October 19, 2018

From a Woman’s Perspective

Left, Susan Merson starring in her play “Tribal Tales,”to be performed July 27. Above, playwright Jenna Zark, whose work “A Body of Water,” will be performed this Sunday.In March, the Jewish Women’s Theatre Project arrived on the Los Angeles scene with a festival of plays by Israeli women. The JWTP is the latest in a plethora of Jewish theaters to crop up in Los Angeles, and, this weekend, it’s back, with a series of staged readings at the Skirball Cultural Center.

“American Jewish Women — Plays for the End of the Century” has a budget of $8,000; the actors and directors are professional (including Stephanie Shroyer, former artistic director of the Pacific Resident Theatre Ensemble); and the playwrights are being flown in from around the country.

The Project aims to debunk stereotypes about Jewish women and strives to highlight heroines who shape their own lives, women who are central protagonists and not merely supporting characters.

Thus, Jenna Zark’s rich, colorful “A Body of Water” (July 20), originally produced by Circle Repertory Theatre in New York, is a trilogy of plays that explores the modern woman’s relationship to ancient ritual. We meet Sandy, who hopes immersing in the mikvah will rekindle her marriage to a non-Jew. We also meet Devi, the Orthodox attendant at the mikvah, who comes to question the exhaustion and unhappiness that has crept into Sandy’s life. Along the way, the characters ask, “What is the nature of a Jewish woman’s identity at the end of the 20th century?”

“The Last Game Show” (Aug. 10), by Lynne Kaufman, introduces two different protagonists: the odd historical couple of Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger. Arendt, of course, was the Jewish philosopher and German refugee who wrote the controversial “Eichmann in Jerusalem: The Banality of Evil.” Heidegger was the famed German philosopher who carried on an affair with Arendt and also joined the Nazi party. In Kaufman’s black comedy, the two are reunited at, of all things, a game show, staged in purgatory, where the stakes are heaven and hell.

Sharyn Abramhoff Shipley’s “Felicity” (Aug. 3), all in blank verse, re-examines “Hamlet,” as Tom Stoppard did in “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.” This time, however, the tale is told from the perspective of women, with men only in small, supporting roles. Specifically, the focus is on Felicity, whose story parallels Hamlet’s, and who must seek her own family revenge.

Susan Merson’s wickedly funny, Rashomon-like murder mystery, “Tribal Tales” (July 27), is the first play to be commissioned by the Jewish Women’s Theatre Project; it’s the first of many, hopes Jan Lewis and her co-founder, Karen Rushfield.

Also in the works is a local playwright contest and a touring production of Nava Semel’s “The Child Behind the Eyes,” which first appeared at the March Israeli festival.

“We don’t mean these staged readings as mere exercises,” Lewis says. “We mean them as a testing ground for full-scale productions.”

You can buy tickets from Theatix at (213) 466-1767 or at the door.