Hissing snakes, leaping monkeys, and mooing cows. No, not stage props, but animated decorations at the sumptuous dessert table at Theatre Ariel's theatrical salon, hosted by Susie and Marty Lautman at their Merion home last evening. Susie knows how to put on an extravaganza, so in addition to the multitude of frogs in different guises brought out annually for Pesach (Passover), she added some additional wildlife. Me, I thought I lost a year of my life, when not three feet away the huge snake started hissing, his eyes glowing red.
The event was a reading of four ten-minute plays on the theme of "A Stranger in our Midst." Founder of the 20-year-old Jewish company, Deborah Baer Mozes had invited playwrights to submit new compositions on this theme after last Pesach. They received 63 submissions from around the world. She and Theatre Ariel President, Adena Potok, selected the final minyan plus one (11) plays. Last night was a reading of a sample of the new pieces, plus others already in the Jewish repertory canon, so to speak.
The original reading was: An Answer to their Prayers by Henry W. Kimmel about two disaffected single people, sitting in the back pew of a synagogue for Friday night services. They were strangers in their own Jewish tradition.
The other plays that had been performed before are: From the Narrows by former Akiba student Lisa Silberman Brenner, who holds a Ph.D. in theater from Columbia University and now teaches at Drew University in Madison, NJ. This is a modern midrash, re-imagining why we never hear from the Biblical Moses's mother, Yocheved, after she'd given up her son, twice. In this play, Yocheved choses not to leave Mitzrayim, ancient Egypt, with her family, because she doesn't want to be a stranger in a new land. Her story could be that of countless women who've had to choose between a war-torn homeland (even from servitude) and the bewildering unknown. The actresses, Rene (pronounced "Reen") Goodwin as Yocheved and Alana Gerlach, who teaches theater at Rowan University, as her daughter Miriam were superb in their roles, notably without sets, costumes, or makeup.
Ceasefire by Columbia-trained playwright, Ken Kaissar, is set on the Israeli-Lebanon border after the Second Lebanon War had ended in August, 2006. The cast of characters are: Udi, a sarcastic, jaded Army veteran; Yossi, a nervous young soldier, fresh out of training, and the Arab "Ahmed" from the Lebanon border, who finally relates his real name. The verbal interactions between Yossi and Ahmed succinctly highlight the historical context for fear and suspicion between these two peoples. They are each strangers in each other's narratives.
Wordplay by Rich Orloff is the relative classic, having been performed since 1999. It is a hilarious, quick volley of words, as spoken by Yiddish-fluent Jews, and anyone else who attempts to learn them from a dictionary. Here, the stranger is the goy, non-Jew, who joins a Jewish company of unspecified business.
Theatre Ariel plans to hold a reading of all 11 finalist plays in June at the Bristol Riverside Theatre in Bristol, PA.