Tag Archives: Arizona Jewish Theatre Company

Two bundles

I’ve experienced many truly beautiful works of theater brought to life by Arizona Jewish Theatre Company. Most recently, Todd Salovey’s “Blessing of a Broken Heart,” first performed at the San Diego Repertory Theatre. It’s a work based on Sherri Mandell’s book of the same name, which shares the author’s experience of losing a son to a terrorist act in Isreal.

There’s a point in Salovey’s play where Sherri recalls the way she and husband Seth shared the news of Koby’s death with their three other children. I am like a canary in a mine, reflects Sherri. People ask if I’m OK. Jewish tradition says that each person is a world. I have lost a whole world.

I remembered that scene after learning that Arizona Jewish Theatre Company plans to cease operations, after years of struggling to meet economic challenges too deep and wide to overcome. “Since 2008,” says founding producing director Janet Arnold, “our revenue has steadily and rapidly declined.”

In a recent note to supporters, Arnold shared three factors fueling the decision to close — the virtual disappearance of government and corporate support, a decrease in individual contributions and a dwindling audience attributed to shifting performance spaces.

Even the bad, in Jewish thought, deserves blessings. It’s another thought shared by Sherri in the play. I do not bless the bad, continues Sherri. But I understand that light comes from darkness, and that evil exists in the world so that we can choose to do good.

There’s a chasm between the grief of losing a child and losing even the most cherished theater company. Still, I hear bits of Salovey’s script speaking to our community’s loss. G-d does his work with that which is broken. It is when our hearts are broken that G-d sculpts our souls, prodding open the narrow entrances to the caves of our being.

Arizona Jewish Theatre Company produced more than 80 plays in 24 years — reaching thousands of audience members, mentoring hundreds of young performers, employing plenty of theater professionals and giving voice to many new playwrights.

Even while sharing devastating news, they’re looking ahead to new opportunities for Jewish cultural programming in the Valley. Board chair Jay Bycer notes that “Janet is working with the Israel Center to bring in a show in October, and is talking with the Arizona Jewish Historical Society.” Both Bycer and Arnold insist that “there will always be a need for the arts in Jewish life.”

Near the end of Salovey’s “The Blessing of a Broken Heart,” Sherri recalls going to the cave where her son and his best friend were killed. I have learned that everything, she says, even the worst trial, contains sparks of holiness and it is up to us to release these sparks into the world.

Those whose lives have been blessed by Arizona Jewish Theater Company can still show gratitude for their work in the community. They’re asking supporters to make contributions that’ll help pay the non-profit’s “final bills.” They’re also sharing a special todah (thanks) with those whose gifts allowed them to finish out the 2011-12 season.

Salovey’s play includes Sherri’s encounter with a rabbi and his son who’ve emerged from the cave where Koby was killed. The pair enounters an old man carrying two bundles of myrtle branches, asking Why do you carry two bundles? The answer: One bundle is to honor and one is to remember.


Note: Arizona Jewish Theatre Company notes that folks can click here to make a donation. Click here to learn more about Todd Salovey.

Coming up: Horsing around with art, Fun finds for Father’s Day

Update: I’m now blogging as “Stage Mom Musings” at www.stagemommusings.com. Please find and follow me there to continue receiving posts about arts and culture in Arizona and beyond. Thanks for your patience as the tech fairies work to move all 1,250+ posts to the new site. For the latest news follow me on Twitter @stagemommusings. 6/13/12


Art meets Mother’s Day

Treat mom to time and art from the heart this weekend

Lately my kids have taken to asking me, “What do you want for Mother’s Day?” But you can’t buy what I really want in a store — because it’s time. More time on the planet. More time with my children. More time to myself. Hence I’m happy to share several places moms can celebrate with their family or escape for a blissful bit of solitude.

The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix is offering brunch in the Café at MIM, prize giveaways throughout the day and museum tours for Mother’s Day. Kids can make crafts for mom ($2/craft), treat mom to something special from the MIM Museum Store or take mom to an evening concert by jazz pianist Brad Mehldau.

Theatre Artists Studio in Scottsdale is presenting a free “Music & Musings for Mother’s Day” performance featuring popular Broadway tunes and touching stories about moms presented by five studio members with special guests (followed by a champagne reception). Reservations are recommended for the Sun, May 13 at 2pm event (and there’s special seating for “Spring for the Studio” donors of $100 or more).

Arizona Jewish Theatre Company’s Curtain Call performs “Annie Jr.” this weekend

The Children’s Museum of Phoenix is offering free admission to moms and grandmothers who bring a child to the museum on Mother’s Day (they’ll be open from 9am-4pm and kids can make a fun craft for mom). And plenty of theater companies are doing family-friendly shows. Think “Annie Jr.” by Arizona Jewish Theatre Company’s Curtain Call youth theater — and more.

If you’re eager to avoid the Mother’s Day crowds, consider celebrating on Saturday with a stroll though one of Arizona’s many art districts. Folks in and around Gilbert can enjoy the “Emerge” exhibition at Art Intersection (open Tues-Sat 10am-6pm) — which features juried works by emerging photographic artists from Gilbert High School, Chandler-Gilbert Community College and ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Art Intersection is located in the Gilbert Heritage District near plenty of shops with fun fare for moms.

I snagged this flyer while checking out Scottsdale Civic Center Library renovations

Mothers Who Write/Mothers Who Read presents a free public reading by past and present participants in the “Mothers Who Write” workshop led by Amy Silverman of Phoenix New Times and Deborah Sussman of the ASU Art Museum. It’s taking place Sat, May 12 at 2pm at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts (Stage 2), and sponsored by the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. (Please note that some material is not suitable for children. Darn.)

When in doubt about what to give, let mom pick a little something from the gift shop at your favorite museum, performing arts venue or local business that supports the arts. For more family-friendly events and special Mother’s Day offerings with an arts twist, click here to explore the Raising Arizona Kids calendar online.

— Lynn

Note: Always check hours of operation before heading to your favorite venue

Coming up: Art meets wellness, Gilbert art adventures

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.”

That’s what friends are for

Friends Janet Arnold and Ed Asner perform a reading of "Advanced Chemistry" to benefit Arizona Jewish Theatre Company

Like many arts organizations, Arizona Jewish Theatre Company has faced financial challenges in recent years. But executive director Janet Arnold has a friend in renowned actor Ed Asner, who graciously performs here periodically to support Arizona Jewish Theatre Company’s work.

Most recently he treated Valley audiences to a reading of Rich Orloff’s “Advanced Chemistry,” a pair of plays about “love, lust and longevity” at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. The event helped Arizona Jewish Theatre Company raise funds needed to continue their season with “The Blessing of a Broken Heart” — a work they’re dedicating to former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Tucson.

But now it’s Asner who needs our help. Asner has both a son and grandson with autism, and says the issue “really hits me at home.” Asner describes the organizations Autism Speaks as “the main focus of my family’s charitable efforts.”

Will Asner and Charlotte Luckerman in a photo shared by Matthew Asner

Asner’s son Matthew serves as executive director for Autism Speaks in Southern California. “He is on the front lines,” says Asner, “fighting for our kids and others like them.” Ed Asner is eager to both improve the quality of life for children and adults with autism — and to “find a way to stop it.”

Asner has four children. Twins Matthew and Liza Asner, and Katie Luckerman, are in their 40s. Charlie Asner is in his 20s. His oldest grandchild, Jake Asner, is 11 — and the youngest, Charlotte Luckerman, is just two. There’s also Will Asner (age 9), Gabriel Luckerman (age 8), Grant and Helena Asner (7-year-old twins), and Sam Luckerman (age 5).

His passion for supporting families living with autism was clear when we chatted by phone a while back, soon after the American Psychiatric Association released information about proposed criteria for autism spectrum disorders — which Asner and other autism advocates worry will mean less help for individuals and families living with autism.

Jake Asner self-portrait, shared by Matthew Asner

Folks eager to join Asner in fighting for autism research and increased public awareness can donate to Asner’s “Walk Now for Autism Speaks” team — which is participating in the “10th Annual Los Angeles Walk Now for Autism Speaks” on April 21. Or click here to join his “Asner’s Avengers” online.

Those eager to participate on the local level too can support the “Arizona 2012 Walk Now for Autism Speaks” as well. It takes place Oct. 28, and is being presented in partnership with the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center.

Both Autism Speaks and SAARC offer plenty of ongoing opportunities to learn more about autism and ways to support families living autism. SAARC presents a free screening of HBO Film’s Temple Grandin” at Studio Movie Grill in Scottsdale Feb. 21 (click here to register because space is limited).

Walk. Watch. Donate. Volunteer. Write to legislators. Learn more. And listen. That’s what friends are for.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about Arizona Jewish Theatre Company — which is home to Curtain Call Youth Theatre (which holds auditions for “Annie” on March 5) and All Rights Reserved teen improv troupe (which presents a teen improv festival on Feb. 26), plus a variety of special programs and events.

Coming up: Ed Asner talks arts in education, Once upon a peacemaker

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

Comedy meets chemistry

Family dysfunction and senior love/lust make for interesting chemistry during two unique performances coming to Phoenix this week

After learning that playwright Steve Solomon used to teach physics, I decided to ask about similarities between the two crafts. In typical stand-up fashion, he was off and running with a riff about sparks and explosions in his onetime classroom. “I was a fun teacher,” he says.

Seems former students still come to see his shows, which feature an homage of sorts to family dysfunction. His “My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish & I’m in Therapy” opens a Phoenix run this week at the Herberger Theater Center. It’ll feature actor, comedian and impressionist Ron Tobin.

Solomon did the one-man show himself until demand outpaced his powers to get from place to place. Last year, he did about 200 of the 300-plus shows featuring this work or one of its variations. “We’re in South Africa now,” he says, “and we’ll probably be in Israel and Australia by the middle of the year.”

I say we clone all the good comedians and stick the rest of them in a closet. Solomon shares my take on comedy trending towards the rude and crude. “Most comedy clubs,” he says, “are a little too crude and coarse for me.”

Comedians are born rather than made, according to Solomon, who says he’s been at it since the age of two. Once he got a bit older, Solomon liked to trick his mom by imitating her father’s voice on the phone.

Growing up in Brooklyn, Solomon discovered that folks were reticent to open the front door for Chinese take-out unless he voiced a Chinese dialect. Seems his fondness for using diverse voices, accents and dialogues — something shared by one of Solomon’s two grown children — has turned into a rather lucrative career.

Solomon tells me he and his daughter used to walk around NYC pretending to be Russian immigrants who didn’t know English, and were pleasantly suprised at all the helpful types they encountered.

“There are about 20 voices we use in the show,” he says. Solomon says he looks for performers like Tobin who make people feel they’re actually hearing lots of different people rather than watching someone trying to sound like lots of different people.

The show is best appreciated, he tells me, by folks 40-ish and up. Younger audiences sometimes lament that “the jokes are old.” His response? “I wrote those jokes.” Solomon’s in his mid-fifties and readily admits younger crowds don’t always get it. “Kids who see it have trouble relating to it.”

Still, he’s generous in sharing advice with aspiring young comedians. “Don’t stop,” he tells them. “Do it any moment, any time — even if your family is annoyed.” There’s a twist, he says, that makes comedians see the world differently. Hence his belief that he can teach a comedian to be an actor, but not the other way around.

Ed Asner performs Advanced Chemistry Tuesday night to benefit Arizona Jewish Theatre Company

Turns out a remarkable actor with a gift for both comedy and drama will be in the Valley Tuesday night for a fundraiser benefiting Arizona Jewish Theatre Company. Ed Asner, whose voice-over performance in the film “Up” is among my son’s favorite film memories, performs a reading of “Advanced Chemistry” Jan. 17 at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix.

“Advanced Chemistry,” written by New Yorker Rich Orloff, looks at “love and lust among the senior crowd.” This production is being directed by Dan Schay, who served until recently as managing director for Phoenix Theatre. Orloff will attend the reading, and join Asner after for a short Q & A session. Then they’ll hit a post-show reception complete with complimentary drinks and dessert for those who’ve purchased VIP tickets to the event.

Asner is “the only actor ever to win Emmy Awards for playing the same character in both a comedy and a dramatic series,” according to his bio on The Museum of Broadcast Communication’s website. We all remember him as Lou Grant on both “The Mary Tyler Moore” show and its “Lou Grant” spin-off. He’ll be joined on stage Tuesday night by Janet Arnold, producing artistic director for Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, and Jenn Taber.

Asner’s long and diverse list of credits includes eight television series, two television miniseries, more than three dozen made-for-television movies and more than twenty films. Broadway fans can enjoy his performance as “Pop” in the 1993 “Gypsy” film starring Bette Midler.

Asner hails from Kansas City, attended college and made his professional stage debut in Chicago, and made his way to Hollywood in 1961. He’s earned five Golden Globe Awards, seven Emmy Awards and served as president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1981-1985.

During the course of just a few days, you can enjoy acting, playwriting and comedic genius. No lab coat required.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for “Advanced Chemistry” ticket information and here for “My Father’s Italian, My Mother’s Jewish and I’m in Therapy” ticket information.

Coming up: Rock & roll for a cause

A delightful detour

Detour Company Theatre was founded in 2000 to “provide quality and authentic arts education and performance opportunities for adults with developmental and other challenges, including deafness, blindness, and autism.”

I learned about Detour from Susan Silverman, director of the classical ballet program at Dance Theater West and artistic director for Story Book Ballet Theater (both in Phoenix). Story Book Ballet Theater collaborates in performance with Detour Company Theater, Free Arts of Arizona and Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

Detour’s founder and artistic director, who goes by simply “Sam,” holds an M.F.A. in theatre from ASU — and is currently working with more than forty five performers and “coaches” who blend story, music and dance as their work together builds confidence and self-esteem.

I attended Tuesday night’s rehearsal for their next show — a musical review featuring songs from shows performed during the last decade. Think “The Wizard of Oz,” “Oklahoma,” “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown,” “Grease,” “Guys and Dolls” and more. Then check out a few rehearsal photos — featuring cast members, coaches, interpreters and director Sam — below…

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The rehearsal was held at the John Paul Theatre on the Phoenix College campus, which you’re already familiar with if you attend Arizona Jewish Theatre Company productions. Turns out Detour is actually performing two shows at the John Paul Theatre this month.

“Into the Woods,” their first production featuring Detour actors as well as Detour coaches, opens Thurs., Jan. 5 and is also being performed Jan. 7, 8, 13 & 14. “Some of Our Best,” which sounded amazing during Tuesday’s rehearsal, runs Jan. 6-8, 12 & 14. There’s no cost to attend because the company has a “free for all, donate as you can policy.”

Detour recommends making reservations on their website or by calling 480-538-0874 so you’ll be assured a seat. To learn more, visit them online at detourcompanytheatre.org.

— Lynn

Coming up: The fine art of costumes, Learning from the masters

Photos: Lynn Trimble