Tag Archives: Jewish theater

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.

Lynn

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

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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.”