by Don­ald Mar­gulies, brings to life in a 1920’s New York City set­ting Sholem Asch’s Yid­dish dra­ma about a Jew­ish broth­el own­er who attempts to achieve reli­gious redemp­tion by mar­ry­ing off his daugh­ter to a Torah schol­ar. Elise Thoron’s Green Vio­lin explores — in dra­ma, song, and dance — the cre­ative rela­tion­ship between the leg­endary Sovi­et Yid­dish actor, Solomon Mikhoels, and the renowned Russ­ian Jew­ish painter, Marc Cha­gall, whose paint­ings were the inspi­ra­tion of Mikhoels’ unique the­atre art. Ari Roth’s Life in Refusal is about a woman academic’s ambigu­ous rela­tion­ship with Sovi­et refuseniks and her Jewish/​Russ­ian her­itage. See Under: Love, by Corey Fis­ch­er, reshapes into phan­tas­magoric dra­ma the Holo­caust nov­el of Israeli author David Gross­man, in which good and evil inex­plic­a­bly inter­change in the soul of human­i­ty to both its destruc­tion and redemp­tion. In The Action against Sol Schu­mann, Jef­frey Sweet brings to the stage the excru­ci­at­ing dilem­ma of the chil­dren of a Holo­caust sur­vivor, a won­der­ful father and a pil­lar of soci­ety, when it is revealed that he had been a sadis­tic con­cen­tra­tion camp kapo. Nora Glick­man bases A Cer­tain Raquel on the Yid­dish let­ters of a promi­nent Argen­tine pros­ti­tute in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry, dra­ma­tiz­ing her suc­cess­ful strug­gle against the decep­tion and exploita­tion by white slave traf­fick­ers of immi­grant Jew­ish women. Mot­ti Lern­er, in Exile in Jerusalem, laments the piti­ful con­di­tion of two refugees from Nazi Ger­many in the holy land — one a scholar/​critic, the oth­er the great­est Ger­man poet of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry,” Else Lasker Schuller — in this new and alien coun­try bereft of their lan­guage, audi­ences, and incomes. In Asher’s Com­mand, Mar­i­lyn Clay­ton Felt deft­ly ren­ders the con­flict between Israelis and Pales­tini­ans by focus­ing on the com­plex per­son­al rela­tion­ship between an Israeli gen­er­al and a Pales­tin­ian auto mechan­ic in con­nec­tion with a trag­ic encounter between Jew­ish set­tlers and Arab vil­lagers. Final­ly, Jen­nifer Maisel, in The Last Seder, uti­lizes the tra­di­tion­al fam­i­ly cel­e­bra­tion of free­dom from bondage to enable a woman with her four daugh­ters and their sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers — of con­flict­ing tem­pera­ments and rela­tion­ships — to come to terms with the men­tal dis­in­te­gra­tion of her husband.
Nor­man J. Fed­der, Ph.D., is dis­tin­guished pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of the­atre at Kansas State Uni­ver­si­ty. He is cur­rent­ly on the fac­ul­ty of the Inter­dis­ci­pli­nary Arts Pro­gram at Nova South­east­ern University.

Discussion Questions