Beauty in simplicity

In a theater landscape deluged by ever flashier design and monstrous displays of technology, a handful of storytellers are finding strength in simplicity. Todd Salovey is among them. His adaptation of Sherri Mandell’s “The Blessing of a Broken Heart,” originally produced at the San Diego Repertory Theatre, is being performed by Arizona Jewish Theatre Company through April 1. And it’s masterful.

Arizona Jewish Theatre Company performs at the John Paul Theatre at Phoenix College, an intimate space perfect for works treating intimate topics like the loss of a child. “The Blessing of a Broken Heart,” directed by Salovey for Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, explores Mandell’s journey from teen to college student, from single woman to wife, from mother of four to mother of three — with dialogue that shares remarkable insights about each stage of life along the way.

The 80-minute production features Lisa Robins, who originated the role of Sherri Mandell. There’s a single set — a large stone edifice with a door that grinds as it slides open or shut, other elements of stone and sand around the edges. At times, slides flash across the central set piece. Family photos. Caves and other landscape elements. Images tied to songs with special meaning for Mandell.

Mandell and her family moved from America to Israel in 1996, a choice eloquently elucidated as “The Blessing of a Broken Heart” unfolds. Her son was one of two 13-year-old boys brutally killed in 2001 while hiking in the Judean desert, and much of the play explores the way Mandell moves forward in the face and embrace of grief. Like many works presented by Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, it gives voice to Jewish experience while capturing shared human experiences with grace and beauty.

Today Mandell is director of The Koby Mandell Foundation Women’s Healing Retreat for Bereaved Mothers and Widows. In keeping with the play’s theme of resilience, Arizona Jewish Theatre Company is presenting “Journeys of Resilience: The Healing Power of the Arts” Mon, March 26 at 7:30pm in collaboration with the Temple Chai Deutsch Family Shalom Center.

The event, described by Arizona Jewish Theatre Company producing artistic director Janet Arnold as “an inspiring and enlightening conversation,” features theater artist Todd Salovey, visual artist Deborah Harris, musician Todd Herzog, actor Lisa Robins and interior designer Barbara Kaplan.

Other participants include Free Arts of Arizona, Stepping Stones of Hope, Jewish Family and Children’s Services and more. I’m told there’s free dessert, but donations of $10.00 are encouraged to help sustain Arizona Jewish Theatre Company. Beauty in simplicity is hard to come by these days, and worthy of support by those who treasure it.

— Lynn

Note: San Diego Repertory Theatre opens its 2012/13 season with “Zoot Suit,” by Luis Valdez, which was part of the 2011/12 ASU Herberger Institute Main Stage season. The season also includes “The Mountaintop” by Katori Hall, a Christmas show by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, a work from Todd Salovey (and a trio of co-writers) and more. Watch here for news of AJTC’s 25th anniversary season coming soon.

Coming up: Curtain Call Youth Theatre performs “Annie Jr.”

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