Calendar Picks and Clicks: Dec. 15-21, 2012


“Voices and Visions” 

Connecting Jewish thought, art and people, this exhibition at the Skirball features artworks that pair contemporary Jewish artists with past and present Jewish thinkers, including Hillel, Maimonides and Susan Sontag. The project aims to inspire reflection, conversation and a deeper connection to Jewish values, as renowned artists and designers Milton Glaser, Arnold Schwartzman, Carin Goldberg and others interpret and graphically transform the words of Jewish luminaries into striking images. Through March 17. Sat. $10 (general), $7 (seniors, full-time students), $5 (children 2-12). Free. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.



“El Idish”

Celebrate Yiddish culture in Argentina with an afternoon of film, song, dance and food. The festivities include music by the Modern Yiddish Tango Trio and clarinetist Gustavo Bulgach, a tango demonstration by Karen Goodman, Chanukah empanadas and Argentine wine. Miri Koral, CEO at the California Institute for Yiddish Culture and Language (CIYCL), introduces “Sowing Wheat — Reaping Doctors,” a multimedia presentation. The event kicks off the CIYCL’s 2012-2013 series on contemporary Yiddish culture. Sun. 4 p.m. $12 (general), $10 (CIYCL and Santa Monica Synagogue members), $5 (students). Santa Monica Synagogue, 1448 18th St., Santa Monica. (310) 745-1190.

Chanukah Music Festival

The City of West Hollywood hosts a Chanukah Music Festival at Plummer Park featuring Kol Sephardic Choir and Flamenco Dancers. Including singers from Los Angeles and Orange counties, Kol Sephardic Choir will perform a repertoire consisting of Sephardic Romanceros sung in Ladino and liturgical/religious songs in Hebrew with Sephardic melodies. Sun. 4-5:30 p.m. Free (guests will receive a CD with $20 donation). Plummer Park, Fiesta Hall, 7377 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 557-1096.

“Kosher Lust” 

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, television and radio host and author of the international best-seller “Kosher Sex,” opines on one of his favorite topics: relationships. Appearing at the West Coast Torah Center, he examines the importance of building marriage on covetousness, rather than romance. Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, director of Jewlicious Festivals, moderates. Sun. 7 p.m. $10. West Coast Torah Center, 322 N. Foothill Road, Beverly Hills. (310) 277-5544.



“The Rabbi’s Cat”

Set in 1930s Algiers, this animated adaptation of the beloved series by French comic-book artist Joann Sfar tells the story of a widowed rabbi, his beautiful daughter and a cat that swallows the family parrot and gains the ability to speak. Philosophical, skeptical and lustful, the cat insists he wants a bar mitzvah and, joined by the rabbi, embarks on a journey in search of Jerusalem. Sfar co-directs. French animated feature “The Painting” as well as short films “Dripped” and “Tram” also screen. Sun. 8 p.m. $13 (general), $11 (students). Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 260-1528.



OU West Coast Torah Convention

The Orthodox Union’s (OU) West Coast 22nd annual Torah Convention explores “The Quest for Spirituality.” Tonight, Rabbi Jacob Schacter of Yeshiva University delivers the keynote address, “The Quest for Spirituality — Timeless Challenge: Contemporary Solutions,” followed by a panel discussion featuring Rabbi Meyer May, executive director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and David Suissa, president of TRIBE Media Corp/Jewish Journal. Other events include scholars-in-residence at OU-member synagogues on Shabbat morning, a Shabbat luncheon at Pat’s, and the Dr. Beth Samuels Memorial Lectures on Sunday, featuring Rebbetzin Yael Weil and Rebbetzin Aviva Tessler. Thu. Through Dec. 23. Various times and locations.



“The Guilt Trip” 

An inventor (Seth Rogen) hits the road with his mother (Barbra Streisand) on a quest to sell his latest invention. “The Guilt Trip” is based on a real trip screenwriter Dan Fogelman took with his mother. Co-stars include Adam Scott, Colin Hanks and Brett Cullen. Fri. Various times, prices and locations.

My Jerusalem 

Blending nice Jewish boy Jeff Klein’s upbringing with his inclination for bruised rock anthems, Austin, Texas-based quintet My Jerusalem recently released its sophomore album, “Preachers,” which songwriter Klein describes as “post-modern Southern gothic soul.” Appearing at Hollywood venue the Fonda Theatre, My Jerusalem opens tonight for L.A. punk rockers X during the famed group’s “X-mas 2012.” Fri. 9 p.m. $32. Fonda Theatre, 6126 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 464-6269.

Calendar Picks and Clicks: Oct. 27–Nov 2, 2012


“Seeds of Resiliency”

Documentarian Susan Polis Schutz’s new film introduces us to 12 diverse people who have survived tragedies and challenges by having hope and helping others, including a Holocaust survivor who believes that “the worst can bring out the best in us,” a man who escaped war-torn Uganda and now assists other refugees, and a Korean professor who became a quadriplegic but does not consider himself unfortunate. Sat. Various times. $5. Laemmle’s Music Hall 3, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. Laemmle’s Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (310) 478-3836.


“Midrashic Mirrors”

An art exhibition and panel discussion marks the completion of “Midrashic Mirrors: Creating Holiness in Imagery and Intimacy,” a book project developed by a group of female artists and writers at Temple Israel of Hollywood, which illustrates how the creative process animates the nexus between Torah and our personal lives. A wine, cheese and dessert reception kicks off the festivities, followed by a walk-through of the installation. Afterward, Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh facilitates a discussion with the project’s authors and artists. The event concludes with a first-edition book signing and sale, with proceeds benefiting Temple Israel’s education scholarships. Sun. 3-6 p.m. Free. Temple Israel of Hollywood, 7300 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 876-8330.

Propositions Party

Are you confused about the propositions? Temple Kol Tikvah holds a nonpartisan forum for California voters to learn about of the issues on the Nov. 6 ballot. Speakers present the pro and con positions on all 11 of the state propositions, which include tax initiatives to fund schools, labeling of genetically modified food, three-strikes reform, an end to the death penalty and increased penalties for human trafficking. Sun. 3-6 p.m. Free. Temple Kol Tikvah, 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 348-0670.

“Unbroken Spirit”

Former Soviet refusenik Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich, who at the age of 22 attempted to hijack a plane to the West to raise awareness about the desperate plight of Soviet Jews, discusses and signs the newly released English translation of his memoir, “Unbroken Spirit: A Heroic Story of Faith, Courage, and Survival.” Sun. 7 p.m. Free (reservations required). Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 553-8403.


“Jewish Values and the 2012 Ballot”

IKAR’s Rabbi Sharon Brous and Rabbi Ronit Tsadok, American Jewish University’s Rabbi Aryeh Cohen and leaders of social justice organization Bend the Arc discuss the November ballot initiatives through a Jewish lens, addressing what Jewish tradition says about the death penalty, criminal justice and income equality. Mon. 7:30 p.m. Free. Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 634-1870, (323) 761-8350.,


Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

Conductor Zubin Mehta leads the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in a performance of Schubert’s Symphony No. 3, Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Brahms’ Symphony
No. 1. Pianist Yuja Wang also appears. Tue. 8 p.m. $47-$156. Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 850-2000.


“Rita in Concert: A Celebration of My Roots”

Israel’s diva reconnects with her Iranian roots and brings a world-music experience to UCLA as part of her U.S. tour. Rita performs selections from her latest album, “My Joys,” which features contemporary renditions of classic Iranian songs, blending Tel Aviv-inspired club music, pop and gypsy sounds with Farsi lyrics. Sponsored by the Iranian American Jewish Federation. Thu. 7:30 p.m. $35-$200. UCLA campus, Royce Hall, 240 Royce Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 825-2101.

Pete Wilson and Gray Davis

Former Govs. Wilson and Davis discuss Propositions 30 and 38, initiatives on the November election ballots that promise to raise additional money for K-12 education and community colleges. Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles and Journal columnist, moderates. Thu. 7:30 p.m. Free. Stephen S. Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles.


2012 Kindertransport Association Conference

The Kindertransport Association, a nonprofit that unites children Holocaust refugees of the Kindertransport rescue movement with their descendants, hosts “Generation to Generation: Honoring the Legacy, Transforming the Future,” a three-day biennial international gathering. Workshops and speakers explore the legacy of the Kindertransports, a rescue movement that took place on the eve of World War II and saved nearly 10,000 German, Austrian and Czech children. Fri. 7 p.m. Through Nov. 4. $330 (Kindertransport Association members), $370 (general). Includes two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners, programs and complimentary shuttle from John Wayne International Airport. Hotel registration: $99 per night (single or double occupancy). Irvine Marriott Hotel, 18000 Van Karman Ave., Irvine. (516) 938-6084.

Calendar Picks and Clicks: Oct. 13-19, 2012



11th Annual Daniel Pearl World Music Days

Dedicated to the life and memory of journalist Daniel Pearl, this October music month features concerts across the globe, including today’s performance of “Songs of Salomone Rossi: Harmony for Humanity” by Tesserae at Contrapuntal Recital Hall in Brentwood. Other concerts include Ray Dewey (Oct. 16); Chabad-hosted Hakafot (Oct. 20); the Phil Ranelin Jazz Ensemble (Oct. 21); the Kadima String Quartet (Oct. 24 & 28); the UCLA Philharmonia (Oct. 25); the Daniel Pearl Magnet High School Choir (Oct. 26); Cantor Ruti Braier, the Orange County Wind Ensemble and conductor William Nicholls (Oct. 26); the Harmony Project and the West Los Angeles Branch of the Music Student Services League (Oct. 28); Yuval Ron, Russell Steinberg, Mitchell Newman and Hazzan Mike Stein (Oct. 29); and Conductor Noreen Green of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony, Cantor Magda Fishman and Cantor Marcus Feldman (Oct. 30). Through Oct. 31. For information about other Daniel Pearl World Music Days performances, visit


30 Years After Civic Action Conference

The Iranian-American Jewish group’s third biennial conference explores the imperative of civic participation and community leadership from the Iranian-American Jewish community. Speakers include Ambassador Dennis Ross, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Consul General of Israel David Siegel and former U.N. Ambassador Mark Wallace, the current CEO of United Against Nuclear Iran. The daylong conference will include a mayoral candidates forum; an organizational fair; and sessions on the future of the Middle East, Jewish life in Los Angeles, Israel and Iran, activism, political action and philanthropy. Sun. 9:30 a.m. (opening plenary), 7 p.m. (keynote gala dinner). $150 (includes glatt kosher breakfast, lunch, cocktail reception, community organization fair and gala dinner). Millennium Biltmore Hotel, 506 S. Grand Ave., downtown.


“Battle for Our Minds”

Michael Widlanski, a specialist in Arab politics and communication, appears in person to discuss his new book, “Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat,” and why America and the Jewish people remain prime targets of terrorists. A book signing follows. Tue. 7 p.m. Free (reservations required). Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 553-8403.


“Deeply Rooted” and “Photographic Visions of the Diaspora”

An artists’ reception celebrates two exhibitions opening at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. “Deeply Rooted” explores the connection between the two primordial trees in the Garden of Eden while “Photographic Visions of the Diaspora” highlights the once-vibrant but rapidly fading world of Jewish shopkeepers. Wed. 5-7 p.m. (reception). Through Dec. 14 (“Deeply Rooted”). Through May 31 (“Photographic Visions”). Free. Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, 3077 University Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 765-2106.

Mayoral Candidates Forum

Los Angeles mayoral candidates Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti, L.A. City Council member Jan Perry and L.A. City Controller Wendy Greuel discuss their positions on issues facing Los Angeles and participate in a Q-and-A with the audience. A meet-and-greet reception featuring local representatives within the public and private sectors precedes the candidates’ forum. Light refreshments served. Organized by Temple Isaiah’s Isaiah Continuing Enrichment program. Wed. 6-7 p.m. (meet and greet), 7:30-9 p.m. (mayoral candidates forum). Free. Temple Isaiah, 10345 W. Pico  Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 277-2772.


“The Other Son”

French-Jewish writer-director Lorraine Le-
vy’s family drama follows two young men — one Israeli, the other Palestinian — who discover that they were accidentally switched at birth. The revelation turns the lives of the two families upside down, forcing them to reassess their respective identities, values and beliefs. Thu. 7:30 p.m. $10. Laemmle Town Center, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (213) 368-1661.


“Simon and the Oaks” 

Swedish director Lisa Ohlin’s epic drama portrays the situation of Jews in Sweden during World War II. Spanning the years 1939 to 1952, the film follows Simon, an intellectually gifted boy from a working-class family in Gothenburg who attends an upper-class grammar school. Soon he meets Isak, the son of a wealthy Jewish bookseller who has fled Nazi persecution in Germany. When Simon’s family takes in Isak, the boys’ households merge and connect in unexpected ways. Fri. Various times. $13 (general), $10 (matinees, seniors, children). Landmark Theatres, 10850 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-6291.

An X-Mas Like No Other

“The sun is shining, the grass is green, the orange and palm trees sway. There’s never been such a day in Beverly Hills, L.A. But it’s December the 24th, and I am longing to be up north.”

While it isn’t likely the above stanza sparks many memories, the next line should: “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas.”

Bing Crosby’s popular version of the song — introduced in “Holiday Inn” (1942) and later sung in “White Christmas” (1954) — cut out the satirical introduction.

The nonreligious holiday song, written in 1940 by Russian Jewish immigrant Irving Berlin (né Izzy Baline), the son of Orthodox Jews, was the best-selling record of all time for more than 50 years.

Ironically, the song was written as a sort of parody to the nostalgic type of Christmas song that “White Christmas” eventually became, according to Jody Rosen, author of “White Christmas: The Story of an American Song” (Scribner, 2002).

This year, despite our city’s lack of snow, Los Angeles will get a white Christmas when the musical — based on “a Russian-born cantor’s son’s ode to a Christian American holiday,” as Rosen puts it — opens at the Pantages Theatre. The show is simultaneously premiering here, in Boston and San Francisco, with no plans yet to mount a national tour.

As in the movie, the stage version tells of two Army buddies/entertainers who have to save a snow-starved Vermont inn run by their former general. At the same time, the duo falls in love with a pair of singing sisters. David Ogden Stiers of the TV show, “M*A*S*H*,” heads back to the barracks in the role of the general.

The new 1950s-looking musical is sort of a love letter to Berlin, with songs from the film, like “Blue Skies” and “Count Your Blessings,” plus gems added with permission from the Berlin estate, like “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” and “Happy Holidays.”

While at first glance, “White Christmas” might look Christian, Berlin’s timeless homage to glistening treetops is really about winter — and a longing for a more innocent time where the right lyric could work magic.

“White Christmas: The Musical” plays through Jan. 1 at Hollywood’s Pantages Theatre. For more information, visit

Pinter’s Plays Give Voice to the Victims

Provocative, ambiguous, biting, subtle, Harold Pinter, who has just been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, is one of the major playwrights of the English language and the author of 29 plays and two dozen film scripts. He is also one of the most political of writers, with an overriding concern for social justice and an abhorrence of fascism, authoritarianism and brutality. His plays deal with power and powerlessness, dominance and subservience, resistance to authority, doublethink, hypocrisy and the perversion of language.

Pinter is a strong opponent of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. He is critical of the Israeli government’s attitude toward Palestinian refugees and has protested outside the Israeli Embassy against the solitary confinement of Mordechai Vanunu for revealing Israel’s nuclear capability. In earlier times, he spoke out on U.S. policy in Central America and against NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia.

His politics come out of the searing experiences of being a Jew in the period of World War II. Pinter was born in 1930 in Jewish East London, the son of a tailor, Jack Pinter, and Frances Moskowitz, whose parents immigrated to England from Poland and Odessa (Ukraine) at the turn of the century. Both grandfathers were in the garment trade; his father’s side was Orthodox, his mother’s secular. He celebrated his bar mitzvah, but then ended all connections with religion. He told biographer Michael Billington, “I felt both Jewish and not Jewish, which in a way remains the case.” (Except where noted, the quotes in this article are from Billington’s biography, “The Life and Work of Harold Pinter,” [Faber and Faber, 1996].)

He has a curiously conflictive attitude toward his Jewishness. In an e-mail exchange, Pinter declined to be interviewed. I had sent him, by way of introducing my own political concerns, an article about former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s support for the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. He replied:

“Dear Ms. Komisar,

Thank you very much indeed for sending me your article about Kissinger. I thought it terrific. As you know we’re very much on the same side.

I don’t really want to discuss the Jewish influences on my work so I’ll have to say no to that, but I send you my very best wishes and hope we’ll meet some day.

Yours sincerely, Harold Pinter.”

In fact, it appears that a Jewish consciousness forged in his youth was tied to a sense of outrage at injustice, which expanded to concerns about universal repression. Anti-Semitism was as rife in postwar London as before, and Pinter and his friends had confrontations with fascist gangs (once they were threatened by thugs with bike chains and broken milk bottles, but they escaped). He would say later, “We’d just fought for six bloody years to defeat, at the cost of millions of people, the Nazis, and yet the government allowed these groups of fascists to congregate in the East End of London and beat people up.”

The experience led to a cynicism about politicians and the hypocrisy of government and deepened his abiding hatred of fascism.

He was quick to challenge anti-Semites. In the 1950s, he heard a man at a London bar declare, “Hitler didn’t go far enough. That’s the big problem.” After a verbal altercation, Pinter hit him, and they ended up in a police station. Pinter later explained that he’d hit the man “because he wasn’t just insulting me, he was insulting lots of other people. He was insulting people who were dead, people who had suffered…. My fury with him came from some part of my being which I didn’t consciously analyze or think about.”

In “The Room” (1956), there’s an odd line when the landlord, Mr. Kidd, says, “I think my mum was a Jewess. Yes, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that she was a Jewess. She didn’t have many babies.”

Asked by this writer in an e-mail what that meant, Pinter declined to say. When pressed on the point, he turned our correspondence over to his assistant.

In the play, the elderly Rose and her husband, Bert, live in solitary fashion in one room, which is visited by a young couple who lay claim to it. A mysterious blind, black occupant of the basement, who has been waiting to speak to Rose, arrives and tells her, “Your father wants you to come home.”

Pinter says he is a messenger, a savior trying to release Rose from her imprisonment in the room and the restriction of life with Bert, inviting her to come back to her spiritual home. Is that Jewish?

Among his most prominent works, “The Homecoming” (1965) raises sensitive issues for Pinter, who decries reviewers’ attempts to give it a Jewish interpretation, although it was inspired by the story of his boyhood friend, Morris Wernick, who secretly married a non-Jew in 1956 and immigrated to Canada without telling his father. As in the play, he returned with his family years later to tell his father the truth.

His frequent mix of the personal and political is evident in “Ashes to Ashes” (1996), a searing play wherein a faculty wife mixes personal and race memories. A lover who asserted power over her and the workers in his factory reminds her of the Nazis’ brutalization of their captives. Pinter was inspired to write the play, which probes both political and personal fascism, by a biography of Albert Speer, who built and ran the Nazi slave labor system.

Rebecca and Devlin live in a comfortable country house in a university town outside London. Haunted by barbaric acts, she identifies with the victims of mistreatment and violence. She tells Devlin of an abusive lover who ordered her to kiss his fist and then choked her, and goes on to describe a surreal memory:

“An old man and a little boy were walking down the street with a suitcase, the woman was following with a baby in arms, the street was icy. When I got to the railroad station, other people were there, the man I’d given my heart to… I watched him walk down the platform and tear all the babies from the arms of their screaming mothers.”

But is it a real experience or a historical memory? The play is an enigmatic cry of rage against the brutality of Nazism, a vision of personal distress wherein one is never sure where fantasy stops and reality begins.

The importance of Pinter recognized by the Nobel Committee has been to speak for the victims of repression of any era who could not speak for themselves.

Lucy Komisar, a New York-based journalist whose articles on international affairs have appeared in The Progressive, The Village Voice and The Toronto Star, is writing a book about offshore banks and corporate secrecy.


Actor’s Missing Dad Takes Center Stage

In his raw, autobiographical monologue, “Who Is Floyd Stearn?” actor Michael Raynor struts onstage with a swagger reminiscent of James Caan. Raynor, playing himself, jabs a finger at a faded photograph.

The photo was taken on 185th Street in Queens, on his grandmother’s lawn. In the photo, an athletic, brawny man embraces a 3-year-old. The man is Raynor’s father, Floyd Stearn. The smiling boy is young Michael, who clutches a toy banjo, his blond bangs peeking out from a cowboy hat.

Raynor tells the audience that, even at 40, he cannot discuss the photo; should anyone pressure him, he angrily departs.

“Every time I see the picture I cry,” he adds quietly. “That’s why I can’t look at it. I see the happiness in my face, and it scares me. I’m hoping it won’t go away.”

His father’s sudden departure at age 7 cost him much happiness for years, and this macho-yet-tender one-man show is Raynor’s attempt to re-connect with his father and to understand the man who abandoned him.

The 2004 off-Broadway success is among a slate of recent plays to explore dysfunctional Jewish families in crisis, notably Tony Kushner’s Broadway musical, “Caroline, or Change,” which had a run in Los Angeles late last year. Raynor’s piece is a “Rashomon”-style mystery, with the actor portraying himself at various ages, as well as his mother and grandparents, who offer conflicting theories about his late father.

Was Stearn a nice Jewish boy who loved his children, but was kowtowed by a hostile ex-wife and a domineering second spouse? Or was he a heartless deadbeat who sent Michael birthday cards with no return address signed by himself, his new wife and children?

Because his relatives were tight-lipped, all Raynor knew until five years ago was that Stearn had been a burly jock.

Of his penchant for Caan, he says: “I looked for my dad in tough Jew father figures in films, like Caan, Kirk Douglas and John Garfield. I emulated the qualities I imagined my father might have had.”

In fact, the actor arrives at an interview on the Westside with that Caan-esque saunter and the tough-but-senitive guy persona he projects onstage.

At 18, he said, he adopted his stepfather’s surname, because he had been more a father to Raynor than Stearn. But Stearn’s absence continued to wreak havoc in his life. In relationships, he says, he was “programmed to disconnect,” cutting off friends and girlfriends “to create perceived emotional safety.”

Because arguments over child support, in part, had kept his father from him, financial concerns haunted Raynor. Though he had played the leads in his Jewish summer camp plays, he did not initially pursue theater, because he worried that actors lived hand-to-mouth. Instead, he worked in the financial field, on the floor of the commodities market, until he finally accepted a role in an off-off Broadway play in his late 20s.

Also in his 20s, Raynor received a notice of disinheritance, stating that his father had died of bone cancer at 42.

“I went shopping and stocked up on food, because I knew I wasn’t going to be leaving the house for a while,” he recalls in the play. “I cried and fell asleep and cried and fell asleep for two days straight. And the worst part is, I thought I had finally forgotten him.”

The actor’s anguish apparently hits a nerve for some viewers. After seeing the show in 2002, radio’s Howard Stern wrote Raynor: “Not many men could openly confess before an audience the intense father hunger they had…. It’s very easy as a man to show anger, but a lot more difficult to tap into the longing and desire for a caring, loving father.”

Despite his father hunger, Raynor built a busy career, playing leads in independent films such as “The Waiting Game” and the HBO miniseries, “From the Earth to the Moon.” He continued to know almost nothing about Stearn — until he chanced to pick up his own cousin at a party eight years ago (he hadn’t seen her since she was a girl). Once recognition set in, she told him Stearn’s mother was alive and living in Florida.

On the “Moon” set in Orlando, Fla., six months later, Raynor finally mustered the courage to call his grandmother, whom he had not seen in a quarter century.

“I showed up on her doorstep on what happened to be her 87th birthday,” he recalls. “I felt like I was walking into a psychedelic flashback.”

The emotional visit turned out to be “more healing than 1,000 years of therapy,” he says. “I learned what I had previously kept from myself because it was too confusing: That my father had loved me, even though he left.”

Raynor discovered more by tracking down his half-siblings and convincing sometimes-reluctant relatives to conduct more than 50 hours of taped interviews. He decided to turn the material into a play, though the writing process was so painful it kept him up at night.

Yet performing the piece — and saying “Kaddish” for Stearn onstage — proved cathartic for Raynor, who is considering parenthood for the first time in his life.

“I was severed from my father, so what I do in the play is to resurrect him and reconnect with him, if only in spirit.”

“Stearn,” runs through Sept. 27 at the Pilot Light Theatre. (323) 960-4418.


Still’s ‘Waters’ Run Deep

In James Still’s “A Long Bridge Over Deep Waters,” a Catholic Cambodian asks an elderly Jew, “Why don’t you believe in Jesus?”

The senior citizen replies that she regards Jesus as “a revolutionary Jew,” not the savior — and that she would rather argue with God than feel awe for Him.

The debate is typical of “Waters,” a series of intense encounters between 57 members of 10 Los Angeles religious communities produced by the multicultural Cornerstone Theater. It’s the culmination of the company’s four-year faith-based theater cycle, which staged eight projects on creeds from Mormon to Baha’i. According to Cornerstone’s Lee Lawlor, “‘Waters,’ is a ‘bridge show’ incorporating all the groups, in our tradition of building bridges between diverse communities.”

With so much ground to cover, Still found “Waters” initially “overwhelming.” The 46-year-old playwright grew up Methodist in a Kansas town and did not meet many minorities until his church exchange program with a synagogue when he was 15. Yet he understood what it was like to be ‘the other,’ given that he was gay. “I yearned to find out if anyone else felt they were on the margins, or hated, or invisible,” he said.

Cornerstone’s faith project drew him, in part, because “it’s scary now for minorities to discuss religion in this country,” he said. “There’s pressure to talk about faith as one thing only, and that is Christianity.”

To structure the sprawling “Waters,” Still drew on Arthur Schnitzler’s classic play, “La Ronde,” in which scenes are connected by protagonists moving from one sequence to another. To create his characters, he conducted more than 1,000 hours of interviews; a “spiritual restlessness” among some Jews inspired the fictional Alan, who is secular but considers synagogue after his mother’s death. Other characters include a Hindu who clashes with her Muslim roommate; an all-American family of atheists; and a lesbian Jewish mother, Connie.

Actress Lisa Robins, who plays Connie, feels spiritually challenged by her role. Like her character, she is a Jewish single mother who has explored other religions but is investigating Judaism now that she has a child. “But Connie has much more of a commitment to the religion,” she said. “When I say onstage that I believe in God, I’m actually wondering, ‘What do I believe.’ It’s awkward.”

Still intended awkward moments to occur throughout “Waters:” “The play is about how faith both unites and divides us,” he said.

“Waters” plays at the Ford Amphitheater June 2-12. For tickets, call (323) 461-3673.



The Jewish Journal is no longer accepting mailed or faxed event listing information. Please e-mail event listings at least three
weeks in advance to:

By Keren Engelberg


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Beth Hillel Day School: 5 p.m. A Musical Pajama Party with children’s entertainer Stephen Michael Schwartz of Parachute Express. $10-$12. 12326 Riverside Drive, Valley Village. (818) 692-1703.

Hudson Mainstage Theatre: “The Time When I Was Mamadou” about an African American, gay, Jewish Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa. $65. 6537 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 960-7735.

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Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles: 10 a.m. Representative Brad Sherman (D -Sherman Oaks) on “Iranian Nuclear Weapons Options for U.S. Policy.” Free. Temple Judea, 5429 Lindley Ave., Tarzana. (310) 285-8542.


Jewish Community Center of Orange County: 3 p.m. Ellen Gould’s one-woman play, “Bubbe Meises” (grandmother stories). $28-$34. Myers Theater, One Federation Way, Irvine. (949) 435-3400.

Emek Hebrew Academy: 7 p.m. “The World’s Best Chamber Music” concert with wine tasting, hors d’oeuvres and Viennese table. Luxe Summit Hotel Bel-Air, Grand Ballroom, 11461 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (818) 783-3663.


Latin American Jewish Association and the New JCC at Milken: 11 a.m. Sports (11 a.m.-1 p.m.), lunch, adult and teen movie (2 p.m.), children’s treasure hunt (2 p.m., ages 3-12) and Israeli dancing (4:30 p.m.). 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. (818) 464-3300.

Workmen’s Circle: 3 p.m. Tsunami Benefit Concert featuring works by local artists in memory of the victims, classical Indian music and dance and Middle Eastern music and dance. All proceeds go to the American Jewish World Service. $25 donation.

1525 S. Robertson Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007.


San Fernando Valley Interfaith Council, Burbank Human Relations Council and Forest Lawn: 4 p.m. “Remember! Celebrate! Act!” celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with speaker Constance L. Rice and emcee KNBC anchor Chris Schauble. Free. Forest Lawn Hall of Liberty, 6300 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles.(800) 241-3131.

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Museum of Tolerance: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. “Mighty Times: The Legacy of Rosa Parks” screening and discussion with UCLA historian Dr. Berkie Nelson. Free with admission to the museum.

9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P. required, (310) 553-9036.

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Survivors of Shoah Visual History Foundation and USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences: 7 p.m. Reception and lecture by Dr. Yehuda Bauer commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. USC, University Park Campus, Doheny Memorial Library, Intellectual Commons, 3550 Trousdale Parkway, Los Angeles. (213) 740-4996.

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North Valley JCC: 7:30 p.m. “Communication Prescriptives: A Guide to Healthier Relationships” with Celeste Charbonnet-Cross. $5 . 16601 Rinaldi St., Granada Hills. (818) 360-2211.

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UCLA: 8 p.m. UCLA Live’s Spoken Word series presents playwright, author and director David Mamet. $15-$35. Royce Hall, UCLA campus, 405 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 825-2101.

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Hillel at Pierce and Valley colleges: 7 p.m. Silent Auction and “Comedy Nite 2005: Honoring Theodore Bikel.” $30-$35. Pierce College, Main Theatre, 6201 Winnetka Ave., Woodland Hills. (818) 887-5901.


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Singles Helping Others: Help Tree People plant trees in Sherman Oaks. (818) 591-0772.

G.E.E. Super Singles (35-50s): 6 p.m. Cocktail party at Sportsmen’s Lodge $20. 12833 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. R.S.V.P., (818) 501-0165.

Jewish Single Parents and Singles Association: 7 p.m. Dinner and movie in Tustin. Don Jose Mexican Restaurant, 14882 Holt Ave. R.S.V.P., (949) 726-0943.

Social Circle (40-60s): 7:30 p.m. Starlight Dance Soiree with buffet dinner, wine, dessert and coffee. $20-$25.

Stephen S. Wise Temple, Hershenson Hall, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 204-1240.

BEBWorld Productions: 9:30 p.m. Rock band High School Logic plays an all-ages show at the Roxy Theatre, 9009 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. $10 with R.S.V.P. to

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Klutz Productions (21-45): 8 p.m. Party at Monroe’s Bar to benefit Operation USA’s Tsunami Relief Fund. $10. 8623 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 360-0066.

Jewish Outdoor Adventures: 10 a.m. Intermediate hike to Orchard Camp on the Mount Wilson Trail. Free. Carpools run from West Los Angeles and the Valley. For more information, e-mail

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Project Next Step: 8p.m. “Coffee Talk” with coffee and pastries. $7. 9911 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 284-3638.

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L.A.’s Fabulous Best Connections: Sportsmen’s Lodge supper and conversation. $10. R.S.V.P., (323) 782-0435.

Westwood Jewish Singles (45+):

7:30 p.m. Therapist Maxine Gellar leads a discussion on “The Use of Power in Relationships.” $10. West Los Angeles area. R.S.V.P., (310) 444-8986.

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New Age Singles: 6 p.m. Eat and Schmooze West L.A. sociable no-host dinner. R.S.V.P., (323) 874-9937.

Project Next Step: 7 p.m. Talking for Tolerance discussion “Is There Such a Thing as a Judeo-Christian Culture?” with African American Group Joshua Ministries. Simon Wiesenthal Center, Museum of Tolerance, 1399 S. Roxbury Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 772-2466.

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Conversations at Leon’s: 7 p.m. “Transitions, The Spice of Life.” $15-$17. 639 26th St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 393-4616.

New Start/Millionaire’s Circle: 7 p.m. Social in Beverly Hills. (323) 461-3137.

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USC Chabad: 6 p.m. Israel-themed Shabbat with Israeli food, songs and discussion. Guest speaker on the ingredients for success in the business world. 2713 Severance St., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (213) 748-5884.

Upcoming Singles

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7 Days in the Arts

Saturday, December 11

Today and tomorrow only, the award-winning “Underneath the Lintel” returns to the Sacred Fools Theater Company. Playwright Glen Berger’s story about a Dutch librarian who feels compelled to hunt down a man whose library book is 123 years overdue is really about the search for the sublime. Is the delinquent really the Wandering Jew of Christian myth? And if so, does Berger’s play have anti-Semitic undertones? In more modern mythology, the Wandering Jew has been upheld as a hero, rather than a villain, and that’s how many have interpreted the play. How will you?

10 p.m. (Saturday), 7 p.m. (Sunday). $10. 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, Hollywood. (310) 281-8337.

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The Jewish Journal is no longer accepting mailed or

faxed event listing information. Please e-mail event listings at least three

weeks in advance to:

By Keren Engelberg


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Beth Jacob Congregation: Free lecture by Michael Oren, author of “Six Days of War: June 1967” and “The Making of the Modern Middle East.” 9030 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 278-1911.


Gene de Chene Booksellers: 8 p.m. Singer Ross Altman’s release party for his new CD “Singer-SongFighter.” Free. 11556 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 477-8734.
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Museum of Tolerance: Tribute to the victims and survivors of Bergen-Belsen. 1399 S. Roxbury Drive, Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 772-7605.


Temple Beth Emet: 2 p.m. “An Afternoon of Jewish Comedy” with Mike Preminger, Kent Kasper and Steve Mittleman, presented by the men’s club. 1770 West Cerritos Ave., Anaheim. (714) 772-4720.

The Workmen’s Circle: 7 p.m. Cuban Film Series features “?Vampiros en la Habana!” (“Vampires in Havana”). $3. 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007.


UCLA Center for Jewish Studies: 9:45 a.m.-7 p.m. “Lang Lebn Zol Yidish: Has Yiddish Said Its Last Word?” Conference honoring Janet Hadda. Free. 405 Hilgrad Ave., Westwood. (310) 825-5387.

Beth Chayim Chadashim: 10 a.m. Breakfast potluck and discussion on Aaron Hamburger’s “The View from Stalin’s Head.” 6000 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 931-7023.

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The New JCC at Milken: 6-7 p.m. Traditional jujitsu classes. Students learn coordination, respect and self-defense in a self-empowering environment with instructor Gregory Portez. Youth classes 6-7 p.m. Teen classes 7-8 p.m. Adult classes 8-9:30 p.m. 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. (818) 903-3213.


Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel:
7 p.m. Discussion on “Miracles: Natural or Supernatural?” $15.
10500 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 475-7311.2/


Ezra Center: 9:45 a.m. Jerry Silverman discusses “The Blessing that Accompanied the Tragedy of the Destruction of the First Temple.” $6-$7. 10629 Lakewood Blvd., Downey.
(562) 861-9276.

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Don’t forget to vote!
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Klein Chaplaincy Service of the South Bay: 6-10 p.m. “End of Life: Practical Choices Without Guilt” with Rabbi Arthur Gross-Schaeffer. $10-$15. 3330 Lomita Blvd., Torrance. (310) 921-2187.

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Hammer Museum: 7 p.m. Lecture by Taalman Koch Architecture’s Alan Koch and Linda Taalman. Free. 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 443-7000.

Chapman University: 4 p.m. Curt Lowens, actor, author and Holocaust survivor discusses “Escape, Resistance and Triumph: One Teenager’s Story.” Free. Beckman Hall 404, One University Drive, Orange. (714) 628-7737.


Stephen S. Wise Temple: 7:30 p.m. Some Kansas students meet Holocaust heroine Irena Sendler in the play “Life in a Jar.” Free. 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-8561.

Spoken Word: 7-8 p.m. See Rabbi Mark Borovitz, author of “The Holy Thief: A Con Man’s Journey from Darkness to Light.” $15. 478 Sixth St., San Pedro. ” width=”1″ height=”30″ alt=””>

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Nashuva: 6:45 p.m. Rabbi Naomi Levy leads a spiritual Shabbat Service. Westwood Hills Congregational Church, 1989 Westwood Blvd., Westwood.


Chabad: West Coast Student Shabbaton with students from every major school in California and Arizona. USC. ” width=”1″ height=”30″ alt=””>


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Pasadena Playhouse/The Jewish Journal: 7:45 p.m. Reception followed by the new musical “Side By Side By Sondheim” at 9 p.m. Special ticket price $25 (Jewish Journal subscribers and San Gabriel Valley temple members), $50-$60 (general). 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. (626) 356-7529.

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Santa Monica College: Free Tay-Sachs testing. Student Health Office. Nov. 10, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m. Nov. 11, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. 1900 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica


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Singles Helping Others: 8:45 a.m.-12:15 p.m. Los Angeles Food Bank, help sort food items. Downtown. R.S.V.P., (323) 663-8378.

New Age Singles (55+): 3 p.m. See the play “Don’t Drink the Water” followed by no-host dinner at a Glendale restaurant. $18-$20. R.S.V.P., (818) 347-8355.

CLAS Jewish Singles (35-55): 7 p.m. Havdalah service followed by a potluck. Private residence in Woodland Hills. R.S.V.P., (310) 625-1833.

Conversations at Leon’s: 7:30 p.m. Saturday Night Mixer. $15-$20. 639 26th St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 393-4616.

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Israeli Folk Dancing: Party with dancing, fun, prizes, refreshments and dance contest. 4220 Scott Drive, Newport Beach. (310) 560-4262.

Singles Helping Others: 1-9:30 p.m. Dream Halloween for children affected by AIDS. Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (818) 717-9136.

Elite Jewish Theatre Singles: 2 p.m. See “Side By Side By Sondheim” performed by “Phantom of the Opera” star David Gaines, followed by a no-host dinner at a Mexican restaurant. $50. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. R.S.V.P., (310) 203-1312.

New Age Singles (55+): 7 p.m. Starlight Costume Ball with Johnny Vana Trio, snacks, drinks and prizes. $10-$12. University Synagogue, 11960 Sunset Blvd., Brentwood. (310) 473-1391.

International and Israeli folk dancing: 7:30-9 p.m. Beginners class with Avi Gabay open to all. Free. Avant Garde Ballroom, 4220 Scott Drive, Newport Beach. (310) 560-4262.

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Singles Helping Others: 7 p.m. Monthly meeting to hear about new events and socialize. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 591-0772.

Project Next Step: 8 p.m. “Coffee Talk” with coffee and pastries. $7. 9911 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-4595.

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Westwood Singles (45+): 7:30 p.m. Discussion on “Patterns and Cycles in Relationships” with therapist Maxine Geller. $10. R.S.V.P., (310) 444-8986.

The New JCC at Milken: 8-11 p.m. Israeli folk dancing with James Zimmer. $5-$6. 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. (310) 284-3638.

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Nexus (20s-40s): 6 p.m. Volleyball followed by dinner at a local restaurant. End of Culver Boulevard, near court 15, Playa del Rey.
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L.A.’s Fabulous Best Connections: Dinner at Madame Wu’s at the Grove. 189 The Grove Drive, Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 782-0435.

Meet Me Cafe: 7-10 p.m. Wine tasting and fun. $10. 105 N. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 659-4083.

New Start/Millionaire’s Circle: 7:30 p.m. Social and light dinner in Brentwood, ages 21-49 and in Beverly Hills, ages 50+. For those who are or have the potential to be. (323) 461-3137.

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Happy Minyan: 7 p.m. Kabbalat Shabbat services. Downstairs at Beth Jacob, 9030 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 285-7777.

Nexus (20s and 30s): 7:30 p.m. Celebrate Shabbat Irish style at the Irish Mist with drinks and music. Free. 16655 E. Pacific Coast Highway, Sunset Beach. R.S.V.P., to

Upcoming Singles

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Elite Jewish Theatre Singles: 8 p.m. See “Witness for the Prosecution” a murder mystery by Agatha Christie followed by dinner at a local restaurant. $17. Also, Sat., Nov. 13, 7:30 p.m. See “The Music Man” at the Pepperdine University’s Smothers Theatre. No-host dinner social at a nearbly restaurant precedes the performance. R.S.V.P., (310) 203-1312.

Uncle Leo Fulfills a Dream

“If you’re a pretty good actor and live long enough, you can play any role,” said Len Lesser, sitting on a worn couch just after finishing an evening performance at A Noise Within in Glendale.

At 80, and after close to 60 years on stage, screen and television, Lesser has proven his own adage. During the last 15 years, he has even become a public face, mainly through recurring roles as Uncle Leo in “Seinfeld” and Garvin in “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

But before that, “I played gangsters, heavies, Russians and Italians,” he reminisced. “I’ve done everything.”

Altogether, the long-time Burbank resident figures he has appeared is some 50 feature films and more than 400 TV shows, plus theatrical performances at the Taper Forum, Ahmanson and at venues across the country.

A recent stint included a moving role as an avuncular Holocaust survivor in Israel director Dan Katzir’s “Today You Are a Fountain Pen.”

Now Lesser is fulfilling a decades-old ambition by playing Gregory Solomon, a wizened New York secondhand furniture dealer, in Arthur Miller’s “The Price.”

One of Miller’s less frequently performed plays, “The Price,” written in 1968, wrestles with the author’s familiar themes — family conflict, personal and social responsibility and the price we pay for our past actions.

A Noise Within, a repertory company that over the years has maintained an enviable standard as one of the most professional and skilled theatrical venues in the Los Angeles area, does full justice to the subtleties and complexities of the Miller drama.

Its two protagonists are middle-aged brothers Victor and Walter Franz, who are selling off the furniture left behind by their recently deceased father.

When the once-wealthy father was wiped out by the Depression and became a physical and emotional wreck, son Victor (Geoff Elliott) sacrificed his ambition to become a scientist to take care of the father and became a local cop.

Brother Walter (Robertson Dean) shrugged off his responsibilities, left home and became a successful surgeon, while Victor’s wife (Deborah Strang) has turned into an unhappy and unfulfilled woman.

The fourth character is Solomon, come to appraise the furniture. It is not a comic role per se, but Lesser turns the man into a true original.

A lifelong New Yorker, Solomon has seen and survived everything, including four wives (he said the current one stays at home with her “100 boids”). He is a man who would rather talk than deal and is blessed with some of Miller’s best lines.

Though written in the supposedly idealistic and rebellious ’60s, the play has a very contemporary feel when Solomon observes, “When people were unhappy, they used to go to church or start a revolution. Now they go shopping.”

At one point, while Victor keeps pressing him for an appraisal, Solomon leisurely takes a hard-boiled egg and a jar of water out of his briefcase. In a wonderful ritual of consuming this repast, he will remind old timers of Charlie Chaplin’s classic shoe-eating routine in the “Gold Rush.”

Lesser said he has seen “The Price” many times but was never satisfied with the depiction of Solomon.

“They played him like a Yiddish stereotype in a vaudeville show, like a caricature,” he said. “That was all wrong. Like all Miller characters, Solomon is multidimensional.”

Lesser was born in the Bronx, the son of a grocery clerk, and vividly recalled a bar mitzvah from hell when he forgot the text and started singing instead. He got his acting start at 17, playing Lenny in “Of Mice and Men” at the neighborhood Settlement House.

“I was very shy and introverted, and I liked the applause and the communication with the audience,” he reminisced. “In my family, we didn’t talk much.

He earned a degree in economics and government at the City College of New York, but after he was discharged following Army service in the Pacific, he asked himself what he wanted to do the rest of his life. Lesser decided on an acting career and studied under Uta Hagen and Lee Strasberg.

After that, “I became a starving actor in summer stock, but when television came in, I got my first part with the CBS ‘Philco [Television] Playhouse,'” he recalled.

In the early ’50s, with some change in his pockets, Lesser met and married a farmer’s daughter from California, and in his first visit to her very WASPish and conservative parents, he felt as out of place as a Woody Allen movie character in a similar situation. (At the wedding ceremony, Lesser forgot the ring and substituted a cigar band.)

But he liked California enough to settle down here.

He has continued on the TV circuit, and although a lot of the sitcoms he played in were pure “chazerai,” using the Yiddish term for junk. “You made more money in one day than in six months in New York,” he said.

Now married to actress Jan Burrell, Lesser closed the interview close to midnight.

“You gotta excuse me,” he explained, “I have an early TV shoot in the morning.”

“The Price” will play though Dec. 4, in repertory withShakespeare’s “Coriolanus” and Moliere’s “The Miser.” For tickets andinformation, phone (818) 240-0910 or visit .

Homecoming From Hell

One day during his junior year abroad in Vienna in 1978, Jon Marans told a professor of his intention to visit the concentration camp Dachau. Her response stunned him. "She said, ‘Why do you want to go there for? It’s just a bunch of dead Jews,’" recalled the Pulitzer-nominated playwright, whose "Jumping for Joy" opens Sept. 7 at Laguna Playhouse.

Previously, Marans, now 45, hadn’t thought of himself as Jewish or non-Jewish. He had simply considered himself an American from a Maryland suburb where "we were all just one big, bland, homogenous group."

"But the anti-Semitism I encountered in Vienna was so blatant it was transforming," he said. "I began to realize that until we embrace our heritage and all of who we are, it’s difficult to write about things that matter."

Since then, Marans has made a career of writing about characters who profoundly connect to or disconnect from their roots, families or work. He’s one of the newer members of a cadre of playwrights in their 40s — including Donald Margulies and Richard Greenberg — who have won Pulitzer Prize nods for work exploring issues of Jewish identity and assimilation.

Marans’ newest play, "Jumping for Joy," tells of an aloof Jewish attorney, estranged from his schizophrenic sister and paranoid father, who returns home during a family crisis. "The character of Michael is the kind of guy who shuts down when you talk about anything remotely personal," Marans said of his offbeat, often wickedly funny new drama. "But his family is the one place where he cannot remain disconnected. They’re so in his face they just drag him into their world Michael both loves it and hates it at the same time."

Michael’s father, Samuel, doesn’t just shut out people — he shuts out the entire world. His daughter wryly reflects that when Samuel dies, "We will always have the map chronicling which countries have been unkind to Israel."

Marans’ his first produced play, "Old Wicked Songs," a finalist for the 1996 Pulitzer, revolves around a self-denying Jew, a burned-out piano prodigy who travels to Vienna to jump-start his creative juices but locks horns with his professor, a Holocaust survivor.

"Old Wicked Songs" came about during a time when the author, like his "Songs" prodigy, was battling creative burnout. After writing the book for a musical that was supposed to go to Broadway but was instead canned in 1990, the distraught author and lyricist retreated to a Vermont writers’ colony.

"Everything seemed to have fallen apart, so I thought, ‘To hell with it. I’m just going to write whatever I want regardless of the chances for commercial success,’" he said. Within three weeks he had a draft of "Songs," which among other seemingly noncommercial devices featured characters singing Schumann’s "Dichterliebe" in German. "I thought, ‘No one in their right mind is going to produce this play," said Marans, who was shocked when the piece opened off-Broadway and went on to more than 100 theaters around the world.

Then came an even bigger surprise: the Pulitzer nomination.

"It became a little daunting," he recalled. "Suddenly, there was pressure to write another piece that mattered. That’s why it took so long for me to [finish] my new play."

"Jumping for Joy" — partly inspired by Maran’s interest in Asperger’s syndrome — is another riff on how people engage and disengage.

"It’s like having this weird disconnect," he said of the condition that is similar to autism. "You see it in people who are incredibly focused but slightly detached from life."

The Playhouse’s Richard Stein, who directed an acclaimed production of "Songs" in 1999, was eager to direct the world premiere of "Joy."

"From the first read I knew it was a brilliant play," he told The Journal. "One of the things that marks Jon as a unique writer is his ability to delve deeply into his characters and to fully explore the relationships between them."

During rehearsals, Marans said he’s emphasized "the general twinkle all three of the characters have when they come together. The initial tendency for actors is to mime the darker side of what’s going on. But it’s important the piece doesn’t come off in a way that negates the joy these people have in being together."

7 Days In Arts


Gene Simmons, Bob Dylan, the Beastie Boys and Susanna
Hoffs are proof positive that Jews know how to rock. Enter Belgium-born vocalist
Lucy Levinsohn and Jersey girl vocalist/keyboardist Dina Torok, members of
Lily’s Siren, a five-member, female-led group that won Rock City News’ vote for
Best Modern Pop Band in 2000. Called a cross between Nirvana and Fleetwood Mac,
Lily’s Siren did an acclaimed tribute to ABBA last year. Tonight, they perform
at Chain Reaction in Anaheim and on Saturday, September 29 at The Gig in
Hollywood. $5 (prepaid tickets); $7 (at the door). For tickets or more


When nine year-old Eliza Naumann wins her fourth grade
class spelling bee, she shatters her parents’ image of her as a disappointment
in Myla Goldberg’s “Bee Season.” Her success culminates as she is picked for the
national spelling bee competition, portraying an intimate look at her family
dynamics. Through the obssessive compulsive antics of her mother, her devout
kabbalist father and extremely introverted brother, the novel proves that
there’s no such thing as a normal family. Besides being a writer, Goldberg is
involved with foreign and independent film and an acclaimed accordian, banjo and
flute player. Today, her dramatic account of a Jewish family will be presented.
4 p.m. Congregation Beth Chayim, 6000 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. For more
information, call (323) 931-7023.


Beautiful Judaic images come to life for Anne Cheek
LaRose when her needle hits the fabric. “Looking Forward, Looking Back” at USC
Hillel features the this artist’s decorated fabrics, hand paintings, embroidery,
reweaving, needlepoint and appliqué designs. Her creations grace museums and
galleries nationwide, including the Yeshiva University Museum in New York City,
the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles and The Jewish Federation in Los
Angeles. Opening reception: Sept. 9, 4 p.m.-6:30 p.m. Gallery Hours: Mon.-Fri.,
9 a.m.-5 p.m. The exhibit runs Aug. 20-Oct. 19. USC Hillel Jewish Center Art
Gallery, 3300 S. Hoover St., Los Angeles. For more information, call (213)


Catching up on summer reading is one of the best ways
to spend a relaxing weeknight. In “Too Many Men” ($25, Harper Collins
Publishers), Australian writer Lily Brett’s latest novel, Ruth Rothwax, a
successful New York businesswoman, is obsessed with returning to Poland with her
father. The daughter of Holocaust survivors, Brett began writing as a rock
journalist, profiling stars such as Sonny and Cher and Jimi Hendrix. This is the
fourth novel for Brett, who lives in New York City with her Australian
artist-husband and three children.


Veteran expressionist painter David Rosen was so
enamored with William Shakespeare’s work that he decided to put one of the
playwright’s legendary soliloquies on canvas. His love affair with art took him
from the Cooper Union Art School in New York in 1930 to his present exhibition
including the monochromatic “Hamlet’s To Be Or Not to Be” along with 23 of his
most powerful works. Gallery hours: Wed.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sun., 11
a.m.-5 p.m. Howell Green Fine Art Gallery, 120 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Pine
Tree Circle, No. 107, Woodland Hills. For more information, call (310) 455-3991.


Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen believes in “the big
picture.” This vision drove him from his early days of piano playing to his
current trademark, the double acoustic bass. He was so dedicated to his music,
that he abandoned the Israeli army to play it. Inspired by the legendary sounds
of Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, Cohen, now a member of
“Adama,” combines jazz with the traditional Israeli music. with which he was
raised. The result is a performance tonight with The International Vamp Band.
The band adds multicultural flavor to the Sunset Concert series with Yagil Baras
on bass, Antonio Sanchez on drums, Yosvany Terry on saxophone, Avi Lebovich on
trombone and Argentinean Diego Urcola on trumpet. 7:30 p.m. Skirball Cultural
Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310)


Spiked. Long. Green. Curly. Regardless of the look,
many women have a strong, and sometimes strange, affinity for their hair.
Tonight, in “Hair Pieces: By Women, About Hair,” a multicultural group of female
playwrights, from Jewish to Latina, have joined to express the significance of
hair in a woman’s life. Sponsored by the Jewish Women’s Theatre Project, the
collection of short plays are a part of the New Works Festival, a series of
dramas and comedies including “Direct From Death Row: The Scottsboro Boys” at
the Fountain Theatre. $20 (general admission). Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.
and 7 p.m. Through Sept. 16. Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd.,
Hollywood. For reservations or more information, call (323) 663-1525.

Rage Becomes Power in Writer’s Hands

"I still write a lot from anger," playwright Mark Medoff said. "I’ve wanted to flagellate the world."

Medoff, 61, is the author of the smoldering plays "When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?" "Children of a Lesser God" and "Road to a Revolution," now at Deaf West Theatre. His intense work often rails against a world he perceives as rife with violence, racism and sexism. Several childhood memories fuel the rage, he revealed during a telephone interview from his New Mexico ranch.

As a boy, he sensed his family lived in a small Illinois town because his Jewish physician father couldn’t find work anyplace else. During summers at a Jewish camp in Georgia, Medoff said bigotry was as palpable as "a compression in the air." After the family relocated to Florida, he learned that his father had to beg an official to grant him a medical license because the Jewish quota was filled. "My father cried in front of this man," the author said bitterly. "I saw him turned away from door after door. All of that has long been boiling in me."

No wonder Medoff’s work rants against every kind of injustice. A shabbily dressed Vietnam veteran spurs the action in "Red Ryder," about violence and American values in the ’60s. A paraplegic Jewish veteran spews bigotry in "Stumps." A deaf woman refuses to be patronized in "Children of a Lesser God," which won Medoff a Tony and was made into an Oscar-winning film.

Now comes "Road to a Revolution," in which three generations of women (some hearing, some not), face off against the backdrop of the 1988 uprising of deaf students at Gallaudet University. It’s the fifth play Medoff has written for actress Phyllis Frelich; his goal, as usual, is incendiary.

"In ‘Children,’ there is a revolt by a deaf woman against her hearing husband," he said. "In ‘Road,’ the revolt leads to a kind of detente between the deaf students and the hearing board and, by extension, between hearing culture and deaf culture."

Medoff, ironically, didn’t rebel against the jock culture of his Miami Beach high school. A star athlete, he remained a closet writer lest he be considered effeminate, he said. He wasn’t above some smug assumptions of his own, however. "I had this clichéd vision of the deaf as those people who sold the little alphabet cards at airports," he admitted.

In the late 1970s, when colleagues told him about an amazing deaf actress named Phyllis Frelich, he thought, "Everyone was overcompensating because she was this poor, handicapped individual."

Yet hours after he had met Frelich, Medoff was so impressed that he announced he was going to write a play for her.

Frelich smiled politely. "I thought to myself, ‘Yeah, sure,’" she told The Journalin sign language, speaking through her hearing husband, Bob Steinberg, a set designer. Surprisingly, Medoff came through. "But we hated the play," Frelich said. "The main character was just so furious about her deafness."

Undaunted, Medoff affably tore the pages to shreds in front of the couple and invited them to work on a new play at his New Mexico state university theater department. Frelich and Steinberg accepted the offer.

"We bought an old, rusty Ford van for $600, loaded up the kids and drove out West," Steinberg recalled. By the end of the semester, the trio had created the drama that would help put deaf theater on the map.

"Road" began when Medoff was glued to the television news of the Gallaudet uprising in 1988. When the deaf college’s board elected yet another hearing president, enraged students protested and succeeded in reversing the decision. The appointment of Gallaudet’s first deaf president became the cornerstone of the deaf civil rights movement. It was Medoff’s kind of story.

He initially envisioned a film (he wrote the screenplays of "Clara’s Heart" and "City of Joy"), but was rejected at every studio in town. In one meeting, a young executive told Medoff, "There’s already been a deaf movie." The disgusted author eventually decided to develop the story as a play.

It’s not just a piece about deaf people, he insists. While the play focuses on the Gallaudet uprising, the character of Edna (Frelich), who is initially timid, reminds Medoff of his father, hat in hand, in the Florida state official’s office. "She is like all my relatives who were afraid of their own shadow, afraid to offend, to present their positions as Jews," he said. "But the play is universal. It could be about the Latino experience or any other experience, because everyone feels isolated and the need to rebel at some point in their lives."

For tickets to the show, which runs through May 27, call (818) 762-2773 or 762-2782 (TTY).

From Fandom to ‘Phantom’

It all began when Steve Cisneros, as an 11th grader at La Mirada High School, was exposed to the plays of his English teacher, Bruce Gevirtzman.

For 27 years, Gevirtzman has been teaching honors English and American literature at the high school. And for 25 of those years, he has been writing morality plays that students mount asproductions each year.

Cisneros was so moved by Gevirtzman’s plays that, for the past four years, he has been directingand producing productions of Gevirtzman’s work for middle and high schoolers all over California, from San Diego to Oxnard.

“We planned the first year just to see what happened,” recalls Cisneros. “I never knew it would get this big.Since Cisneros started his Phantom Projects (so named because students in theater production would create setpieces overnight), more than 100,000 teens have seen Gevirtzman’s pieces, which take aim on issues they face every day.

“I love that the theater can teach people,” says Cisneros, who tours with three Gevirtzman plays a year: ameditation on prejudice and tolerance called “Center of the Universe”; “No Way to Treat a Lady,” about abstinence; and “Out, Out, Brief Candle,” which tackles substance abuse. The veteran educator believes that in getting involved with these plays, students take away something more important than a self-esteem boost. “They need more direction and ethical guidance when they do the right thing; everything else will follow.”

Contrary to stereotypes, Gevirtzman believes that “kids are smarter in a lot of ways. They’re definitely more aware of social issues than ever before. Here [at La Mirada High] it’s still very good. If anything,it’s better.” But then again, stereotypes are something Gevirtzman tries to subvert with his work. Case in point: his latest script.

“I’m working on a long one, a full-length, two-hour play that will be done in June,” says the 50-year-old teacher and auteur. “It centers around the 20-year reunion of theclass of 1980 [and deals with] stereotyping in high school.”

Cast with kids from all over Southern California, each Phantom Project features five to 10 young performers. And Cisneros loves the reaction that the 45-minute stage stories inspire.”They really open up to us,” says Cisneros of the young attendees. “And the actors talk about their own stories… It makes me feel very lucky that I haven’t made the same mistakes when I was growing up. Part of it was self-control that we didn’t make these same mistakes. So we’re teaching self-control.” The 21-year-old Cisneros adds that “we’ve had students come join us [as actors] the next year after they’ve seen our show.”

The themes Gevirtzman employs come from his lifelong interest in politics. While talk radio programs “manifest my passion” for social issues, the playwright says that nobodyinspires him or keeps him current like his students. And he credits his success to the two-parent Norwalk household he grew up in.

“Personally I think my Jewish values are a big part of my life,” says Gevirtzman, whose motherregularly attended his shows before she passed away last year. As for Cisneros, Gevirtzman is very touched by what the former student has done with his work:”The fact that he would think that much of me… I’m very excited by that.”The next Phantom Projects will take place on May 24 at La Mirada Theater for the Performing Artsin La Mirada. For more information, contact (562) 902-0119

Kabbalah: Scary Jewish Stories

At one point in the play, “Kabbalah: Scary Jewish Stories,” a yeshivabocher and a severed talking head careen across the Abyss. The Baal Shem Tov battles a werewolf. And a hapless youth accidentally marries a re-animated corpse, which nonchalantly re-adjusts an eye-socket while pleading its case before the rabbinical court.

Welcome to “Kabbalah,” the kind of tongue-in-cheek macabre fare one might expect from director Stuart Gordon, best known for the horror cult classic film, “Re-Animator.” When Gordon explores his Jewish roots, you get tales of debauched Kabbalists, shtetl zombies and water demons in the mikvah. But because these are Jewish scary stories, the director notes, there is always a moral, a battle between good and evil, and a wise rabbi to make everything right.

Gordon first thought up the play not long after his adult bar mitzvah in 1997, when he chanced upon folklorist Howard Schwartz’s edition of scary Jewish folk tales, “Lilith’s Cave,” at a Temple Beth Hillel book fair. The amiable Gordon, director of “Dolls” and “From Beyond,” had previously read Midrashim about the supernatural and had even researched a script about the demon-queen Lilith for “Hellraiser IV” — until the producers nixed the idea. “They said it was too far afield,” Gordon recalls, wryly. “But it started to bother me that demonic possession movies were always Catholic.”

With the tales in “Lilith’s Cave,” Gordon saw the potential for a Jewish horror movie and also a play; the piece would be performed in the style of his mentor, Paul Sills, a founder of Second City and the Story Theatre, in which the actors narrate their own action. Enter comedian Avery Schreiber, a veteran of both Second City and the Store Theatre, who brought actors from his own improv workshop and, with Gordon and the other performers, improvised the script from Schwartz’s translations. An elderly Yiddishist, a Holocaust survivor, was on set to consult with the thespians. And when Gordon saw the Golden State Klezmers perform with a mariachi group at Temple Isaiah, he knew he had found the perfect live incidental music.

What is surprising about Gordon, who grossed out his “Re-Animator” actors by taking them to the county morgue, is that he actually has a horror of horror films. When he was a child, his parents did not allow him to watch any scary movies; thus he sneaked out of the house to see “The Tingler” or “House on Haunted Hill,” only to suffer grievous nightmares and insomnia afterwards. Gordon recalls a “wild escape from the drive-in” mid-way through a David Cronenberg movie; he slept with all the windows locked, one summer, after reading Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” “I would rather have sweltered,” he says, dryly, “than let a vampire in.”

Directing scary movies, he concedes, is a way of mastering his fears. “When you make horror film, you’re controlling them,” he explains. “You know how everything is done.”

Gordon’s career began at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where his anti-Establishment Screw Theater made the national news (and brought obscenity charges) after he staged a nude version of “Peter Pan.” When the university informed him that a professor would have to sit in on any future productions, he dropped out and moved to Chicago, where the Screw transformed into the acclaimed Organic Theater. It was there that Gordon co-created the long-running “Bleacher Bums” and met a cocky young David Mamet, who kept pestering him with scripts he assured everyone would win the Pulitzer Prize. Gordon went on to stage the world premiere of Mamet’s “Sexual Perversity in Chicago.”

Thirty-five original plays and adaptations later, Gordon moved to Hollywood, directed films like “The Pit and the Pendulum” and co-created “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” when his daughters clamored for him to make a movie he would actually let them see.

Now he’s hoping to direct a film based on Schwartz’s book, perhaps a Lilith trilogy or something about the fallen Kabbalist Joseph della Reina, who chants the “Shema” backwards to conjure up lovely women in his bedroom. Joseph, after all, rivals the creepiest of contemporary horror characters. “He is,” Gordon says, “the ultimate stalker.”

“Kabbalah” plays on Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Jan. 7 through Feb. 13 at the Lex Theater, 6760 Lexington Ave, Hollywood. For tickets and information, call (323) 957-5782.

Three’s Company

A visit to the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum gives new meaning to the escapist concept of getting away from it all — if only for an evening.

Its newly renovated 299-seat amphitheater is terraced into the hillside of a rustic ravine along Topanga Canyon Boulevard. For picnickers, there are benches scattered among the trees, while the Ole Mole Kitchen dispenses tacos and enchiladas.

The setting is ideal for such woodsy tales as Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” both part of the Theatricum’s current summer repertory season.

It is less suitable, though still enjoyable, for the hothouse atmosphere and Southern gothic themes of Tennessee Williams’ “Sweet Bird of Youth,” with its high quota of sexual neurosis, violence, self-delusion, mob psychology, racism and castration.

The latter operation is performed on Chance Wayne, who returns to his Deep South hometown to reclaim the love of Boss Finley’s daughter, Heavenly, whom he had infected with syphilis during an earlier tryst.

Chance, this time, travels in the company of fading Hollywood star Alexandra Del Largo, a perfect matchup between the guy who never quite made it and the woman who is heading downhill.

Williams wrote the play in 1959. In the intervening decades, perhaps no part of this country has changed more than the Deep South, lending parts of the play a faintly anachronistic air.

Largely overcoming these handicaps is a fine professional cast, smartly paced by director Heidi Helen Davis.

Honoring the memory of Will Geer, who founded the Theatricum as a refuge for blacklisted actors like himself, are his talented progeny.

Ellen Geer essays the role of the tortured one-time star with remarkable intensity and feeling. Thad Geer, as the racist political boss, ratchets up the vitality level of the play during his too-short appearances.

Chance, played by Richard Tyson, has the hunky build and looks of a casual stud, but he is rapidly disintegrating under his drug- and alcohol-fed delusions. Toward the end, he goes way over the top in an explosion of tics and gestures oddly reminiscent of Jimmy Cagney.

“Sweet Bird of Youth” plays Saturday evenings through Sept. 13.

Decent ‘Proposals’

As certain as the sun shining for the Tournament of Roses parade is the annual Neil Simon play. The 1997 entry is now in its world première run at the Ahmanson Theatre.

“Proposals” is neither the best nor the worst of Simon’s prolific output and bears the hallmark of the genre: intricate emotional relationships that are resolved in the final act, and easily recognizable characters, all seasoned with moderately funny to hilarious wisecracks.

In “Proposals,” Simon maneuvers three main sets of relationships, plus a handful of subplots.

There is paterfamilias Burt Hines (Ron Rifkin), a Jewish businessman subject to heart attacks, whose workaholic ways have driven his wife (Kelly Bishop) to divorce and remarriage.

Their daughter, Josie (Suzanne Cryer), copes with the affections of three men, to wit, Ken (Reg Rogers), a smart Harvard law student; Ray (Matt Letscher), a budding writer; and Vinnie (Peter Rini), of whom, more later.

And then there is Clemma (L. Scott Caldwell), the Hines’ longtime housekeeper, cook, family counselor, resident mother figure and narrator. Her husband, Lewis (Mel Winkler), disappeared seven years ago.

That’s quite an intricate emotional minuet, choreographed by director Joe Mantello, but there is more: Josie’s affection for her father and alienation from her mother, the interplay among Josie’s three suitors, and the requisite blond bimbo attached to Ray.

Through some heavy-duty plot gyrations, all these folks, including Clemma’s missing husband, arrive from as far as Paris and Florida to join for lunch at the rustic Hines summer home in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania.

(That rotating house and its bucolic surroundings are magical and earned set designer John Lee Beatty one of the most heartfelt rounds of applause during the evening.)

To manage the unwieldy lunch crowd, its members obligingly slip in and out of the surrounding woods to allow one or another couple to work out its hostilities or affections.

None of the characters is especially memorable, or likely to reach the cult status of, say, Felix and Oscar of the “The Odd Couple,” save for Josie’s buddy Vinnie Bavasi.

With the apparel and elocution of an aspiring Mafiosi, Vinnie is a master of malapropism, who is not nearly as stupid as he appears.

The opening-night audience greeted the unfolding play with occasional robust laughter but remained seated for the final curtain applause. That’s an ominous sign in Los Angeles, whose municipal regulations require a standing ovation for even the most humble of artistic presentations.

“Proposals” will continue through Aug. 31 at the Ahmanson Theatre. For tickets and information, call (213) 628-2772.