Just around the corner

In a Jewish ghetto in Vilna, Poland, actors in an amateur theater group are struggling with their material. It’s 1931, and the play they’re rehearsing is based on an historical event called the “Dreyfus Affair.”

Dreyfus was a French-Jewish army captain, husband and father of two, falsely accused of treason in 1894 — who wasn’t completely exonerated until 1906. Seems the actors, especially the one playing Dreyfus, can’t quite grasp the relevance.

Members of the troupe focus instead on the nuisances of everyday life and their petty differences, frustrating the director who feels great passion for the play that recounts Dreyfus’ plight.

Morris (Michael Cortez) attempts to direct Myriam (Amy Serafin) and Michael (Will Hightower) in “Dreyfus in Rehearsal” performed by Arizona Jewish Theatre Company (Photo: Mark Gluckman)

That’s the premise of “Dreyfus in Rehearsal,” a play originally written in French by Jean-Claude Grumberg, an award-winning actor, playwright, screenwriter and author whose parents were Holocaust victims.

Arizona Jewish Theatre Company presents the Arizona premiere of “Dreyfus in Rehearsal” Jan. 26-Feb. 5 at the John Paul Theatre located at Phoenix College. Admission to previews is $20 plus a can of food.

“Dreyfus in Rehearsal” was adapted by Garson Kanin (1912-1999), a New Yorker trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts who wrote screenplays, novels, memoirs, short stories, essays and plays.

Arizona Jewish Theatre Company is “presenting the original script of this play, with special permission from the Garson Kanin Estate.” Kanin wrote the screenplays for two famous Tracy-Hepburn films, and his play titled “Born Yesterday” enjoyed a brief revival on Broadway last year.

Producing director Janet Arnold describes “Dreyfus in Rehearsal” as a humorous and poignant juxtaposition of witty banter and egotistical antics with the immediate threat of encroaching Nazi Germany.

Director Morris (Michael Cortez) has a moment with actor Arnold (Charles Sohn) in AJTC’s “Dreyfus in Rehearsal” (Photo: Mark Gluckman)

Those fond of finding modern-day parallels will surely discover them. Many are noted in Adam Gopnik’s “The Trial of the Century” in The New Yorker. It’s a review of Loius Begley’s 2009 book titled “Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters.”

“Dreyfus in Rehearsal” is directed by Ben Tyler, who has directed several shows in the Valley and serves as executive director of the Centennial Theatre Foundation, which funds and develops new works that reflect “the unique, diverse qualities of Arizona and its people.”

Arizona Jewish Theatre Company was founded “to preserve and enhance Jewish culture, by producing quality plays which reflect the Jewish experience” but welcomes diverse actors and audience members. May we all be mindful of what’s happening just around the corner.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about Albert Dreyfus, here to read a review of a 2009 production of “Dreyfus in Rehearsal” at the Beckett Theater in NYC, and here to learn more about Arizona Jewish Theatre Company’s fundraising efforts. Or click here to watch a brief YouTube preview of the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company production.

Coming up: Ed Asner talks autism, arts, education and advocacy

Update: Click here for news of a Roman Polanski film focusing on the Dreyfus Affair. 5/10/12

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