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.