Tag Archives: John Paul Theatre

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.”


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

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

Theater flair minus holiday fare

It’s easy to find holiday-theme fare this time of year, but plenty of folks are searching for other options. If you enjoy live performance but want a break from all the shiny tinsel and twinkling lights, consider some of these theater offerings:

Chandler-Gilbert Community College Performing Arts presents the musical “Chess” through Sat, Dec. 3. It’s rarely performed in the Valley, so this is a rare opportunity to enjoy a local production. The final show is at 7:30pm tonight. www.cgc.edu/arts.

Theater League presents “Wizard of Oz,” a touring production touting lots of special effects, Dec. 6 & 7 at the Mesa Arts Center and Dec. 8-11 at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix. Ten Valley students from Greasepaint Youtheatre are performing as Munchkins. www.theaterleague.com.

Queen Creek Performing Arts Center presents “Glee” for a single performance on Fri, Dec. 9. It’s the tale of a high school teacher who tries to reinvent his school’s glee club. www.qcpac.com.

Cast members from Fiddler on the Roof, Jr. by Arizona Jewish Theatre Company

Arizona Jewish Theatre Company presents the Curtain Call Youth Theatre production of “Fiddler on the Roof, Jr.” (a shortened version of the classic musical) Dec. 10 & 11 at the John Paul Theatre at Phoenix College. www.azjewishtheatre.org.

Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale presents a Children’s Theatre production of “Annie, Jr.” through Dec. 18. Though set in NYC during the Christmas season, it’s a tale with broad appeal beyond the holiday season. www.desertstages.org.

Childsplay presents “Lyle the Crocodile” through Sat, Dec. 24 at Tempe Center for the Arts. True, you’ll encounter some holiday fanfare as Lyle visits the Primm family during Christmas in NYC, but most kids know Lyle from books that find Lyle in bathtubs and other everyday places. www.childsplayaz.org.

ASU Gammage presents “Stomp,” an energetic blend of creative percussion and contemporary dance, Dec. 28-31 in Tempe. It’s a great choice for families with young boys who balk at traditional musical theater fare. www.asugammage.com.

For a comprehensive list of “On Stage” offerings for families, check out Raising Arizona Kids in print or online.

— Lynn

Note: If you have a family-friendly event to share with our readers, please visit the calendar section of the Raising Arizona Kids website to learn how you can submit calendar items for print and online listings.

Coming up: Lemonade for grown-ups

Plays on Jewish identity

See Josh Kornbluth perform at the Herberger Theater Center through Sunday

Valley audiences have two chances this month to explore issues of Jewish identity through the medium of performance art — as two plays take to Phoenix stages.

First, “Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?” presented by Actors Theatre through this Sunday at the Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix.

It’s a reflection by playwright and monologist Josh Kornbluth on a series of Andy Warhol prints that caused quite a stir when first exhibited in 1980.

The prints feature ten prominent Jews of the 20th century– including Franz Kafka, Gertrude Stein, Martin Buber, Albert Einstein, Louis Brandeis, George Gershwin, Golda Meir, Sarah Bernhardt, Sigmund Freud and the Marx brothers.

Kornbluth’s show is described as “an irreverent mix of autobiography, music, philosophy and improvisation.” It’s “a wide-ranging meditation on art and religion” that recounts, in non-liner fashion, how Kornbluth’s discovery of his own “Jewishness” was fueled by Warhol’s work.

Tickets for remaining performances are available for just $15, making this one of the best theater values in town. Perhaps Kornbluth’s musings will even inspire you to discover your own “artistness.”

See Michael Kary, Ben Tyler and Andrea Dovner perform with Arizona Jewish Theatre Company starting March 24 (Photo: Mark Gluckman)

Second, “My Name is Asher Lev” by the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company presented March 24-April 3 at the John Paul Theatre on the campus of Phoenix College.

“My name is “Asher Lev,” by Aaron Posner, is based on a novel of the same name authored by Chaim Potok. It’s the story of a young Hassidic painter in New York City who’s torn between his observant Jewish community and his need to create.”

Themes include beauty, truth, ambition and tradition. Plus “difficult choices” — between “art and faith” as well as “passion and family.”

Both works consider what it means to be Jewish and what it means to be an artist — but by vastly different means. Seeing both, I think, presents a rare opportunity to explore the diversity and depth of modern-day storytelling.

— Lynn

Note: When you visit the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company website, be sure and check out information on their summer theater camps for youth. With any luck at all, Kornbluth will decide to do a summer camp for grown-ups.

Coming up: That’s absurd!

The big bad musical

Have you been turning to television rather than theater to get your forensics fix? Bones. CSI. Dexter. All feature some fascinating whodunits.

But the most intriguing case yet can’t be seen on any screen. It’s coming to the stage, right here in our own neck of the, well, woods.

It’s a case involving the “Big Bad Wolf,” who’s facing trial to determine whether he’s guilty of eating both “Little Red Riding Hood” and her grandmother.

How delightful to ponder a crime scene not riddled with bullets, crawling with clue-carrying bugs or taken over by high tech laser beam technology.

No Ford Bronco chases. No Nancy Grace commentary. No disturbing violence set to tacky pop tunes.

Just good old-fashioned fun…

Arizona Jewish Theatre Company presents the first of two summer camp productions by Curtain Call, their educational youth theater division for children and teens, on Thursday, July 1 at Greasepaint Youtheatre (formerly Stagebrush Theatre) in Scottsdale.

“The Big Bad Musical,” featuring the trial of the “Big Bad Wolf,” will be performed at 3pm and 7pm that day only, but matinee-goers need to stay mum lest evening patrons learn ahead of time of the jury’s verdict.

Admission is free, but donations—which go to the company’s scholarship fund—are always welcome.

Their second summer camp session (which runs July 6-30) also will present a final show (titled “Adventures of a Comic Book Artist”) and there’s still time for interested youth to enroll.

Janet Arnold, producing director for Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, recommends that folks check their website regularly for updates since they have plenty of other programs and performances in the works.

The tech-savvy among you can visit “AJTC Curtain Call” on Facebook to learn of upcoming auditions, productions and more.

Arizona Jewish Theatre Company will be doing youth productions Dec 11-12 and May 7-8 at their new performance venue, the John Paul Theatre at Phoenix College, though specific shows have yet to be announced.

Arnold describes the campus theater as “lovely” but also shared when asked that the group has just a single item on its “wish list” at this point—a theater home to call their very own.

I put this out there because you never know who might be reading, and it never ever hurts to ask.

Arizona Jewish Theatre Company will present three shows—all Arizona premieres—during their 2010-2011 season, which marks their 23rd season together. Here’s a sneak peek…

“Hard Love” by Motti Lerner, one of Israel’s foremost playwrights, tells the story of the brief marriage of a young ultra-orthodox couple and the decades of aftermath that follow the husband’s decision to abandon religion. Oct 28-Nov 7. Directed by Janet Arnold.

“The Last Schwartz” by Deborah Zoe Laufer is a “comedy on serious themes” that follows the Schwartz family as they gather for what may be the last time at the home of their recently deceased parents. Feb 3-13. Directed by Ben Tyler.

“My name is Asher Lev” by Aaron Posner, based on the Chaim Potok novel, considers the plight of a young Hassidic artist torn between his need to create and the traditions of his community. March 24-April 3. Directed by Layne Racowsky.

I’ve no doubt that many of you could easily make the leap from the title of this post to some of your most-hated musicals.

Go there if you must, but remember this too…

Arizona Jewish Theatre Company affords you the opportunity to discover some new best-loved plays.

Plus, being spotted at the theater can be an ever-so-convincing alibi.


Update: The Arizona Jewish Theatre Company’s “All Rights Reserved Teen Improv Troupe” is holding auditions on Thurs, Sept 16, 2010 in the Social Hall at Congregation Beth Israel (Shea & 56th St.). Auditions, for 13-18 years olds, begin at 7pm. To schedule an appointment time, please call 602-264-0402.

Note: You also can support Arizona Jewish Theatre Company by attending a “fun-raiser” on Thursday, July 1, at Sweet Tomatoes restaurant at The Pavilions in Scottsdale (9029 E. Indian Bend Rd.). 15% of proceeds from theater supporters who dine there between 4pm and 9pm that day will go to the theater.

Coming up: More fun with fairy tales as a community theater in the West Valley presents “Into the Woods” and more

The Secret Garden

I first saw “The Secret Garden” well over a decade ago while James and I were in New York City. I fell in love with the tender, triumphant story of children and a garden transforming the life of a melancholy man.

I was no less enchanted with “The Secret Garden” when I saw it performed last night by Curtain Call, the educational division of the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, who’ll perform it again today at 2pm at the John Paul Theatre at Phoenix College.

Yes, the sets were smaller (almost child-size)—which is perfect for young actors and audience members. Yes, the actors were less seasoned—to be expected given that they’re still in elementary and middle school. Yes, the costumes and lighting were less elaborate—as are all hometown productions mounted with budgets far smaller than the imaginations of the creative staff.

But this show is big on heart, which is something you can never have too much of. And the actress who plays the contrary yet compassionate Mary Lennox–Elysha Nemeth–is big on talent. I’ll have to revisit her program bio, because I have a sneaking suspicion she may have actually been born on the stage.

While reading the play’s program, I was especially impressed with the diversity of the 15 cast members in terms of schools they attend, other companies they’ve performed with and hobbies outside of acting. It’s great to see new ‘families’ created each time different groups of young performers work together.

The cast of Curtain Call's "The Secret Garden"

Audience members were clearly enamored with the two youngest cast members—who had only to appear on stage with innocent, doe-eyed faces to capture their hearts. I don’t think anything excites a young child about live theater more than seeing other children perform, which is one of many reasons I recommend this production for families.

I recall seeing Greasepaint Youtheatre perform “A Little Princess” at Stagebrush Theatre many years ago. It was my first regional experience with the work of English author and playwright Frances Hodgson Burnett, who you may also remember as the author of “Little Lord Fauntleroy.”

Burnett, born Frances Eliza Hodgson in 1849, lived in both England and the United States—after enduring a childhood pocked by poverty along with her mother and four siblings following her father’s death in 1854. Knowing this going into “The Secret Garden” may give you a deeper appreciation of Burnett’s themes.

We had a bit of fun before the show opened last night, as five young performers sporting matching green T-shirts reading “All Rights Reserved” wowed us with a few improv games created with audience member suggestions of people, places, things and such. It was a truly nifty noun-fest.

The troupe’s director explained beforehand that their improv shows are always “safe and clean,” warning audience members that they’d enjoy a lovely brown paper bag over the head if they strayed from the rules—which had me worried when a gentleman sitting behind me suggested “Tiger Woods” to tee off one of their skits.

If you have yet to discover the little treasure that is Curtain Call with Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, you’ll have plenty of opportunities. “The Secret Garden” plays this afternoon and registration is now open for their summer theatre camp (there are two 4-week sessions). You can learn more at www.azjewishtheatre.org.


Note: “The Secret Garden” performed by Curtain Call/Arizona Jewish Theatre Company is a non-musical version adapted by Tim Kelly and directed by Layne Racowsky. Photo above includes cast members (left to rigth): Alexis Grossman, Colleen Kelly, Marc Goodman, Lyndsey Lathan, Corrine Klapper, Rachell Krell, Amy Rosen, Kaycee Krell, Elysha Nemeth, Scott Rubenstein, Adam Ross, Kimberly Fiock and Logan Reiser (who range in age from 8 to 15). Photo courtesy of Arizona Jewish Theatre Company.

Coming up: Review of Childsplay’s “The BFG”—complete with elaboration on Roald Dahl’s apparent fascination with the effects of carbonated beverages (an observation I owe to my ever-classy 16-year-old daughter Lizabeth), A weekend of dance delights, Mother’s Day shopping ala museum gift shops