Stage dramedy tackles interfaith marriage taboo


If you take Israel out of the equation, there’s little in the Jewish world that gets people as riled up as the idea of intermarriage. For most secular and liberal Jews, intermarriage, which once carried a huge social stigma, has become more acceptable. Visit any Reform synagogue in Los Angeles, and you’re bound to come across all kinds of intermarried families. Indeed, in the liberal Jewish world, intermarriage has even begun to be seen as an opportunity to bring more people into the Jewish community. But in the Orthodox world, the stigma of intermarriage is as strong as ever, and Maia Madison’s new play “Nobody Likes Jews When They’re Winning,” explores exactly what happens when a girl from a traditional family falls in love with guy who happens to be non-Jewish.

“The play is about an interfaith couple who want to get married and live happily ever after, as long as her Jewish family doesn’t find out,” said Madison, during a phone interview between rehearsals. Her main character, who draws a little from Madison’s own life story, “goes on a quest to find out the real meaning of her Jewish identity and the real meaning of family.”

Madison grew up in an observant home in New York City. Her parents were both from Orthodox backgrounds and kept kosher, to an extent, but Madison was also the first girl in her family to have a bat mitzvah.

“I’m a very strong-minded woman, I went to Northwestern University,” said Madison, noting that some in her family were disappointed she didn’t go to Stern College.

The idea that became “Nobody Likes Jews When They’re Winning” came to Madison when she watched a close friend’s relationship fall apart after her ill father moved in with her and her partner. “She picked her family over her relationship.”

The experience made Madison realize that sometimes we’re forced into tough situations where we have to choose between family and love.

“Now if you’re 30, you can’t get a job, even though you have an MBA,” said Madison of the economic situation that’s left many post-college grads living at home. According to Madison, that new dynamic has wreaked havoc with the notion of “leave and cleave” that’s presented in Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined (cleave) to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

An additional topic explored in Madison’s play is how Hollywood and the world at large sees Jews. Madison recalled getting a call from a non-Jewish friend at CBS who’d just been pitched a show that he described as “ ‘The O.C.’ meets Temple Beth Israel,” and wanted Madison’s opinion as a Jew as to why it felt “off” to him. “Nobody likes Jews when they’re winning,” Madison told him.

“There are no shows where likable Jews drive around in fancy cars, live in million-dollar homes and spend a $100,000 on a bar mitzvah at the Beverly Wilshire, the same way that the people on ‘Revenge’ do, for example,” Madison said. The question of why that’s so is one that dogs her, and she explores it thoroughly in the show.

But lest anyone think the play appeals only to Jews, the director, Diana Basmajian, a non-Jew, says that’s just not so.

“No matter what a person’s background was, they were still talking in that lobby,” Basmajian said of the audience from the show’s staged readings.

Basmajian and Madison have been friends for more than 20 years. “I’m half Armenian, and I think as I got to know more of my Armenian heritage that I was drawn to plays about the human struggle, and particularly the Holocaust,” Basmajian said. “I was always teased by Maia, because my early work as a director was all Holocaust plays and plays on Jewish families.”

Basmajian jumped at the chance to work with Madison on her latest piece, because she realized it was something that was close to Madison’s heart. “It kind of bridges that beautiful gap between drama and comedy. That’s real life — some things are hilarious and some things, you’re on the verge of tears at the same time.”

Producer Laetitia Leon was also eager to work with Madison, and coming from an intermarried family, the piece was particularly poignant for her. “I felt like I wish I’d had this story when I was younger. It’s not that I don’t appreciate religion, I just wasn’t raised with it,” said Leon, whose parents raised her as an atheist. She believes the play will spark dialogue, no matter a person’s background. “If you don’t want to talk about it, I don’t think you were listening,” said Leon, laughing.

“You don’t want to write a play that only has meaning for one section of the population,” Madison said. “All of my gay friends came to me and said, oh my God, this is a coming-out story. I didn’t even realize. Every one of my gay friends had to face going to their parents and knowing that they may turn their backs on them forever.”

Basmajian, for one, is bullish on the piece, and she hopes it will touch audiences of all backgrounds who come to see it at the Open Fist Theatre Company. “We need that other voice out there that watches and listens and says, ‘Oh wait, I agree, I disagree, here’s my opinion, here’s what happened to me.’ ”

“Nobody Likes Jews When They’re Winning” will be playing at the Open Fist Theatre Company through Sept. 8. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit openfist.org.  A scene from the play will also be performed as part of the Temple of the Arts’ (www.templeofthearts.org) Friday night service on Aug. 17.

Shlomo Carlebach’s life comes to the stage in ‘Soul Doctor’


As he researched the complex life of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach for a new musical, playwright Daniel Wise found a surprisingly candid source.

Neshama Carlebach, a successful recording artist and popular performer of her father’s compositions, openly revealed his many struggles as “a lonely and conflicted” Orthodox rabbi—both rock star and spiritual shepherd.

“When someone collaborates on a show and at the same time is the daughter of the subject matter, and she is serving of the show rather than her own perspective, it helps make the show what it is,” Wise says. “It was also very brave.”

As Neshama explains, her father’s message is that everyone “can surpass their own walls. Some people say he was an angel. He was a person. But he was a strong person. He made beautiful choices and that should be a inspiration for the world.”

Some of Carlebach’s followers aren’t so pleased with the candor.

“Reb Shlomo was a soul on fire who was a rebbe to thousands,” says Shy Yellin, president of the Carlebach Shul on New York City’s Upper West Side. “He was a tzaddik rooted in the love of God and His Torah and whose purpose, like other great rebbes, was to connect us to ‘Hashem yisborech’ in the deepest way. Because he was human, with all the challenges one faces, Shlomo could relate to his flock and we to him. If he made any mistakes, they were long ago expiated. He was beloved by all.”

During his lifetime and perhaps even more since his death in 1994, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach—known widely as Reb Shlomo or simply Shlomo—is credited with reinvigorating Jewish life with uplifting song and spiritual teachings. His fascinating trajectory is the basis of a Broadway-bound show, “Soul Doctor: The Journey of a Rock Star Rabbi,” the first new Jewish hit musical in decades.

Neshama shares an official “creative credit for additional material” for the show, which is carried by more than 30 Carlebach melodies, often with new lyrics by David Schechter. “Soul Doctor” sold out in test runs in Florida and New Orleans, and opened to a limited engagement July 24-Aug. 19 at the New York Theatre Workshop. Again, the show rapidly sold out.

Producers are negotiating with a New York theater for an open-ended run. 

As a cultural phenomenon in the 1960s music scene, Carlebach’s songs grew wildly popular. He performed on stage with Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Jerry Garcia, Pete Seeger, the Grateful Dead and Nina Simone, among others. He played venues from Carnegie Hall to hippie coffeehouses, prisons to ashrams. He even performed spontaneous midnight concerts under New York City’s West Side Highway for the local homeless, whom he often knew by name.

Carlebach died suddenly when his heart failed on airplane at LaGuardia Airport in New York. His annual yahrzeit triggers memorial concerts around the world. In a category all his own, his music now captivates Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, gay and lesbian, Orthodox and Chasidic communities.

Cross-over Jewish reggae sensation Matisyahu coined himself a “Bob Marley-Shlomo Carlebach fusion.” Even Pope John Paul II used Carlebach’s composition “Brothers and Friends” to open his last Mass at Giants Stadium in New Jersey.

“Soul Doctor” reveals how Carlebach’s music and heart-centered teachings of “boundless love and joy” touched disillusioned hippies and dropouts, says Wise, who also directs the show.

The musical riffs on the successful formula of “Rent,” which Wise took on tour around the world. Both employ actors playing multiple roles and doubling as stage hands, gracefully transforming sets through scenes.

“Soul Doctor” travels from contemporary Vienna back to Carlebach’s childhood there under Nazi occupation, from a New York home and a dynamic musical beit midrash to the psychedelic House of Love and Prayer in 1960s San Francisco and more, in the multiple loops of Carlebach’s explorations of Jerusalem. Caracas. Nepal. And beyond. 

As his newly published commentary on Genesis reveals, Carlebach also was an innovative Torah scholar. As a Chasidic figure and composer of niggunim—wordless, expressive tunes infused with spirituality—Carlebach bridges Old World and new, pre-war Orthodoxy and the post-war establishment he realized wasn’t reaching America’s rapidly assimilating Jews.

Despite its rabbi protagonist, “Soul Doctor” attracts diverse audiences because “It’s about how we are spiritually all the same,” says veteran Broadway composer and orchestrator Steve Margoshes, who wove together the score for “Soul Doctor” and previous Broadway smashes such as Elton John’s “Aida,” “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” and “The Who’s Tommy.”

In the 1950s, the thirtysomething Orthodox rabbi searches American counterculture and becomes intimate friends with Simone, a then-unknown jazz singer who introduced him to gospel music and R&B.

Carlebach suddenly finds himself “torn between his deep traditional roots and his dream to create a Jewish revival through his joyous and soulful melodies,” Margoshes explains. “He wakes up one day and decides the Jewish experience is bankrupt and he is going to reinvigorate it, no matter the personal cost.”

Their unusual connection—Simone later became the musical voice of the civil rights movement—helped Shlomo shape contemporary Jewish music and reinvigorate the American Jewish experience in the aftermath of the Holocaust, Wise says.

With composite characters and scenes, “Soul Doctor” is not a strictly factual presentation of Carlebach’s life. Rather than pure hagiography, it is a gripping exploration of the many challenges and controversies encountered by Carlebach.

“It is more the idea of Shlomo than what historically happened,” says Rabbi Naftali Citrin of the Carlebach Shul and Carlebach’s grand-nephew. “It’s a version of Shlomo’s life that can’t possibly contain everything.”

“Soul Doctor” reflects the humanity of this larger-than-life personality leaving an Orthodox dynasty to become Chasidic while attempting to reach the young and unplugged through conventional rabbinic teachings. The methods prove ineffective, so Carlebach struggles again to break out of the mold of previous Orthodox leaders and “become Shlomo,” the recording star, performer, spiritual minstrel and friend still both treasured and criticized.

Carlebach grapples with questions of modernity and how to heal young broken souls who expect a hug and won’t dance with a mechitzah.

“Soul Doctor” doesn’t shy away from Carlebach’s struggling with his upbringing’s Orthodox restrictions against even casual physical contact with women and intense condemnation from the establishment and his own father. Audiences watch him find love, attempt to balance family with touring, and ultimately encounter a devastating divorce when his wife takes their children—Neshama and her sister, Nedara (now a married mother of two living in Israel)—to Toronto.

Today, the sisters honor their father’s rich contributions to Jewish tradition through the Carlebach Legacy Trust, which collects his teachings, compositions, photographs and bootleg recordings. Neshama, also a mother of two, is working on her ninth album celebrating her father’s music, despite Orthodoxy’s concerns of kol isha, or halachic rulings regarding men hearing women sing. She also is trailblazing interfaith concerts with the Rev. Roger Hambrick and members of the Green Pastures Baptist Church Choir of the Bronx. Their album, “Higher and Higher,” was a sixth-time Grammy entrant last year.

“There is work to be done,” Neshama says, “and not everyone is down for the work.”

This is Lisa Alcalay Klug’s third article in a JTA series about Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s legacy. Klug is the author of two humor books, “Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe,” a National Jewish Book Award finalist, and “Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe,” a celebration of Jewish women debuting in October.

C’mon, Amanda Green, ‘Bring It On’


At one point in “Bring It On: The Musical,” inspired by the rival cheerleading film of the same name, Bridget, the team’s chubby mascot, gets some moxie from a pep talk about a boy she likes.

“Why walk around like you’re made of asbestos,” a friend sings, “when [he] loves your eyes, your thighs, and your breast-is?”

The lyricist with the audacity to rhyme asbestos with breast-is is Amanda Green, who penned the show’s songs with Lin-Manuel Miranda (“In the Heights”) and composer Tom Kitt (Pulitzer Prize winner for “Next to Normal”). Their show will arrive at the Ahmanson Theatre on Nov. 11.

The daughter of legendary Broadway lyricist Adolph Green, Amanda Green has a resume that highlights her wicked wit. She earned a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle nomination for her first musical, “Up the Creek Without a Paddle,” which she describes, alternately, as “a West Coast version of ‘Sex and the City,’ ” and “basically a gynecological exam set to music.” She recalled that her late father, who shared her bawdy sense of humor, was particularly tickled by a ditty from that 2000 show, which she describes as “a filthy, unprintable song.”

Then there was the musical version of the cult film “High Fidelity,” which Green collaborated on with Kitt, her classmate from the famed BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop; and “For the Love of Tiffany: A Wifetime Original Musical,” which she recounts as a “wild romp that skewered Lifetime TV movies, in which I also acted, playing a triple amputee German housekeeper with a feather duster in my stump.”

When director and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler invited Green to work on “Bring It On,” however, she didn’t set out to parody the pompom set. “I wanted to have fun with this world, but I wasn’t interested in clichés,” she said.

Green began by rewatching the 2000 film, which stars Kirsten Dunst and Eliza Dushku. With book writer Jeff Whitty (“Avenue Q”) and the other collaborators, she then helped to create an entirely new story and characters for the show.

“Bring It On: The Musical” evolved into the story of Campbell, the captain of a cheerleading squad at a lily-white school who is determined to bring her team to victory at a national competition. Her classmates include Bridget, who wears the team’s ungainly parrot-mascot costume; Skylar, aka “Bitter Bitch Barbie,” who has a sidekick named Kylar; and Eva, Campbell’s worshipful admirer, who may or may not be reminiscent of the duplicitous villainess in “All About Eve.”

But then Campbell is transferred to a more urban school that doesn’t even have a cheerleading squad; she struggles to fit in and to convince the queen bee of the hip-hop dance crew to compete against her old team. Life lessons and acrobatics ensue; when “Bring It On” premiered at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta in early 2011, critics described the cheerleading numbers as almost epically athletic.

“I am blown away by Amanda’s work, and it’s been a tremendous experience getting to work with her again,” said Kitt, who asked Green to collaborate with him on “High Fidelity” after meeting her at BMI. “When I first met her, I didn’t know right away that she was the daughter of Adolph Green. She does have this very original and unique talent for lyric writing — this incredibly witty voice mixed with a real sense of craft.

“The worlds of competitive cheerleading and high school are ripe for hilarious and poignant moments, and Amanda’s lyrics are dead on in terms of paying tribute to and also celebrating and laughing at the world of adolescents,” Kitt added of “Bring It On.” “The way Amanda puts things we all feel into unexpected comic writing makes the laugh even bigger, because the audience doesn’t see it coming.”

Green, who is in her 40s, had no cheerleading experience to draw upon when she began working on the show two years ago. While growing up on New York’s Upper West Side, she attended the prestigious High School of Performing Arts — which she said was really like the school in the film, “Fame,” minus the dancing atop taxis — before transferring to a private school her sophomore year. “There wasn’t even a football team, never mind a cheerleading squad,” Green said. “That just wasn’t part of my idiom.”

For “Bring It On,” she didn’t want to draw upon the popular-culture image of “the cheerleader as a bimbo, and ‘rah-rah,’ stuck up and vain,” she said. “I really wanted to delve into their world and understand who they are.”

To this end, Green read books about the subject, interviewed cheerleaders and attended their competitions. “What I found was that they are these incredible athletes, and incredibly dedicated; it’s a very hard sport and what they do is very admirable,” she said. “So I approached it like we were going to have fun with this world, but not from the outside in.”

Amanda Green, co-lyricist of “Bring It On: The Musical.”

As Green began writing lyrics for the show’s approximately 23 songs, which merge pop and hip-hop with more traditional musical theater sounds, she found that “each character had their own voice. As a writer, I love people who have an odd way of speaking or a particular rhythm or vocabulary, so I try to write for each character and how they would express themselves.”

The fictional Campbell is sure of herself, but not without some undercurrents of insecurity, while Skylar both embodies and lampoons stereotypes. “She’s almost nice in her complete bitchiness, because she has such a commitment to it,” Green said. “It’s expressed in lyrics just because she is so unapologetic and gleeful about it.”

In one song, Skylar recalls her own experiences of trying out for the cheerleading squad: “I felt so belittled — man, they put me on the rack. And now that I’m a senior, this is my chance to give back! I’ll uphold the great tradition with these young lives on my watch. Let’s set the stage, I’ve come of age, to be a raging, castrating bee-yotch!”

Green, who laughs easily in a phone conversation from her home on the Upper West Side, has something of a musical theater pedigree. Her father, the son of Hungarian Jewish immigrants, and his longtime collaborator, Betty Comden, created some of Hollywood and Broadway’s greatest hits, writing lyrics for such musicals as “On the Town” and “Billion Dollar Baby,” as well as screenplays and songs for movies like “Singin’ in the Rain.” He met Amanda’s mother, the Tony-winning actress Phyllis Newman, when she understudied for Judy Holliday in his musical “Bells Are Ringing.” Amanda Green recalls her father’s story about how Jule Styne, after a creative argument, stormed out of the room, then stormed back in, naked and dancing a jig.

The “Bring It On” collaboration was somewhat more cordial, she quipped. The production, however, is itself facing a complaint, filed in early August by the Writers Guild of America, accusing the movie’s producers of exploiting the rights of the film’s screenwriter, Jessica Bendinger, by producing a new musical based on the story, according to The New York Times.  In a statement, a spokesperson for the show said, “As a policy, the producers of ‘Bring It On: The Musical’ will not comment on legal matters. The national tour will begin [preview] performances in Los Angeles on Oct. 30, 2011 as scheduled.”  A WGA spokesperson declined to comment on the matter.

For her part, Green said she had no information about the issue.

Talking of her heritage, she said, “Judaism was always part of our cultural heritage; we were always very proud of that,” she said, adding that her childhood home was also a meeting place for luminaries such as Styne, Cy Coleman and Leonard Bernstein, who took turns serenading one another at the piano. When she performed the starring role of Maria in a summer-camp production of Bernstein’s “West Side Story,” the maestro himself sent her a congratulatory opening-night telegram.

Green studied theater and English at Brown University and then attended the Circle in the Square Theatre School, initially aspiring to become a performer rather than a lyricist. She explained, “You don’t compete with your parents, without even consciously saying, ‘I’m not going to do what they do.’ “ And so she wrote her own songs and sang in cabarets—and even went to Nashville to write country music, “because I always had an offbeat sense of humor that didn’t lend itself to straight pop songs,” she said. “But when I enrolled in the BMI musical theater workshop, that’s where it clicked for me. I was like, ‘This is where I belong.’ I just understood the genre, because I grew up with it; I get it, I love it, and I can be as eccentric as I want to be, as long as it serves the character.”

For more information, please visit centertheatregroup.org.

Israel’s ‘grande dame’ grows up on the big screen


There is a scene in Dina Zvi-Riklis’ award-winning drama, “Three Mothers,” in which Gila Almagor, once a popular singer, stages a comeback concert to raise money for her sister, Yasmin, who needs a kidney transplant. At the start of the concert, she introduces herself as one of three sisters. “Sixty years ago, my sisters and I were born in Alexandria, in Egypt. We’re triplets,” she says, with a coy smile. “Triplets are like twins, but a lot harder.”

In that moment, Almagor is Rose, a still-attractive, 60-year-old woman who has lived a remarkable life, full of mystery and adventure and an unusual bond with her sisters. It’s only when the movie ends that the viewer can detach from this vision of Almagor as Rose, a has-been cabaret singer who refuses to be daunted by what she and her sisters did to help one another.

For despite some similarities, Gila Almagor herself is anything but a has-been. This 67-year-old actress is at top of her game, working on several movies, the stage and two television series. She will be presented with a lifetime achievement award on Tuesday, March 6, at the Los Angeles Israel Film Festival, which runs March 7-22. But, perhaps, like Rose, Almagor is a woman who is able to focus on her own gifts while remaining dedicated to a force larger than herself. For Rose, that force is her sisters. For Almagor the actress, it is the world known as Israeli cinema.

“I started as a very young actress,” Almagor said in an interview. “When I was 18 or 19, I was already participating in Israeli films, and it was the beginning of the Israeli film industry. We’ve been working together ever since, and I feel more like a servant of Israeli cinema. I’m so happy that I’ve been here [from] the beginning and survived until now, when I see it flourishing.”

Almagor was a teenager when she first fell in love with the stage. She was living in a children’s home — her mother was mentally ill; she never met her father, a policeman in the British Army, because he was killed by an Arab sniper when her mother was five months pregnant with her. Her mother later remarried, but by time Almagor was 13, she was sent away to school. She wasn’t yet 17 when she moved to Tel Aviv, rented a room near the Habima Theater and took the entrance examinations for the drama school.

Her debut performance was on her 17th birthday, in the Thornton Wilder play, “The Skin of Our Teeth.” After working at both the Habima and Cameri theaters, Almagor studied acting in New York, returning in 1965 to Israel, where she has remained, performing in dozens of plays, movies and television shows.

“In acting and content and contribution as an actress, Gila is the most prolific actor in Israeli cinema; her contributions have been utterly fantastic,” says Katriel Shory, director of the Israel Film Fund. “You can’t think of Israeli cinema without Gila Almagor. You just can’t.”

For Almagor, the last year has been one of intense work, on stage and on small and large screens. Besides acting in “Three Mothers” and “Tied Hands,” both being screened at the festival, she also participated in Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” and Assaf Bernstein’s “The Debt.” She has performed in several plays and in two television shows, “Our Song” and “Therapy” (HBO recently bought the rights to create their own version of “Therapy,” which will be called “In Treatment”).

Almagor loves to work, particularly when the different roles demand versatility as an actor. For Almagor, this is the essence of being an actor: the challenge to change physically and mentally for the look and feel of each character.

During her early years as a young actress, she says, she was “cast only as a pretty face, with empty roles, empty characters and I had to fight against the stigma. They dyed my hair blonde for three years. It was torture to be a good-looking young actress when I wanted to become a very versatile actress. I knew I could do comedy [and] drama. I did so many things to fight against the stigma and to make sure that I could become the actress that I dreamed of. ”

In “Tied Hands,” Almagor plays a mother caring for her dying son, attempting to make up for a lifetime of benign neglect. The movie revolves around one night when Almagor goes on a journey to find marijuana for her son and discovers different aspects of his very different world in her search. Critics have called Almagor’s performance masterful, as she balances the mother’s stern, proper exterior with the expressions of a woman who is confused and despairing over her son’s terminal illness.

To Almagor, the best part of last year’s work was the range of roles she played: tortured mother and sometimes selfish sister in “Three Mothers;” retired psychologist in the series “Therapy;” police investigator in the fourth season of “Our Song;” as well as her ongoing stage work in both “Abandoned Property” and the Israeli version of playwright Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues.”

“Work is my open university,” Almagor says. “I learn by working on my characters or dealing with a period by doing research. But I try very carefully not to be affected by the roles I play – I know how to draw the line between my work and my life, otherwise I would have to be hospitalized.”

Then again, that has always been Almagor’s gift as an actress — her ability to physically and mentally morph into the look, sound and soul of the character that she is playing.

“For me, this is the essence of being an actress,” Almagor says. “It’s like being a comedian.”

What many people don’t know about Almagor, says the Film Fund’s Shory, is her commitment to the development of Israeli cinema, her dedication to the battles over what constitutes Israeli cinema.

Gay Romeo Tale Set on Mideast Stage


 

Astute trend-spotters have noticed a new genre — “Love Across the Green Line” — in which Israeli boy meets Palestinian girl, or variations on this theme, like boy meets boy.

Four productions along these lines have been followed by the incipient courtship between Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), another confirmation that life imitates art.

In the very funny short film, “West Bank Story” by Ari Sandel, featuring an all-singing, all-dancing cast, the Israeli Romeo and the Palestinian Juliet join hands and hearts to settle a bitter rivalry between their families’ competing falafel stands.

The more somber play, “Sixteen Wounded” by Eliam Kraiem, varies the theme by having a young Palestinian radical bond with an elderly Holocaust survivor.

“Walk on Water” by Israeli director Eytan Fox weaves together various storylines (see story, page 35), but its main message is that traditional enemies can reconcile if they get to know each other as human beings, rather than stereotypes.

The latest entry is the revised play “Salam Shalom, A Tale of Passion,” currently on stage at the Whitmore Lindley Theater in North Hollywood.

It is part political debate, part generational confrontation and part gay love affair, written and produced by a multifaceted Arab American actor and dancer who goes by the single name of Saleem.

Saleem plays Nabeel, a Palestinian who arrives in Los Angeles for a year’s position at UCLA to teach Arabic.

He rents half of a small apartment, only to discover that he will share it with Yaron, an Israeli American sporting a large Star of David, whose father was killed in the Yom Kippur War.

Not surprisingly, ideological and ethnic hostilities flare up immediately, exacerbated by arguments over how to arrange the mutually shared living room.

Yet gradually, sexual attraction grows between the studly built, aggressive Yaron (Noah Jordan), who rarely misses a chance to strip off his shirt, and the older, more passive Nabeel.

Their love, encouraged by the pretty landlady (Kara Greenberg), is sealed by exchanging portions of pita and hummus, here, as in “West Bank Story,” the soul food of Arabs and Israelis alike.

The idyll is occasionally interrupted by Nashed (Yasmine Hannaney), a lithe student in Nabeel’s class, and her brother, Malik (Amro Salama), a firebrand Arab nationalist.

Yet all goes relatively well, until the lovers return to Israel to confront their families and the prevailing political situation.

Yaron’s mother (Helen Siff), long accustomed to her son’s sexual orientation, is still shocked that he has chosen an Arab lover. Even more outraged is Yaron’s brother, David (Andy McCarty), a by-the-book Israeli army officer, who hates Arabs.

On the other side of Jerusalem, Nabeel’s father (veteran Israeli actor Avner Garbi) is overcome with shame on discovering his son’s homosexuality and expels him from his home and life.

The confrontations come to a point when David arrests Nabeel and grills him as a terrorism suspect, while Yaron rushes to his lover’s defense.

It will be up to the viewer to find out whether the two men’s personal passion can survive in a land driven by larger passions.

Acting in the play varies from passable to excellent, with the most compelling performance by Garbi as the distraught Arab father.

Director Ty Donaldson keeps the action moving among constantly changing mini-scenes, and the set design by Jurney Suh makes skillful use of the 45-seat theater’s small stage.

For the hopelessly straight viewer, the play is instructive for the courtship rituals among gays, nongraphically handled, which seem as complex and awkward as among heterosexual couples.

The program notes that Saleem, when not writing or acting, also promotes two Los Angeles nightclubs, Club La Zees and 1001 Arabian Nites, both billed as “America’s first gay Middle Eastern dance clubs.”

“Salam Shalom” will continue through March 27 with performances Friday through Sunday evenings at the Whitmore Lindley Theater, 11006 Magnolia Blvd. (at Vineland Avenue) in North Hollywood. For tickets and information, call (323) 933-9214, ext. 3, or visit www.salamshalom.freehosting.net.

 

Screen Scribe


Norman Hudis is a patient man, not by temperament but by necessity. It took the ex-Londoner and current Woodland Hills resident some 30 years to see his play produced on stage, and if the venue is Santa Ana rather than Manhattan, he is as pleased as any playwright savoring his name on a Broadway marquee.

The play is titled "Dinner With Ribbentrop." That would be Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s ambassador to Great Britain and later his foreign minister, who was hanged in Nuremberg as a war criminal.

While serving in London in 1938, Ribbentrop met British actor and screen star Eric Portman and was pleased to find in him a raging anti-Semite.

In the 1950s, Hudis worked as publicist for Sir Arthur Rank’s Pinewood Studio and there met Portman. The actor boasted that during a private dinner with Ribbentrop, the Nazi diplomat promised him that after the German victory in the upcoming war, the New Order would make Portman England’s greatest star in a Jew-free British film industry.

In the months following, the Jewish publicist, a grandson of Russian immigrants, and the Jew-hating actor spent long hours together in pubs arguing heatedly.

In the play, set in the 1950s, Portman is offered the role of his lifetime by a Jewish producer, and their very first meeting erupts into a furious dispute about Jews.

After Hudis finished the play, it made the rounds of London producers. They hailed it as brilliant, challenging and mordantly funny, said Hudis, but rejected it for fear that giving a platform to a handsome, witty and eloquent anti-Semite would offend the Jewish theater-going public.

Now living with his wife, Rita, the 82-year-old Hudis is writing his autobiography, titled "Running Late," and it should be a lively read.

At 16, he was a junior reporter and at 21, as a member of the Royal Air Force, he was the youngest war correspondent in the Middle East. Back in civilian life, he became a "picture plugger" for a studio publicity department, and then a screenwriter.

He wrote the scripts of some 20 "B" pictures and then hit it big with the wildly popular "Carry On, Nurse," a very risqué comedy for its time,

In the 1960s the family settled in Hollywood, where Hudis became an award-winning TV writer. His writing stints have ranged from mysteries, rock ‘n’ roll shows and crime thrillers to bible spectacles and classic comedy.

"Dinner With Ribbentrop" runs through May 23 at the Rude Guerrilla Theater, 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana. For information, call (714) 547-4688.

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 www.anoisewithin.org .

The Joy of ‘Oy’


Richard Lewis is a comedian who has perfected the art of the kvetch.

In his act, he paces the stage, plastering his palms to his temples to express the universal oy. Clad completely in black, he laments his hypochondria, his "dates from hell," his Jewish family. "My grandparents were ‘depressed-again’ Jews," he whines. "They had a bumper sticker that said, ‘I’d rather be weeping.’"

Lewis’ mother had a satellite dish that must have been Jewish, because it "picked up problems from other families," he suggests.

His family was so assimilated, their Chanukah menorah was on a dimmer.

But during a recent Journal interview at the Argyle Hotel, the "Prince of Pain’s" anxiety seemed to have been turned down a notch. After almost seven years of sobriety, Lewis, a recovering alcoholic, has published a collection of autobiographical essays, "The Other Great Depression," and has a new comedy CD, "Live From Hell: Before and After." He is playing himself in a recurring role on Larry David’s HBO show, "Curb Your Enthusiasm," in which his touchy-feely, nervous Jewish persona is the perfect foil for the prickly, dyspeptic David.

Best of all, Lewis says, he had a Jewish spiritual reawakening during the blessing of a friend’s adopted baby at a Los Angeles shul last year. "I felt like it was the 41st year in the desert, and all the other Jews had gotten out, and I was still wandering around like some poor schmuck looking for a rabbi or a decent pastrami sandwich, anything to make me feel like a Jew again," he wrote in his book. "I was hugging my tallis for dear life," he told The Journal.

Lewis jokes that he was "born and lowered" in New Jersey, where his workaholic father was "the king of kosher caterers," and his actress mom played most of Neil Simon’s Jewish mothers in the community theater. Because his dad was booked solid the weekend of Lewis’ bar mitzvah, Richard’s coming-of-age simcha took place on a Tuesday night: "It was like an affair catered by Cecil B. DeMille," he recalls.

Nevertheless, he quips, his parents made him so crazy, he used to take his M & M’s one at a time, with water. "Kennedy was just assassinated," his mother once said. "Go clean your room."

Young Lewis found relief at the local Jewish community center, where he was the star of the youth basketball team. At sports camp in 1963, 12-year-old Richard met a tall, sly, gangly kid who would become his arch-rival: future "Seinfeld" co-creator Larry David. "Larry had hair then," Lewis marvels. The two became fast friends a decade later, after they recognized each other as struggling young comics at New York’s famed Improv club. Lewis says he became a comedian to fill the void left by his father’s death in 1971. The more he talked about his neurotic family onstage, the more popular he became. When a drunk heckler yelled, "He’s a Jew!" during an early gig, Lewis embarrassed the man so badly that the heckler apologized profusely from his seat.

While playing dives during his broke, early years, Lewis took solace in knowing that a memento of his father’s — a tiepin in the shape of a cat — was "in a little box in a drawer in [my] s—– little apartment in New Jersey … meowing quietly to itself.’" Also helpful were the group-therapy sessions he continued even after moving to Los Angeles in 1976.

Every week, an audiocassette of the group’s latest session arrived in the mailbox of his hole-in-the-wall Hollywood apartment, whereupon Lewis would race up the rickety stairwell, pour himself a glass of cheap white wine and listen to his old pals complain about their lives. Then came the day he heard the therapist say to a distraught group member, "Could you please sob closer into the mic

for Richard?"

"That was the end of my group therapy career," recalls Lewis, who went on to spend more than a quarter-million dollars on private psychotherapy.

Yet his feelings of self-loathing did not dissipate, even after he had completed several well-received TV comedy specials and landed a coveted role on the TV sitcom "Anything But Love" in 1988. In fact, Lewis was so convinced he had failed his audition that he was shocked when actress Jamie Lee Curtis jumped up after his reading and yelled, "That’s my Marty!"

The show featured an interfaith romance between Lewis’ character, Marty Gold, and Curtis’ Hannah Miller.

By the 1990s, Lewis was so addicted to alcohol that he quit therapy rather than turn in the weekly journal suggested by his doctor (a sample entry: "Monday morning, 7:45 a.m., five glasses of Moët & Chandon with a little orange juice"). He quit stand-up comedy, too, and in 1994 was wheeled through the doors of a hospital emergency room, hallucinating as the result of a cocaine overdose. A compassionate doctor brushed back the hair from his sweating brow and said, "You’re so funny, Mr. Lewis. Why are you doing this to yourself? What are you going to do about it?" The comic says he replied with a one-word vow: "Live."

These days, Lewis is sober and back onstage; the famed commitmentphobe even has a longtime Jewish girlfriend, a dark-haired babe he playfully calls Gina Lolamatzobrie. She has urged him to attend her Torah classes and bought him a mezuzah that now hangs on his bedroom door.

The comedian still gets to dwell on his neuroses, however, especially on "Curb Your Enthusiasm." In a hysterical recent episode, he and David came to blows over a bracelet coveted by both characters’ significant others. "All that rivalry from basketball camp came back to us, and we were really fighting," Lewis says of the ad-libbed scene. "I broke Larry’s glasses, and I hurt his arm, but it was so funny he didn’t mind he couldn’t move his shoulder.’"

Up Front


I don’t know why they love me so much [in England]. Over there, I played the London Palladium for a month. It was just announced that I was going to play there, and the show has practically sold out. Here, I’m told I’m too Jewish; over there, they love me. Go figure that out.”

The World According to Jackie Mason By Michael Aushenker, Community Editor

If anyone was preordained to be a rabbi, it was Jackie Mason. Born in Sheboygan, Wis., in 1937, the Yiddish-accented comedian comes from four generations of rabbis. All three of his brothers are rabbis. And, once upon a time, Mason himself was a rabbi, teaching Talmud in far-out places like Lathrop, Pa., and Walden, N.C.

But, at the age of 27, Mason’s life took a detour from destiny. Disillusioned with Modern Orthodoxy, he quit his congregation and hit the road as a stand-up comedian. His career was temporarily stalled in the 1960s following an infamous appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” during which he made a hand gesture that Sullivan construed as a personal insult directed at him.

It was in the late 1980s when Mason’s career blossomed anew with an award-winning one-man Broadway show, “The World According to Me.” Along with his subsequent shows — “Jackie Mason: Politically Incorrect” and “Jackie Mason: Brand New” — the opinionated humorist has rode his runaway monologues to international success. Mason has even parlayed his old-school Jewish persona into limited success on TV (the thankfully short-lived sitcom “Chicken Soup”) and cinema (the long-forgotten and dubious sequel “Caddyshack II”).

However, it’s on stage, before a packed audience, where Mason’s wit is a force to behold.

These days, Mason co-hosts “Crossing the Line” with celebrated attorney Raoul Felder. Currently in its third year, the topical celebrity panel show appears on PBS stations around the country.

This month, Mason will break in his latest one-man show, which is bound for Broadway and abroad. The comic will offer his unique, unfettered take on such topics du jour as the Lewinsky affair; Sen. John Glenn in space; Microsoft founder Bill Gates; and Viagra. Catch Mason at The Comedy Store on June 17-20, 22, and 24-28.

IS MASON REALLY JEWISH, OR IS IT FOR THE ACT? [laughs] “As far as I know. Unless my father and mother lied to me….”

MASON WAS A RABBI; SAM KINISON, A PREACHER — WHAT GIVES? “I don’t see any connection between religion and comedy. It’s like saying once you were a fireman and now you’re a doctor.”

HONING HIS ACT ON THE BIMAH: “I used comedy to make a speech at a wedding or a bar mitzvah. [At times, a rabbi] is more of a social director. He’s not a very popular rabbi if he’s not entertaining. People come to a religious place, but they don’t want to hear about religion. Most Gentiles go to a bar, the Jews go to temple.”

“TOO JEWISH”: “Only Jews say to me that I’m ‘too Jewish.’ They’ll never say a comedian is ‘too Italian’ or ‘too Spanish,’ because they would feel like bigots. They don’t feel accepted. They always feel that they have to impress the Gentiles. But then they say they’re proud to be Jewish. It’s nuts. It’s a sickness.”

PERSECUTION COMPLEX: “A lot of Jews are shocked when Gentiles laugh at my humor. They wonder, how could they understand my humor. What is there not to understand? It’s in English. The humor is universal. It’s only Jewish paranoia that makes them say that…. This is the self-hate that Jews suffer from. They can’t understand about being accepted. When Jews hear a Jewish accent, they get panicky…. They still can’t believe Gentiles will accept them, so they still imagine persecution if someone finds out they’re Jewish. If a Jew loses a job, he’ll say its anti-Semitism.”

GENTILE MAN’S AGREEMENT: “Jews have always been in control of the studios, yet there was never a Jewish character in a movie. Even now, when you look back, you can count them on your hands…. They’ll show [every other race], but they’ll never show you a Jewish character. It’s all one big Jewish sickness. They’re always nervous about showing Jews. A Jew is always some kind of a complete lunatic character, whose Jewishness makes him some kind of a crazo.”

JEWS IN SPACE: “Woody Allen cannot depict a Jew as a normal person. Mel Brooks makes the Jew a character who doesn’t belong in front of normal people. He becomes a Chassidic clown or a sick weirdo. That’s the only way [Brooks] could depict a Jew: If he’s a moronic character, if it’s showing to a Gentile audience that it’s a nut case…. It’s Jewish self-loathing.”

DON’T THROW A “JEWISH PRIDE” PARADE JUST YET: “There’s definitely been some progress. Thirty years ago, you would never have a show called ‘Seinfeld.’ There would never be a Jew called Streisand; she would have changed her name…. It’s changing but not changing that much. They can admit they’re Jewish, but they’re a lot more proud to marry a shiksa .”

HE’S PERFORMED FOR THE QUEEN MOTHER, QUEEN ELIZABETH II, PRINCE CHARLES — CAN WILLIAM AND HARRY BE FAR BEHIND? “I have no idea. I don’t know why they love me so much [in England]. Over there, I played the London Palladium for a month. It was just announced that I was going to play there, and the show has practically sold out. Here, I’m told I’m too Jewish; over there, they love me. Go figure that out.”

WHAT IF SOMEONE FLIPPED JACKIE THE ONE-FINGER SALUTE ON LIVE TV? “I don’t know if I would ban him from the show, but if it was intentional, I wouldn’t want to have him over for dinner. I never did that to Sullivan. He imagined it…. As far as I’m concerned, he made an issue out of nothing. I think he was a wonderful guy.”

A HORSE WAS A HORSE: “Back then, if you made a dirty gesture, they had contempt for you. Today, you’re a hero, you’re a hit…. Madonna will sleep with a horse if she has to…. It’s a whole different kind of morality.”

“CHICKENED” OUT: “I didn’t care about ‘Chicken Soup.’ I was nauseous doing the show… I can’t take selfish people. I did it out of decency, to fulfill my contractual obligations. From day one, I wanted out of it…I hated doing a sitcom. All of a sudden, I found myself being a prisoner of someone else’s dictates. I felt like I was captured in Vietnam, and I couldn’t remember what I did to deserve this. If I had a choice right now between a prison camp or a sitcom, I’d pick the prison camp.”

BUT WOULD HE DO ANOTHER SITCOM? “I didn’t go into show business to stand in a warehouse at 4 in the morning and repeat lines 40 times for a director. The whole process is very arduous, and there’s no way to get around it. It’s like working in a coal mine. What’s the difference whether it’s my coal mine or someone else’s coal mine, it’s still a coal mine.”

“CADDYSHACK III”? “If they do it, it’ll be without me.”

A Window to the Soul


Laila Robins and Brian Cox in a scene from “Skylight”by David Hare

 

A romantic might regard a skylight as a window facing the sun –evidence of the universal but private human impulse to reach up, todream. But seen through a different lens, a skylight is a dangerouskind of artifice — a deliberately selective framing device thatoffers an idealized view of reality by excluding the messy chaos andpain that exists closer to the ground.

English playwright David Hare explores the uneasy coexistence ofwarring human impulses in “Skylight,” which is now onstage in itsWest Coast première at the Mark Taper Forum under directorRobert Egan.

Despite some moments in Act I that stall under the weight of theexposition, Hare weaves together the personal and the political herewith a good deal of wisdom and skill. To a certain degree, his workhas always been concerned with the larger-scale conflicts betweenleft and right, rich and poor, men and women. While “Skylight” is anambitious play charged with big ideas, it generally avoids thedreaded didacticism associated with “political theater.” Instead, setentirely in a modest flat in drab Northwest London, “Skylight” deftlyillustrates how the complex tensions that tug at contemporary Westernsociety play themselves out on an utterly human scale.

At the outset, we meet Kyra Hollis (played by the willowy andself-assured Laila Robins), who lives in the apartment where thedrama unfolds. A schoolteacher to underprivileged teens in “EastHam,” Kyra is intense, bookish, resolutely liberal and almost asceticin her disdain for material comforts. Her chilly flat lacks centralheating, so she huddles contentedly on the couch near a space heaterthat doesn’t work. (The apartment’s frigidity proves to be acontinuous source of humor throughout the play.)

It’s a life of small conversations on the cross-town bus and quietevenings at home, grading papers. Kyra may have spent her childhoodnear the cold English sea as the daughter of an affluent but remotesolicitor/father, but she now appears at home in the hardscrabbleenvirons of bohemian working-class London.

Her new life is thrown off balance, however, by a conversationwith the adolescent Edward Sergeant (an exuberant and entertainingturn by Michael Hall), a boy she watched grow up during the years sheworked for his parents. As chance would have it, she’s visited laterthe same day by his father, Tom Sergeant — a gruff and roguishlycharming business tycoon, played with relish by the magnetic BrianCox.

It turns out that years ago, Kyra was a young and talentedemployee of a growing restaurant and hotel empire run by Tom and hiswife, Alice. While Kyra was quickly welcomed into their family, herrelationship with the Sergeants was somewhat complicated. She sharedan intimate friendship with Alice, whom she admired and respected,and, for six years, she carried on a torrid and secret romance withTom. When Alice discovered the love affair, Kyra fled and neverlooked back.

Now, three years later, Alice has recently died of cancer, andTom, who has turned 50, stands with false bravado in the middle ofKyra’s living room — looking both seductively threatening andfaintly ridiculous in his expensive topcoat.

This chain of events, sketched only briefly here, is graduallyrevealed during the long, passionate night of talk that follows Tom’ssudden appearance at Kyra’s door. During the first few minutes ofthis reunion between former lovers, the air is heavy with old wounds,unanswered questions, sexual tension and the comic awkwardness thataccompanies it. The emotionally layered atmosphere (as well as DavidJenkin’s cleverly cluttered and inviting set) draw us in quickly.What keeps us there, interested in spending the night with thesemismatched lovers, are the full-bodied performances by Robins and Cox(whose looks and bearish energy are strongly reminiscent of AlbertFinney) as well as Hare’s wit and insight about modern life.

While Kyra makes dinner, trying to keep a wary distance from Tom’sforce field, he strides about her apartment, alternating well-placedswipes at her composure with funny observations on a variety ofsubjects, such as his dealings with the smug new class of youngbusiness consultants he has to contend with now that his company hasgone public. Of one he says, “He’s the kind of person who has beentold he’s good with people. He smiles a lot…. Naturally, he’s quiteinsufferable.”

Since Alice’s death, Tom is equally impatient with the false,touchy-feely intimacies extended to him by therapized professionals.With comic precision, he recounts to Kyra the invitation of a womanfrom a local “support group” who showed up at his door one day to”help him grieve.”

As the night grows late, their conversation, as well as theirattraction, grows more frank and piercingly close to the bone. BothKyra’s and Tom’s public faces are slowly stripped away. Her sense ofself-containment and righteous liberalism are rattled by Tom, whoaccuses her of living a niggardly emotional and material life builton denial and fuzzy leftist sentiment. Her thin, almost abstracthuman relationships and chilly apartment, he argues, are closer tothe icy loneliness of her childhood than she thinks.

Kyra dismisses Tom’s own initial show of gruff cheer as numb maleposturing, fueled by an inability to face pain. His blustergrudgingly gives way, revealing the anger and confusion that liebehind the surface.

“Skylight” may paint the picture of a highly specific love story– messy with psychological scars and conflicting desires — but it’sincorporated onto the larger canvas of historical and politicalcrosscurrents. (“It wasn’t until I left those capriccio andricotta-stuffed restaurants of yours,” Kyra tells Tom at one point,”…that I remembered how other people lived.”) Personal ambitionsversus social responsibility. Love versus self knowledge.

With “Skylight,” Hare illuminates how our public selves are shapedand propelled by our private lives. On close inspection, the detailsthat make up the “big picture” are a series of potently individualones.

“Skylight” is at the Mark Taper Forum through Oct. 26. 135 N.Grand Ave., Los Angeles. For tickets ($29 to $37), performanceschedule or other information, call (213) 628-2772. n