Humor thrives in ‘Divorce Party: The Musical’


Divorce can be a devastating experience, but one can get through it, survive and even thrive, according to Amy Botwinick, co-author of “Divorce Party: The Musical,” currently running at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood. 

The story centers on Linda (Janna Cardia), whose marriage ended when her husband came out of the closet and left her for another man. Linda is wallowing in misery and devouring Chubby Hubby ice cream. Enter her sister (Mary Jayne Waddell), her cousin (Samara Dunn) and her friend (Soara-Joye Ross), who have come to throw her a divorce party and lift her spirits. By the show’s end, Linda has been transformed, physically and emotionally, and is living a full life.

Botwinick, a former chiropractor, went through her own traumatic divorce some 12 years ago. She went on to become a divorce coach, helping other women get through their breakups. After five years of coaching, Botwinick wanted to do more, and the idea for a play came to her as an outgrowth of her therapy.

“My divorce took three years, and I remember going to my therapist, and she said, ‘You’re killing me. I don’t know what to do with you.’ She suggested that I start journaling my thoughts down on paper. I started writing my heart out, and the first thing was a book, ‘Congratulations on Your Divorce.’ That book was a little piece of me, but I interviewed a lot of other men and women, and I said, ‘Please tell me how you made it through this, because I need help.’ And they shared their stories of love, of loss, of why they stayed together, why they chose to leave, and what their lives looked like.

“I think the play was just me writing about what I learned from all these women that I coached, what I learned about myself and how you put your big-girl pants on and start over again.”

Botwinick had never actually written a play, so when she discovered that Tony Award-winning Broadway producer Mark Schwartz was at an event she was attending in Palm Beach, Fla., she introduced herself to him and said she had written a book on divorce and felt the subject would lend itself to a musical. As it happened, Schwartz, who had produced the off-Broadway hit “Menopause: The Musical” and was trying to decide what subject to tackle next, was thinking along the same line. The two ultimately got together and began to collaborate, with Schwartz guiding Botwinick in structuring a script and writing dialogue. He also brought in Jay Falzone to work with them on the book, direct the production and create lyrics that parodied popular tunes, a device modeled on the musical numbers in “Menopause.”

After honing the material for a few years, they premiered the play last January in West Palm Beach, Fla., breaking every box office record for the last 20 years. There was also a production in Toronto, which Schwartz said sold more than 20,000 tickets. 

The producer, who has divorced twice, is quick to emphasize that the show is not just aimed at divorced people. “This is really, really important. It doesn’t matter if you’re single, married or divorced, this is one funny, funny time at the theater. Everybody knows someone who’s been through a divorce, or is going through a divorce. It’s a very normal part of our lives.” 

Although the play unfolds from a woman’s point of view, the show includes about nine “boy toy” characters, all played by actor Scott Ahearn.

“It’s a tour-de-force performance,” Schwartz remarked, “and the audience loves him at the end. But h interacts with the women only as a third person. He’s not their friend; he doesn’t know them. He’s a pizza delivery boy; he’s a massage therapist; he’s a yoga master; he’s a makeover artist. He comes back in different guises.”

Although it is not a specifically Jewish play, Botwinick, who now lives in Florida and is remarried to “a nice Jewish attorney,” said her approach was heavily influenced by the values she learned as a Jewish girl from New Jersey. 

“Growing up as a Jewish girl with this idea of always trying to be the bigger person, always trying to do the best you can, not being mean or vicious, a lot of that is in there, because a lot of people go through difficult times and they lash out, or they go for revenge. I just think about how I grew up, what I learned in Hebrew School and my bat mitzvah, about always giving back, whether it’s to your friends or your family, and just trying to be supportive and helpful.

“Things get hard,” she continued. “We always have hard times as Jews, right? We always have issues, but what do we do? We always pick ourselves up, and we move on, and we move on with a good heart, and with humor. Humor is everything.”

“Divorce Party: The Musical” runs until April 14 at the El Portal Theatre. For tickets or more information, call (866) 811-4111 or visit 

www.elportaltheatre.com.

 

Observant life in progress


Barbara Heller likes to refer to herself as a “growing Jew.” 

The actress/singer has created a biographical show, “Finding Barb,” that traces her life from her dysfunctional family in Boca Raton, Fla., through her disappointing pursuit of an acting career in New York, to her indoctrination into Orthodox Judaism and, finally, to her present state of trying to balance her commitment to an observant life with her professional ambitions.

The play is running currently at Working Stage in West Hollywood, with performances continuing through Jan. 10.

The seeds of Heller’s quest seem to be rooted in the upheaval of her early home life. While her parents are caricatured in her play, she said the conflict between them was real.

“There was a lot of fighting in the house, not between me and my sister, but between my parents. 

“They both had their issues, and they both were really honest about it. Unfortunately, they shared everything with us, like their problems. But, on the other hand, nothing was hidden. I don’t know. I guess I got to see too much.”

Complicating matters, Heller remarked, was the feeling that she never fit any of the “boxes” into which she wanted to fit — she was never part of the “cool” group in elementary school, for example. She said it got better in high school, where she loved the extracurricular acting, singing and dancing activities and appeared in school productions.

Heller recalled that she was 13 when she decided she wanted acting to be her life’s work. She was in New York visiting her aunt, who was a lawyer.

“I looked at all the books in her office, and I thought, ‘Oh, this is so boring.’ And I looked at the cover of Time magazine. Jim Henson had just passed away, and I sat in her law library … and I just sobbed. I said, ‘I feel so much more connected to Jim Henson than to any of these books and being a lawyer.’ I remember that moment. I made a decision.  I said, ‘I have to be an actor.’ And that was it.” 

Heller attended Tisch School of the Arts at New York University but couldn’t finish because her parents were going through a messy divorce and didn’t have the money for her to continue there. Instead, she graduated from the University of Florida, in Gainesville, with a major in theater and returned to New York to try for acting roles. 

Although she did cabaret work, toured in an off-Broadway production, auditioned for numerous Broadway shows and got called back many times, she never actually landed a role on Broadway. She started to think about quitting. 

Then she was invited to a Shabbat dinner at the Upper West Side apartment of a friend she had met a few years earlier, when they visited eight concentration camps and Israel under the sponsorship of the World Zionist Organization.

That night, there was a security she had never previously enjoyed, certainly not when she was living with her parents. 

“I had no structure growing up,” she said. “So, to have even one dinner a week where everyone was loving and happy and there together, and there was good food on the table and we could have guests over — just the idea of having a wholesome, intimate Shabbat dinner that was loving was precious to me. I’d never had that before.

“I bought a dream that night.” 

She also met a couple there who suggested she attend a retreat in Orlando, which was being run by Isralight, an organization dedicated to “Inspiring a Renaissance in Jewish Living” through educational programs.

“I decided that weekend that I should go to Israel and study the Torah in the original text instead of the critical texts I had studied in college,” Heller said. “I stayed there for almost two years [off and on] learning in yeshivot.” 

She then steeped herself in Orthodoxy and endured years of match-made dating that is portrayed in her show as hilariously disastrous. 

But, for her, the woman’s role in Judaism does have a certain beauty. 

“I started to get really curious about what it means to be a Jewish woman,” she said. “What are the laws that I can embrace? I love the idea of niddah; I love the idea of a woman going to mikveh and praying, and being immersed in that water,” she said. 

During the period of her extreme Orthodox life, Heller spent some 10 years singing and performing exclusively for female audiences. She explained that it’s a very strict halachah for an observant woman to perform only for other women. But, ultimately, that limitation wasn’t fulfilling, and her current show is a way of reintroducing herself to more mainstream, integrated audiences.

As for dating, Heller said, as an observant woman, she didn’t touch men for six years. Still, she didn’t get married in the time frame that the rabbi said she would find a husband.

“I only dated observant men for nine, 10 years, and then I realized I’m not finding the right person for me. Maybe that’s because I’m not supposed to be fully observant in this very strict way. So, I started dating people who are not as religious, and I’m much happier, because I don’t really fit in the box of an Orthodox Jew.” 

At this point in her life, Heller said she considers herself “a growing Jew,” or “limmudnik.”

Limmud actually means ‘to learn’ or ‘learning,’ and I’m a learning Jew; I’m a growing Jew. I also teach Judaism. That’s part of what I do as a job. I teach Jewish students on the weekends at different synagogues and in their homes,” she said. “I teach Judaism, and I also run a theater camp for Jewish kids where there’s, partially, Jewish learning and theater studies as well.”

Heller concluded that her play is about finding a box that works for her, or taking pieces of different boxes and putting them together in a creative way.

“Finding Barb”

The Working Stage
1516 N. Gardner, Los Angeles 90046 (five blocks east of Fairfax)
(323) 521-8600
Thursdays through Jan. 10, 2013, 8 p.m.
No performance the weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s Eve
Tickets $25.00
Reservations: FindingBarbShow.Eventbrite.com/

Rescuing Jewish Musicians


When Zubin Mehta takes the stage at the Disney Concert Hall on Oct. 30 to conduct the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO), most in the audience will know that they’re hearing a world-class orchestra. Very few will realize, however, that the IPO’s founding was integral to the origins of the modern Jewish state. That beginning not only inaugurated the arts in Israel, but it was coupled with the saving of untold numbers of Jews from the Holocaust. Now that story is being told on the big screen in director Josh Aronson’s “Orchestra of Exiles,” in first-run screenings at selected Laemmle theaters beginning Nov. 2.

It’s the story of Bronislaw Huberman (1882-1947), a poor Polish Jew who rose to become one of Europe’s leading concert violinists of the early 20th century. As German orchestras began expelling their Jewish members, he had the vision to see the coming Holocaust. He fought the rampant European Jew hatred of the 1930s and ’40s with his greatest weapon: his violin. Huberman then leveraged his rock-star status to attract star Jewish soloists to join him in building a great symphony orchestra in Palestine. In so doing, he arranged for the safe exit of at least 1,000 Jews.

While Aronson has directed fictional screenplays, the 60-year-old filmmaker’s medium of choice is documentary filmmaking. His resume includes “Sound and Fury” (2000), “Beautiful Daughters” (2006) and “Bullrider” (2006). And as a documentarian, he’s used to being buttonholed about a subject.

“Everybody comes to you with the greatest story that’s never been told,” he says with a degree of weariness from his home in New York City. “But a friend of mine was going to Vienna to play with violinist Joshua Bell, to honor this long-dead violinist, Huberman. I’ve been a pianist since I was 5 years old, and my wife, Maria Bachmann, is a concert violinist, so I know classical music. But I didn’t know about Bronislaw Huberman.”

“When I heard who Huberman was and what he did,” Aronson enthuses, clearly energized by the memory, “I got it: one of the most renowned concert violinists of his time, who saved the essence of Jewish European culture from the Nazis and brought it to Palestine. I immediately knew I had to make this movie. How could I not tell this story?”

Aronson grew up in St. Louis. “My family came from Vilnius and Romania,” he says, “before World War I. So there are no Holocaust stories in my family. I’d never much looked into it before I started this project, but because of Huberman’s story, I knew it was time.”

“Orchestra of Exiles” features vibrant on-screen testimony from Mehta (whose history with the IPO stretches 50 years), violinists Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman and Bell. There is no film of Huberman, so historic photographs, newspapers and artifacts supply a sense of the time. Aronson also staged scenes with actors, shot in muted colors and soft-focus. He uses written passages — from Huberman, Adolf Hitler and Arturo Toscanini — to provide effective voice-overs.

Alongside Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud, Huberman was part of the post-World War I Pan-European movement. A utopian precursor to the European Union that was rendered irrelevant by World War II, its adherents thought it would inoculate Europe from war.

“Huberman was not a religious Jew,” Aronson surmises, “that I know of.” Does he make anything of the fact that all three were nonreligious Jews? “I don’t know,” Aronson ponders, “except to say that Jews have hearts; Jews care, and Jews have often known the horrors of war in ways that other people haven’t. I know Huberman spoke very passionately for Pan-Europeanism at his concerts.”

The movie contains some picturesque on-camera descriptions by Perlman, Zukerman and Bell of Huberman’s violin playing. Aronson clarifies: “Heifetz and Paganini were known for their very precise work; Huberman’s style was very different. He was much rougher — very emotional, very passionate and given to playing wrong notes now and then. But he didn’t care. There are recordings of him from the 1930s, but they’re not of good quality, so we really can’t know what the experience of hearing him was like. I suppose Nigel Kennedy would be the closest present-day violinist to Huberman.”

When Hitler assumed power in 1933, German Jews saw their freedom and work activities slowly constricting. German symphonies began to pink slip Jewish musicians, despite the fact that they were often their prize soloists. Third Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels knew the value of showing a benign treatment of Jews to the larger world. When a group of unemployed Jewish actors formed their own theater company, Goebbels loudly trumpeted it as an example of Nazi benevolence. Huberman wasn’t fooled, and he turned down offers to perform in Germany, including a personal plea from Hitler.

The Zionist movement was taking hold in Palestine, and it resonated with Huberman. Like Einstein, Huberman saw the gathering dark clouds in Europe and realized the need for a Jewish homeland. He began putting out a call to out-of-work Jewish musicians and held blind auditions in order to attract the absolute best players. Huberman was able to arrange for many safe passages to Palestine for musicians and even their family members. He moved Jews out of Europe up until 1939.

“There are no records,” Aronson says, “so we don’t know how many people Huberman was personally responsible for. At the very least it was 300, but it may have been as many as 3,000.”

Helgard Field (whose husband, Irwin Field, is a former publisher of the Jewish Journal and serves on the board) is on the national board of the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (AFIPO) and is a member of the West Coast Chairmen’s Council of AFIPO. The AFIPO officially began in the 1980s as a support organization. “I heard that Zubin Mehta was conducting the orchestra in Buckingham Palace about 18 years ago, and I thought it was ironic that the concert was taking place right down the hall from where so many people who wanted to destroy Israel so many years ago had gathered,” Helgard Field says.

“This orchestra,” she points out, “was made up of specialists and soloists. It rose like a phoenix up out of the ashes of Europe. It now has musicians who are third-generation IPO members. And this documentary is a fascinating and vital document of what happened in Europe. It’s extremely important that young people everywhere see it.”

Making documentaries is a long-distance runner’s job. It’s not uncommon for biographers and documentarians to so thoroughly dissect their subjects that they lose all affection they once had for them. So, after completing the movie, how does Aronson ultimately feel about Huberman, the man? Pausing a moment to consider, he replies: “He had a lot of eccentricities, the way great artists do. And I already knew a fair amount of negatives about him; he didn’t really father his own son. But that’s a common theme with famous men. I ended up liking him for his dedication. He gave up half of his income when Hitler came to power by refusing to perform in Germany; a lot of great musicians stayed where they were, earning comfortable livings. For a while, anyway. …

“He’d seen real pogroms in Poland as a boy. And out of the anti-Semitism all around him, he saw an opportunity to build something great with, apparently, no interest in any personal accolades or publicity whatsoever. He was so famous by his 40s that I don’t think he cared at all about fame anymore. It’s just impossible that he didn’t see what he was doing as a mission of mercy.”

 

The film will screen locally at four Laemmle theaters: Music Hall in Beverly Hills, Town Center 5 in Encino, Playhouse 7 in Pasadena, and Claremont 5 in Claremont.

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.

Hershey Felder’s two Los Angeles theater turns


Hershey Felder is a prolific performer, writer and composer, but he is setting a new personal record with world premieres of two plays at different Los Angeles venues.

Best known as the piano-playing alter ego of George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein and Frederic Chopin, Felder is exploring new territories in both productions

He is currently on stage at the Pasadena Playhouse in “Lincoln – An American Story,” tripling as author, symphonic composer and solo actor.

Felder portrays Dr. Charles Leale, an actual, though largely unknown, historical figure. Leale, then a 23-year old army surgeon, was at the Ford’s Theatre on the night Lincoln was assassinated and rushed to the stricken president’s side.

Across the mountains at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood, Felder, staying for once behind the scenes, is the adapter and director of “The Pianist of Willesden Lane,” with previews starting April 17.

Concert pianist Mona Golabek is the solo performer of the show, which, like “Lincoln,” is taken from life, but in a vastly different time and setting.

Golabek portrays her own mother, Lisa Jura, who inherited her musical virtuosity from her own mother and, in turn, passed it on to her daughter.

A gifted young Jewish pianist in Vienna, Lisa was sent by her parents to safety on a Kindertransport to England, following the Nazi takeover of Austria in 1938.

There she found shelter, along with 30 other young Jewish refugees, in a Quaker-run hostel on Willesden Lane, all enduring intense German aerial bombardment during the London Blitz.

Golabek wrote of her mother’s travails and musical triumphs in her book “The Children of Willesden Lane” (with Lee Cohen), on which the show is based.

But the real message of the play is the power of music to uplift our spirits in the darkest of times, Golabek observed during an interview at the Geffen Playhouse, and her performance is permeated with some of the world’s most enduring piano compositions.

Unlike many survivors of the Holocaust era who never spoke about their experiences with their children, Lisa Jura shared her stories freely with her daughters Mona and Renee.

“My mother would be giving us piano lessons and suddenly a passage would remind her of some childhood event, and she would talk about it,” Golabek said.

One such incident was Lisa’s heartbreaking separation from her family at the Vienna train station in 1938, when her mother’s final words to her were, “Hold on to your music; it will be your best friend.”

The advice has become the family’s leitmotif through succeeding generations and is perpetuated in their Hold On To Your Music Foundation. There is one other dimension to Golabek’s performance. “My role allows me to pay homage to my parents,” she said. “How many people ever get that opportunity?”

After the war, the family moved to Los Angeles, where Mona was born and grew up to become an internationally acclaimed concert pianist. Her honors include the Avery Fisher Prize and the People’s Award of the International Chopin Competition.

She, in turn, is passing on the legacy to her late sister’s four children, of whom Michelle, Sarah and Rachel are pianists, and Jonathan is a violinist.

Golabek met Felder three years ago, while he was performing at the Geffen Playhouse, and she asked him whether the story of her mother could be transferred to the stage.

Felder said yes, wrote the adaptation, and for the last few weeks has been in rehearsal with Golabek. At the same time, he has been performing nightly at the Pasadena Playhouse, first in “Monsieur Chopin,” then “Maestro: The Art of Leonard Bernstein,” and is now appearing in “Lincoln.” Joel Zwick (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”) is the director of all three plays.

Felder juggles his responsibilities “by performing in the evening and preparing for the next show during the day,” squeezed into a daily 7:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. schedule, he said during a phone interview.

Turning to the Lincoln play, he noted that Leale, the young surgeon who rushed to Lincoln’s side, talked about his historic encounter only once, during a convivial evening 44 years later.

“This is a fascinating story about what can happen to an ordinary man who is suddenly thrust into a historical event,” Felder said. “Lincoln” also features Felder’s symphonic compositions, performed by a 45-piece orchestra.

As to his role as behind-the-scenes director of “The Pianist of Willesden Lane,” Felder said that his friends are so used to seeing him at the center of the stage action, “that they suspect I may be playing Mona’s role in drag.”

His next project will be set in Paris, where Felder, when not on the road, lives with his wife, Kim Campbell, a former Canadian prime minister.

“Lincoln” is playing at the Pasadena Playhouse through April 7. For tickets and information, call (626) 921-1161, or check http://www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.

“The Pianist of Willesden Lane” will be at the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theatre of the Geffen Playhouse, with previews starting April 17. The official opening night is April 25, and closing night May 27. For tickets and information, phone (310) 208-5454, or visit http://www.geffenplayhouse.com.

Multimedia show explores Gershwin’s genius


Rather than compose “Porgy and Bess,” what if George Gershwin had instead scored the opera “Dybbuk and Leah”?

Though the latter title is imaginary, Gershwin did start in on a Dybbuk-themed work, only to learn that the opera rights to the Yiddish play by S. Ansky had been tied down earlier by an Italian composer. Only then did Gershwin turn his talents to a “Negro,” rather than Jewish, folk opera.

This bit of musical arcanum comes courtesy of Rodney Greenberg, a prolific British producer, director, writer, pianist and historian with an encyclopedic grasp of the life and music of Gershwin.

Greenberg will bring his multimedia show, “The Glory of Gershwin,” to America for the first time with a one-night performance on Oct. 14 at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica.

“Growing up in Manchester, I heard a Gershwin record as a kid and was hooked immediately,” Greenberg recounted in a trans-Atlantic phone call. His father was a piano teacher, who set his 3-year-old son on a high chair to start practicing his scales.

“Gershwin’s glory was that he was a genius as both a classical and a popular composer, who was equally at home on Broadway and at Carnegie Hall,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg will illustrate the composer’s two sides through his piano interpretations, complemented by his historical collection of Gershwin slides, vintage films, piano roll recordings, music clips, audio tracks, videos of Judy Garland and others performing the master’s songs, anecdotes and even an audience singalong.

“Rodney is hilarious, skilled and passionate,” said Dale Bell, a long-time collaborator, whose Santa Monica-based Media Policy Center is presenting Greenberg’s American appearance.

“The Glory of Gershwin” is based on Greenberg’s book, “George Gershwin” (Phaidon, 2008), and follows the composer’s brilliant career from his 1898 birth in Brooklyn as Jacob Gershovitz to his death at 38 from a brain tumor.

As a youth, his parents took him to the thriving New York Yiddish theater and to synagogue, where he absorbed different Jewish musical styles.

Such youthful influences affected his later compositions, Greenberg said, with musicologists tracing popular songs such as “ ’S Wonderful” to Jewish melodies.

Gershwin’s first big break came in 1919, when Al Jolson, then at the height of his career, made the composer’s “Swanee” part of his repertoire. The song by the 21-year-old sold an incredible 2 million records plus uncounted song sheets.

Despite his fame and immense popularity, Gershwin was not immune to attacks by anti-Semites, foremost Henry Ford in his virulent weekly newspaper, The Dearborn Independent. Joining in were composer and critic Virgil Thomson, who referred to Gershwin’s “gefilte fish orchestration,” and English composer Constant Lambert, who charged that “the Jews have stolen the Negroes’ thunder.”

Greenberg’s show also will pay tribute to Ira Gershwin, George’s older brother, collaborator and lyricist, who for most of his life resided in Beverly Hills.

Greenberg is a veteran of 46 years in show business, on stage, radio and television, who has produced and directed some 300 TV musicals in Europe and America as a regular on BBC in Britain and PBS in America. He won an Emmy for the NBC “Live From Studio 8H” series and produced 40 segments of the BBC’s “Masterclass” series.

During his television career, Greenberg has collaborated with such musical greats as Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, André Previn, George Solti, Michael Tilson Thomas, Yehudi Menuhin and Isaac Stern.

The one-night performance of “The Glory of Gershwin” will start at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 14 at the Broad Stage of the Santa Monica Performing Arts Center, 1310 11th St.

For information and tickets, phone (310) 434-3005 or visit www.smc.edu/eventsinfo.

China’s obsession with Hitler


A Chinese Hitler, dressed like a mall cop, mopes in an underground bunker in 1945 as his empire is collapsing around him. But it’s not all bad news. “My stomach hurts, and it’s bigger. I’m pregnant!” Hitler exclaims, stroking himself mindlessly.

“Hitler’s Belly,” a hit play currently touring China, answers the eternal question of what the world’s most notorious dictator looks like when portrayed by an overweight Chinese man pretending to be pregnant. It mixes snippets from Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator,” old newsreel footage, slapstick with Chinese sensibilities, and an extended fart joke. As Hitler prepares to give birth, Chaplin—also a character in the play—wanders the bunker, impersonating Hitler to his underlings. Chaplin spars with Hitler, and then everyone raps. Genocide is not mentioned.

Chaplin made his famous 1940 satire, in which he plays both a Jewish barber and Adenoid Hynkel, the blabbering dictator of Tomania, in part because of the actor’s similarity to Hitler: They each sported a distinctive mustache, they were born four days apart in April 1889, and they shared a love for Richard Wagner’s music. In his autobiography, Chaplin’s son, Charles Chaplin, recalled his father saying: “He’s the madman, I’m the comic. But it could have been the other way around.”

Meng Jinghui, the play’s shaggy-haired director, first saw “The Great Dictator” in 1984, he told me, and he thought it would be fascinating to watch Chaplin interact with Hitler. But he didn’t begin work on his play until he saw a glint of Hitler in his favorite leading man, Liu Xiaoye. “I was wearing a hat and put on a little mustache,” said Liu, who plays Hitler, Chaplin, and Eva Braun, often switching between characters mid-sentence. Meng recalls: “He put black on his finger and put it up here, and said hey, don’t I look like Hitler? And I said, hey, you can be Hitler.”

One of China’s best-known theater personalities, Meng has enjoyed a long string of successes adapting foreign concepts to Chinese audiences. He brought Rent to China as the story of a missing real-estate tycoon. “We don’t have bohemia, we don’t have so many drug users or gay people, and we don’t do threesomes,” he told NPR in 2009. “So, we use your structure, and we put our lives into it.” Unlike “The Great Dictator,” “Hitler’s Belly” declines to tackle questions of Judaism, focusing instead on issues relevant to a Chinese audience: corruption in the Ministry of Railways, lies from the government, and the difficulty of affording a house. Many artists prefer to satirize the present in China by criticizing the past.

“The most difficult part of the acting for me was moving between history and politics,” said Liu. To announce the birth of his son, Hitler holds a press conference. He tells the Chinese journalists in attendance that the pregnancy is a “miracle,” a loaded term because it mocks the government’s response to a recent deadly train crash—after a bullet train derailed last July, killing scores, a Railway Ministry spokesman called the rescue of one child survivor “a miracle,” invoking the ire of many. This draws a healthy laugh from the audience.

The play, which has toured Shanghai, Beijing, and will be in Guangzhou in October, has played almost exclusively to packed houses, Meng said. On the performance’s last night in Beijing in early August, the theater was filled with people in their 20s and 30s, constantly laughing and clapping at the satire and the slapstick, according to the director. Liu portrays a bumbling, melancholic side of the dictator, who shouts “Heil Myself!” whenever anyone salutes him. He does a gentle Chaplin, and his Eva Braun flashes her chest to Hitler whenever she gets excited.

In China, Hitler isn’t known for the Holocaust, but rather for achieving social stability with a very high human cost. “In general, they refer to him as very lihai, very hardcore, someone who is strong, powerful,” said Rabbi Nussin Rodin, a Chabad representative in Beijing. “You can be strong and powerful and good, and strong and powerful and bad. It’s weird. I don’t know what to say.” With China’s regime facing growing internal criticism for mishandling any number of things, from the escalating price of fuel to train safety, Hitler’s perceived image as a strong leader who was able to maintain social stability makes him an attractive figure to many.

Outside the Beijing theater, which is perched above a karaoke parlor in a wealthy part of town, college student Liu Mingyu said that he came because of the director and thought the play was funny. “There’s nothing good about him,” Liu said of the Hitler character, “except that he’s strong-willed, that’s the only advantage he’s got. But in general he’s a bad guy, I suppose.”

Some Chinese sympathy toward Hitler is fueled by a persistent—and false—rumor claiming that when Hitler was an impoverished young student in Vienna, he was taken in by a Chinese family named Zhang. “Looking at Hitler From a Different Angle,” an article published last month on the website of the People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, reported that during Hitler’s youth, a Chinese family gave him “Oriental style selfless help,” and that because of this he had a “warm and close feeling toward China.” Many Chinese believe that Hitler had secretly supported China during World War II, despite Germany’s alignment with China’s wartime oppressor, Japan. Hitler is well-known in China; rural residents especially don’t necessarily see him as a sign of evil. Olivia Kraef, a Beijing-based sinologist from Germany, related a story of a recent trip in China, where someone wanted to drink a toast to Hitler with her. “That was the first thing he came up with when he met me,” she said. “Hitler, soccer.”

Bizarrely, support for Hitler does not in any way suggest disdain for Jews. On the contrary: Chinese people on the whole are very approving of Judaism and Jewish culture, seeing Jews as experts in both moneymaking and child rearing, with a long history and a strong tradition of education. And, unsurprisingly in a country where Mao’s all-seeing portrait still hangs from Tiananmen Square, Chinese tend to shy away from comparisons between their homegrown contender for the title of history’s greatest butcher. “I don’t think there can be any comparison between Hitler and Mao,” said Meng. “Mao’s biggest spirit was to serve the people; Mao loved the people. That’s the biggest difference.”

Isaac Stone Fish is a Beijing-based reporter for Newsweek and the Daily Beast. This article originally appeared on Tablet Magazine, tabletmag.com.

Performance series pays tribute to Boyle Heights’ cultural, artistic legacy


When Canter’s Deli first opened in Los Angeles, it was not at its now-famous location on Fairfax Avenue, but in Boyle Heights. And though Canter’s and most of the neighborhood’s Jews have long since deserted Boyle Heights, it was forever touched by the culture of the Jewish community that once called it home. Later waves of immigration brought Japanese, Latino and Russian immigrants to the area, giving Boyle Heights a unique and vibrant ethnic vibe.

This summer, Grand Performances, which is celebrating its 25th year of bringing free, outdoor summer entertainment to downtown Los Angeles’ California Plaza, has decided to celebrate Boyle Heights with a cultural series highlighting the heritage of the Jews, Latinos and Japanese who have called it home.

Boyle Heights is “a neighborhood where real people live and work, where Catholic altars, Shinto shrines and [the Breed Street] shul are found within blocks of one another,” Grand Performances’ Director of Programming Leigh Ann Hahn said.

Hahn stresses that bringing people to Boyle Heights is part of Grand Performances’ “commitment to fulfill the best possible roles we can within this ever-changing city we call home.”

“My hope is that those who live in Boyle Heights will be proud of their neighborhood, and that those who aren’t as familiar will want to explore.” 

The series will kick off June 18 with an evening put together by Tongue and Groove founder Conrad Romo.  Tongue and Groove, a monthly fixture at Hollywood’s Hotel Cafe, presents poetry, spoken word, short stories and music.

Rabbi Shmuel Marcus of Chabad of Cypress in Orange County will bring his highly popular “Traveling Pickle Factory.”

The Boyle Heights evening will be a welcome trip down memory lane for Romo, who was born and raised in Boyle Heights.  As a teenager, he worked at the Hollenbeck Home to earn money to pay for school. To honor his ’hood, Romo has brought together a diverse group of performers from Jewish, Latino and Asian backgrounds who will be “paying respect — tribute — to Boyle Heights.” From the Mexican American band Ollin, whose members, among their varied repertoire,  perform a klezmer-influenced song called “Boyle Heights Boogie,” to Jewish visual artist Simone Gad, who was raised in Boyle Heights by her Holocaust-survivor parents, it promises to be a fast-paced mix of arts and culture.

The series will feature some more unorthodox fare as well. On July 21, Rabbi Shmuel Marcus of Chabad

of Cypress in Orange County will bring his highly popular “Traveling Pickle Factory” to California Plaza for an evening of history and a lesson on pickle making that’s sure to appeal to all who love a finely fermented cucumber. Hahn believes that the pickle is actually quite important. “The traveling pickle factory is … a reflection of my belief that food is key to the building of civilization and that although we don’t all like the same things – like music, culinary traditions illustrate how similar every cultural community is to another.”

Marcus doesn’t doubt the power of the pickle either, as he’s seen it firsthand. “We had more people at our kosher pickle-making than I had at my Yom Kippur service, so I knew something was going on.”  Rather than wonder why his congregants were more interested in pickles than prayer, Marcus decided to embrace the dill deliverance. He’s visited hundreds of places over the past few years, bringing the joy of the pickle to the masses.

Randy and Scott Rodarte are the Band Ollin.

Marcus describes the evening as a “very fun adult educational workshop. The unique coolness about the program is that …we did tremendous research on the significance, on the history, on the origins of the (kosher pickle).” Marcus believes that learning about keeping kosher is more relevant today than ever. “The concept of kosher goes well with all audiences, especially today. Now, we’re super conscious of what we eat.” 

Especially exciting for Marcus is the chance to present his Pickle Factory evening in honor of a locale like Boyle Heights. “There’s a woman here [in Orange County] who runs my senior program … she’s from Boyle Heights.  Everyone of a certain generation that I meet, they’re all from Boyle Heights. It’s very, very special.”

Also on tap for the summer series will be an evening with showman and humorist Charles Phoenix on June 24 celebrating the city of Los Angeles; a special musical fundraiser featuring Kinnara Taiko on July 9; a multimedia lecture with USC professor Josh Kun about Boyle Heights’ Phillips Music Co. on Aug. 4; a concert featuring L.A. singers Phranc and Exene on Aug. 20; and a closing show: “A Night at the Phillips Music Co.” on Aug. 27.

Performances all are free and take place at California Plaza downtown. For more information visit www.grandperformances.org.

David Mamet’s political manifesto explains the reformed liberal playwright


Let me say right away that I am an ardent and devoted fan of David Mamet. I have only a very small collection of movies on DVD, but two of them are “The

Spanish Prisoner” and “House of Games,” both of which I’ve watched repeatedly. My wife, Ann, and I were in the audience for Mamet’s production of “Boston Marriage” at the Geffen and again when he produced a magic-and-memoir show featuring Ricky Jay. 

A few years ago, while serving as president of PEN Center USA West, I placed a call to Mamet’s office on a point of PEN business. When my secretary, Judy Woo, announced his return call, my heart raced — and I told him so. It was a high point of my literary life to speak with one of the Immortals on the phone.

But I fear that Mamet is no fan of people like me, whom he dismisses as “the Left” in the pages of “The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture” (Sentinel: $27.95). “The Good Causes of the Left may generally be compared to NASCAR,” he announces. “[T]hey offer the diversion of watching things go excitingly around in a circle, getting nowhere.”

Put “House of Games” on pause — this is Mamet’s political manifesto, and he is ready to unburden himself on a long list of hot-button issues that are handled far more subtly, if at all, in his plays and movies.

Much of what is written in “The Secret Knowledge” will be off-putting to liberals — or, as Mamet puts it, “the Liberals” or “the Left.” (He capitalizes lots of words and phrases: “Family,” “the Black Neighborhood,” “Machine Politics,” “Old Rich Guys,” “Social Eugenicism” and much else, although I did not catch the reason why.) “The Liberal young are taught to shun work,” he insists. “The philosophy of the Left is not, in fact, a love of, but a rejection of wisdom. And it is contrary to common sense.” And, of course: “The State of Israel is, in itself, an incurable affront to the Left, for it is a demonstration of the possibility of choice.” He even comments on the dress code of the Left Coast.

“The young on the Westside of Los Angeles dress themselves in jeans worn, sanded, and razored to resemble something a six-month castaway might crawl ashore in,” observes Mamet, who hails from Chicago but now spends a lot of time among us. “Why? They are trying to purchase a charade of victimization, as the ethos of the Liberal West holds that these victims are the ones of worth.”

Although “The Secret Knowledge” is a book about secular politics and culture, it is deeply rooted in Mamet’s Jewish upbringing and lifelong study. Significantly, he acknowledges Rabbi Mordecai Finley and a couple of Jewish media celebrities on conservative talk radio — Jewish Journal columnist Dennis Prager and Michael Medved — as sources of inspiration. Sometimes, however, he is not entirely clear about how his Jewishness and his arch-conservatism fit together. “I never questioned my tribal assumption that Capitalism was bad,” he writes of his early years, and I assume that “tribal” is a code word for “Jewish.” But he insists that he has put such childish things aside, and now he sees Judaism in a very different light.

“Why would any American Jew wish to become a ‘citizen of the world’?” he writes. “This fantasy is akin to one who believes in the benevolence of Nature. Anyone ever lost in the wild knows that Nature wants you dead.”

He speaks plainly about what he labels as the “first principles,” which he finds so compelling. “All people are venal by nature,” he declares. He quotes President Barack Obama for the proposition that “[t]he individual at some point, must be able to say, ‘I have enough money,’ ” and then asks: “But will Mr. Obama, out of office, say this of himself, and of the vast riches he will enjoy? One must doubt it.” He insists government cannot change human nature: “Those of us in show-business spend our lives trying to understand, subvert and predict the actions of the audience,” he writes. “It cannot be done.” Remarkably, he even argues that “[a] man the bulk of whose income is taxed has less incentive toward monogamy.”

Mamet’s conviction about the venality of human nature leads him to distrust all office-holders. “Thomas Jefferson was an adulterer; so was every President, most likely,” he insists. “That’s why men get into politics; it gives them power.” Rather than government, he looks to “community” for the survival of civilization: “Our task in life is not to guess which lever to pull, but to learn to determine, in the wild, as it were, how to support ourselves,” Mamet declares. “Is this not a return to savagery? Not at all. It is a return to community, for in the free market, success comes only from the ability to supply the needs of others.”

To his credit, Mamet is consistent. He opposes the bailout of what he calls “the hag-ridden” auto industry and is willing to take the consequences of tough love in the marketplace: “In a rational, which is to say free-market world, this situation would self-correct: the public would cease to buy a product which no one cared to make attractive, efficient, or affordable, and the business would change or go broke.”

My own take on the world according to David Mamet is that his earnest (and faintly survivalist) prescriptions simply do not scale up. As we saw in the economic meltdown of 2008, the richest and most powerful people and corporations in the world were happy to take taxpayer money to preserve their wealth and dominance, and I suspect that they are also perfectly happy to let the motley crew of Tea Party members, libertarians, Evangelical Christians and miscellaneous rightwing activists talk about “first principles” while doing what they can to put and keep a corporate-friendly Congress in power. If you don’t have a job and can’t afford health insurance, however, you are on your own.

Let me give one concrete example. At one point, Mamet trashes Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a man who was capable of reducing my Jewish immigrant grandparents to sentimental tears: “In an attempt to Do Good for All, he dismantled the free market, and so, the economy and saddled our country not only with ‘social programs,’ but with the deeper, unconscious legacy of belief in Social Programs, irrespective of their effectiveness.”

A few pages later, he complains that “[t]he State of California sentences the farmers of the Central Valley to drought, and their farms to destruction, because a small fish called the delta smelt has been declared endangered.” What he skips is the fact that dams and canals of the Central Valley Project began under FDR, and the megafarms wouldn’t exist at all if water hadn’t been provided by Big Government.

But this is not the place — and I am not the person — to debate Mamet on the merits of his political philosophy point by point. To judge “The Secret Knowledge” as a reading experience, I found it occasionally aggravating, but always provocative and impossible to put down, and I was fascinated to find out what one of my favorite directors and playwrights thinks about the world in which we all live.

For that reason, it will not surprise Mamet to learn that my favorite passages in “The Secret Knowledge” were the anecdotes about a Glenn Curtiss 1915 seaplane, not because of its intended lesson about how the economy should work, but because it gave me an insight into the iconography of “The Spanish Prisoner” and Mamet’s observation that the Nigerian Internet scam is a contemporary replay of the 2,000-year-old con game that is featured in his flawless movie.

Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal. He blogs at

The passion of David Lang


It may seem a sign of overconfidence for someone to tell you he’s rewriting a major work by Beethoven, but for David Lang, who reconceived Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” for his Pulitzer Prize- and Grammy Award-winning 2008 opera, “The Little Match Girl Passion,” it’s just business as usual.

Lang, 54, a Los Angeles native who has lived in New York for the past 30 years (he’s a founder of the contemporary music organization Bang On A Can there), is currently rewriting the entire libretto of Beethoven’s 1805 opera, “Fidelio,” a mishmash story of domestic drama, mistaken identity and the problems of political prisoners. And though he won’t be using one note of Beethoven’s score, it’s not because he doesn’t like it.

“It has such beautiful music and some of Beethoven’s most noble and pure thoughts,” Lang said, speaking by phone from New York, “but the story and libretto are terrible. Just when you want the chorus to sing, ‘Down with tyranny and long live freedom,’ we get ‘Happy is the man who has a loving wife.’ ”

For Lang, issues of action and social justice and what people do in dire or unusual circumstances drive much of his work. On June 4, the composer will be in Long Beach for a conversation with Long Beach Opera artistic director Andreas Mitisek about his 2002 opera, “The Difficulty of Crossing a Field,” which will be presented by the opera company on June 15 and 18.

For that unusual and atmospheric blend of opera and music theater, Lang, along with experimental playwright Mac Wellman, expanded a one-page story by the satirist and fabulist Ambrose Bierce. A Civil War correspondent, Bierce is probably best known for his short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.”

Lang’s version of the author’s curious “Difficulty of Crossing a Field” is even stranger and more unsettling. Commissioned for the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco by artistic director Carey Perloff, another Jewish artist with Southern California roots, “Difficulty” explores the meaning of an incident in which a plantation owner crosses a field one morning in 1854 and mysteriously disappears.

“Even on one page, Bierce tells the story twice,” Lang said. “So we developed a ‘Rashomon’ aspect of seeing the story’s central event — the disappearance of a man — from several different points of view.”

But this is not just any man. He’s a white man from a slave-owning plantation family, whose presence is felt by his absence. “Almost everyone in the play is black,” Lang said. “Most of the characters are field slaves, who are present in every scene. And they know the truth. It feels as if, even though it may be supernatural, what really happens to this man is in some way his payment for slavery. That the system itself is so illegitimate and poisoned, that even the white power structure can’t survive.”

Lang said he liked exploring the subject of slavery because “it unsettles people very deeply in ways you can’t put your finger on.”

Lang’s “Little Match Girl Passion” is also deeply disturbing. He adapted Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of a girl starving to death on a street while people pass her by.

Lang said he loves Beckett’s line about always trying to “reduce things to its maximum.” For example, in transforming Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” in “Match Girl,” Lang used minimal musical means, reconceiving the composer’s crowd and character responses, to moving and maximum effect.

“I’ve tried to have music that is direct and unornamented that says I’m going to identify the simplest way to describe this wound, and I’m going to stick my finger in it. That’s what makes ‘Match Girl’ work. It’s not histrionic or melodramatic. It says, ‘Here is this situation, and I’m just going to tell you the facts.’ And I’m going to tell it to you so simply that you’re not going to be able to avoid how terrible this situation is.”

Lang added: “I was trying to write something on a Christian topic, because that’s where choral music comes from in Western civilization. It’s always been amazing to me that Christianity is based on believing that there was a person whose suffering was so noble that it changed the world. But what’s always so peculiar to me is that Christians — and the rest of us — we’re all perfectly happy to have suffering happen all over the place and not do anything about it. So it’s a bit like, here I am, this Jew from New York, saying, ‘Well, if you’re going to pay attention to this person’s suffering, why are you not paying attention to that person’s suffering?’ ”

Lang said music is an opportunity to look around and try to make a difference. “But you feel kind of impotent to change anything, because it’s just a piece of music,” he said. “So it has to spur you on to something that’s even a deeper, more impassioned way of living your life, if you’re going to change society.”

Lang’s mother, who is from Germany, lost everything in the Holocaust, including many relatives. And his father, a Lithuanian immigrant, grew up in poverty. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say these are Jewish values that I’m espousing, but because I am Jewish and because of the experience of Jews in the 20th century, the peculiar history that brought my parents together had a huge effect on how I view the world and what I want my music to accomplish.”

Lang also stops short of saying that being Jewish means you have an obligation to do something as an artist. “But,” he said, “the issue of what being Jewish costs people, for my parents’ generation, was something I grew up with. For me, being religious has to do with making up for the loss as much as I can — making up for the tragedy that came to the generation before us, just because they were Jews.

“For me, the religion and the suffering have been wedded together, which is probably not healthy for me or the religion. But I think it’s the truth.”

David Lang’s “The Difficulty of Crossing a Field” will be presented by Long Beach Opera on June 15 and 18. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

‘LUV’ Endures


Murray Schisgal’s comedy “LUV” is, as the alert reader might suspect, about love, even passionate love, but don’t expect any moon in June or till death do us part nonsense.

Actually, “LUV” works best as an anti-love play, and, after seeing it, any starry-eyed boy or girl might opt for a celibate life of devotion, if only their parents would let them.

Before seeing the show at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills, a ticketholder would be well advised to check out the book at a library (for younger folks unfamiliar with such obsolete terms, look it up on Google) and read the preface by Walter Kerr, then the theater critic for the late New York Herald Tribune.

“LUV” premiered on Broadway in 1964, a time when the avant-garde, according to Kerr, wallowed in “self dramatization, in romantic self-pity. … See how drained I am, how devastated, the squirming near-cadaver says, proud of his position as the Man Who Has Been Most Badly Treated.

“Where is the spotlight that will display me as victim?” Kerr continues. “The universe may be silent, but I will not be. Hear my moan. Isn’t it something, really something, how I am ravaged?”

By taking this very sentiment to its absurd extreme, Schisgal has written a play whose puncturing of such pretensions may not feel as fresh as 50 years ago, but which retains considerable wit and humor.

The play’s three characters, Harry Berlin, Milt Manville and Ellen, the object of both men’s love and loathing, are quite obviously Jewish New Yorkers, à la Neil Simon, although the ethnicity and locale are never mentioned.

Harry is a neurotic nebbish, and the two others are not far behind, though to go further into their symptoms and the ingenious plotline would spoil the fun.

However, they share a common leitmotif — Nobody knows the suffering I have borne — and they compete fiercely for the title of the most put-upon human being in Gotham. For example:

The two men reminisce about their respective childhoods.

Milt: What did you used to get for breakfast?

Harry: A glass filled with two-thirds water and one-third milk.

Milt: Coffee grounds, that’s what I got.

Harry: With sugar?

Milt: Not on your life. I ate it straight, like oatmeal.

The original Broadway production of “LUV” was directed by Mike Nichols and must have been a howl with actors the likes of Alan Arkin, Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson.

However, the current revival, presented in collaboration with the West Coast Jewish Theatre and directed by Howard Teichman, gives the audience its money’s worth.

Particularly nimble as Harry, mentally and physically, is Michael Goldstrom, who bears a notable resemblance to a young Charlie Chaplin, especially when outfitted with a cane.

Betsy Zajko as Ellen bemoans the misfortune of being smarter than any man around, not a major feat, and Rob Roy Cesar as Milt rounds out the ménage.

The clever stage design by Jeff G. Rack includes a bridge from which Harry tries to commit suicide at regular intervals, and a lamppost from which he tries to hang himself, also unsuccessfully.

“LUV” plays Wednesdays through Sundays until June 26 at the Reuben Cardova Theatre on the Beverly Hills High School campus. For information and reservations, go to www.theatre40.org, or call (310) 364-0535.

“Nazi Hunter-Simon Wiesenthal” runs Sunday through Tuesday evenings. For more information, call (310) 364-3606.

Acting from the heart


USC freshman Shayna Turk, a 2010 graduate and former class president of New Community Jewish High School in West Hills, didn’t expect a nice gesture with a simple purpose to turn into a mitzvah with the power to save and restore young lives. The musical theater summer camp she created seven years ago, Shayna Turk’s Academy of Rising Stars (S.T.A.R.S.), has evolved into a substantial philanthropic enterprise.

Her selfless, charitable pursuit garnered her the title of Young Entrepreneur of The Year in June 2010 and a $10,000 college scholarship from the National Federation of Independent Business Young Entrepreneur Foundation and Visa.

As a child, Turk was an actress, an extrovert and an overachiever. She began to act in plays and musicals at the age of 5 and starred in dozens of productions throughout her youth. When she earned a leading role in the musical “Grease” while her little sister was given a part in the chorus, Turk thought her sister deserved better. This sowed the seeds of her idea for a performing arts camp for kids, where everyone would have a chance to participate, gain confidence and have fun.

At age 11, Turk began holding drama classes for children in her home in Agoura Hills. The idea was to teach them to perform a popular musical and have a public performance at the end of the course. She turned her grandparents’ nearby garage into a theater with a stage.

At the same time, Turk became very close to Delaney Small, a now-8-year-old neighbor who suffered from a congenital heart problem. When Delaney’s mother, Brenda, created Music for Heart, a nonprofit dedicated to helping pay for third-world children to have the same open-heart surgery that saved Delaney’s life, Turk dedicated hours to helping her promote the charity.

S.T.A.R.S. grew in popularity and profitability, presenting multiple live productions per summer and charging a modest sum for tickets. Turk immediately linked her two passions. “I started to donate the proceeds, from the time of my bat mitzvah. I was just so touched and connected to the organization and the family, that I saw an opportunity to help in another way,” she said. 

Ticket sales, camp tuition and donations have enabled her to raise $10,000 over the years to help pay for the surgeries of several Salvadoran children. She has also been to El Salvador twice to visit children with heart conditions.

Turk thinks the charitable aspect of her business helped her win the Young Entrepreneur award from among 4,300 applicants nationwide, and she credits her parents, Gregory, a dentist, and Diana, herself an entrepreneur, with instilling in her the value of tzedakah.

When reflecting on her experience with the children she’s taught at her camp, as well as those whose lives she helped save, Turk said she feels humbled and appreciative. “I didn’t know it would have such an effect on me. It changed my character.” 

Check out Shayna Turk’s Academy of Rising Stars at dramastars.com.

Lovitz, lies and Torah


“I hate lying,” Jon Lovitz, the comedian, actor and comedy club owner, said without a touch of humor in his voice. “I just can’t stand it. I don’t see the advantage of it. It makes me physically ill.”

It’s the reason, he said, that he has become something of a specialist in portraying characters who are truth-challenged, or, in his words, “sleazy.” He was Tommy Flanagan, president of Pathological Liars Anonymous, on “Saturday Night Live”; the guy on “Seinfeld” who fibs about having cancer, then dies in a car crash; a loudmouth baseball scout who steals scenes from Tom Hanks in “A League of Their Own”; the voice of an obnoxious movie reviewer in the animated series “The Critic”; and the father, in the film “Rat Race,” who tells his family they are on a minivan “vacation” when he is actually trying to win $2 million in a cross-country dash.

In the recently released “Casino Jack,” which tells the story of the disgraced former superlobbyist and Orthodox Jew Jack Abramoff (Kevin Spacey), Lovitz plays Adam Kidan, a shady business associate whose bumbling deals help bring the lobbyist down.

Sitting in his publicist’s office in Larchmont Village, Lovitz, 53, is occasionally funny — such as when he calls his “Casino Jack” co-star Barry Pepper “Dr. Pepper” or laments that people don’t know Jesus was Jewish, because “can you think of a less Jewish name than Jesus Christ?” But, in person, Lovitz most often exudes vulnerability, a kind of naiveté and a quiet anger about the state of ethics in show business.

“When I was on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ a lawyer friend told me my liar character was really popular in Hollywood,” he said. “I soon found out that’s because everyone in Hollywood lies, constantly. And everyone knows everyone else is lying. I’ve seen best friends screw each other over. And [agents] tell you that you have to lie to get what you want. I literally lost track of what’s right and wrong, it was so bad. So I got a book about Jewish morals and laws written by a rabbi.”

The book was Joseph Telushkin’s “The Book of Jewish Values: A Day-by-Day Guide to Ethical Living,” which provided practical advice. Hiding Jews from the Nazis? Trying not to unnecessarily hurting someone’s feelings? Two examples of when lying can be OK, Lovitz said.

“It’s ironic,” he admitted of portraying so many liars, “but as a comic actor, I’m good at making fun of them.”

So good, in fact, that he makes an impression even when his character has only one or two scenes in a production. “Jon Lovitz steals practically every scene that he’s in in the movie,” Spacey said of “Casino Jack.”

“He is a genius at those moments in between, the looks and the sighs and the body language,” Pepper said. “That’s where his classical training [at University of California, Irvine] comes in, and I think that’s what few people appreciate about him.”

Lovitz’s characters also blend a desperate quality with a bombastic flamboyance — a quality he said he inherited from his Jewish grandfather (actually his stepmother’s father), Lou Melman, who grew up on a farm in Nebraska and made loans to Al Capone’s gang in the 1930s. Melman would take the young Lovitz to Canter’s and to the Santa Anita race track.

“My grandfather was larger than life,” Lovitz said. “And he was incredibly accepting of me — he was just crazy about me, and I was crazy about him. I based my character in ‘A League of Their Own’ on him.  He wasn’t mean, but he was funny. In the first scene in the movie, I’m attending a baseball game, someone stands up in front of me and I say, ‘What — are you crazy?” 

The young Lovitz attended Valley Beth Shalom when his family lived in Encino and Temple Judea after they moved to Tarzana; his best friend was David Kudrow, Lisa Kudrow’s older brother, whom he met in fifth grade. When the boys were at Portola Junior High, they saw Woody Allen’s “Take the Money and Run,” which solidified Lovitz’s ambition to become a comedian. They especially liked the scene in which Allen’s character, paranoid about anti-Semitism, assumes someone has said “Jew” instead of the words “did you.”

“We were just dying,” Lovitz said. “We thought, ‘This is like our own humor. … It was very Jewish, especially the sarcasm. It was like this friend of my father’s who would always look at me and go, ‘Oh, the actor.”

When Lovitz attended the Harvard School (now Harvard-Westlake) in Studio City, starting in ninth grade, he was teased for being Jewish at a time when, he said, the school had few Jewish students. “One guy would say, ‘Look at your nose,’ ” Lovitz recalled. “The abuse was verbal and physical. The school in those days was all boys, and they were just merciless. It got so bad the headmaster called our class together, and he was just livid. He said, ‘I won’t stand for this bullying.’ ”

Like his school years, Lovitz’s career has also had an up-and-down trajectory. He studied drama at UC Irvine and then worked odd jobs, including a stint as a hospital orderly, for years until his work with the improvisational comedy group The Groundlings led to his casting on “Saturday Night Live” in 1985. His response to that job offer — which brought almost overnight success — was, “Are you kidding? They might have equally said I was going to live on Pluto.”

Subsequently, Lovitz starred in Woody Allen’s “Small Time Crooks,” as Billy Crystal’s younger brother in “City Slickers II” and in a number of recognizably Jewish roles — including Randy Pear of “Rat Race,” who, in one hilarious scene, thinks he is taking his daughter to a Barbie doll museum — and ends up in the middle of a neo-Nazi rally at the Klaus Barbie Museum.  His response is to steal Hitler’s car, one of the museum’s displays.

Several years ago, Lovitz said, he began doing stand-up comedy again because his film roles were becoming scarcer; he opened his Jon Lovitz Comedy Club on Universal CityWalk last year, where he often performs, riffing on subjects such as racism, religion and sex. Single and never married, he said his dream role would be to play the title character in a remake of the 1955 Ernest Borgnine film “Marty,” about two lonely-hearts who have resigned themselves to never finding love until they meet each other.

Lovitz relished playing Adam Kidan in “Casino Jack,” a kind of lapsed, depraved Jew who, between outrageously underhanded business deals, becomes almost a truth-sayer in the film. In several scenes, Kidan points out how hypocritical the fictional Abramoff is for claiming piety while engaging in unethical deals.

For the scene in which the two men have an enormous argument as the FBI closes in, Lovitz said, “I improvised the line where I call [Abramoff] a ‘fake Jew.’ ”

“Abramoff in the movie is hiding behind his religion and saying that he was trying to be such a good Jew, but he wasn’t. That’s not what the religion is.” l

Arts in L.A. Quarterly Calendar: Cultural events through Feb. 2009


ALTTEXT

Robert Dowd — Pop Art Money — See Jan.17 listing

DECEMBER

Fri., Dec. 12
“Laemmle Through the Decades: 1938-2008, 70 Years in 7 Days.” It must have been an extraordinarily difficult task to select only seven films to represent the rich and diverse history of the Laemmle Theatres chain. But someone did it. For the next week, Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles will screen the seven most iconic foreign-language films to have graced the company’s silver screens, each one representing a different decade of its existence. The lineup includes “Children of Paradise” (1945, France), “La Strada” (1954, Italy), “Jules & Jim” (1962, France), “The Conformist” (1970, Italy, France and West Germany), “Fanny & Alexander” (1982, Sweden), “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (1988, Spain) and “Y Tu Mama Tambien” (2001, Mexico). Films will screen several times a day. Through Dec. 18. $7-$10. Royal Theatre, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles. (310) 477-5581. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.ecogift.com.

Sat., Dec. 13
“Smokey Joe’s Cafe.” With a long list of Top 40 favorites, such as “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Yakety Yak,” “Stand by Me” and “On Broadway,” this musical mishmash of Leiber and Stoller hits is ideally jubilant for the holiday season. Since its 1995 premiere on Broadway, the 39-song revue has been nominated for seven Tony Awards, won a Grammy Award for the legendary duo’s songs and featured special appearances by megastars such as Gladys Knight, Gloria Gaynor and Rick Springfield. Starring in this NoHo production of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” are DeLee Lively, Robert Torti and a host of other talented stage veterans. Special performances include tonight’s opening night gala and two New Year’s Eve shows, one with a champagne reception, the other followed by an all-out party with the cast. 8 p.m. Wed.-Sat. Through Jan. 4. $25-$150. El Portal Theatre, Mainstage, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 508-4200. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.benjamintrigano.com.

Sat., Dec. 13
“Moonlight Rollerway Holiday Jubilee.” Charles Phoenix is addicted to thrift store shopping. Luckily for us, Phoenix has put together a collection of the goodies he has found. Now, Moonlight Rollerway, which calls itself Southern California’s last classic roller rink, is presenting Phoenix and his quirky, retro holiday slide show. The viewing event will be followed by a roller-skating revue spectacular, featuring 75 championship skaters and celebrating the entire year’s holidays, including Cinco de Mayo and Valentine’s Day. Snacks and an after-show skating party are included. 8 p.m. Also, Dec. 14 at 3 p.m. $35. Moonlight Rollerway, 5110 San Fernando Road, Glendale. (818) 241-3630. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.mbfala.com.

Sun., Dec. 14
Los Angeles Children’s Chorus Annual Winter Concert. There is an Academy Award-nominated documentary about this choir. It has toured Brazil, China, Italy and Poland, among other nations. And since its inception in 1986, the chorus has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. Approximately 250 talented and dedicated children between the ages of 8 and 12 make up the LACC. The angelic voices of these preteen choristers will bring to life works by composers such as Aaron Copland, Pablo Casals, Randall Thompson and J.S. Bach in a winter concert inspired by literary luminaries Robert Frost, William Shakespeare and others. The program follows the 2008-2009 season theme, “The Poet Sings,” and features a varied selection of classical, folk and contemporary pieces. 7 p.m. $24-$42. Pasadena Presbyterian Church, 585 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 793-4231. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.lamoth.org.

Mon., Dec. 15
Reel Talk: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Stephen Farber, film critic for Hollywood Life magazine and The Hollywood Reporter, has been treating audiences to sneak previews of the industry’s hottest films for more than 25 years. The veteran film buff concludes this year’s preview series with a fascinating film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story about a man who is born in his 80s and ages backward. Starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton, the odd tale is already making waves and is set to hit theaters during prime-time movie-watching season, Christmas. The screening will be followed by a discussion with members of the filmmaking team, including Oscar-nominated costume designer Jacqueline West. 7 p.m. $20. Wadsworth Theatre, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 365-3500. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.lacma.org.

Tue., Dec. 16
Carrie Fisher presents and signs “Wishful Drinking.” It’s not easy being an action figure before you can legally drink a beer, but that didn’t stop Princess Leia from having one, or two, or many more. Fisher’s first memoir, adapted from her one-woman stage show, is a revealing look at her childhood as a product of “Hollywood in-breeding” and her adulthood in the shadow of “Star Wars.” After electroshock therapy, marrying, divorcing then dating Paul Simon, a drug addition and a bipolar disorder, Fisher still manages to take an ironic and humorous survey of her bizarre life. Meet Fisher and get a copy of her book signed at this WeHo book haven. 7 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.ticketmaster.com.

Fri., Dec. 19
“Peter Pan.” Tinkerbell, Captain Hook, pirates, Indians — we know the cast of characters well. But how many of us have actually seen a full production of J.M. Barrie’s classic fantasy play, “Peter Pan” — especially one that features the complete musical score by Leonard Bernstein? Composer Alexander Frey — who helped reconstruct portions of Bernstein’s score that had been previously lost for a special CD — is flying in from Berlin to conduct the live orchestra. 7 p.m. Tue.-Sun. Through Dec. 28. $30-$70; $10 (seniors and students). Lobero Theatre, 33 E. Canon Perdido St., Santa Barbara. (805) 963-0761. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.ticketmaster.com.

Wed., Dec. 24
“49th Annual Los Angeles County Holiday Celebration.” Los Angeles’ biggest holiday show, featuring 45 groups and 1,200 performers, is a proud tradition — and it’s absolutely free! Running approximately six hours, the holiday extravaganza features the county’s cultural diversity. This year’s highlights include hip-hop group Antics Performances, South Bay Ballet and Grammy-nominated Lisa Haley and the Zydekats. Audiences will have the opportunity to listen to sounds and see sights from the world over, including Asia, Africa, South America, and the Middle East. For those of you who can’t make it to see the event in person, KCET-TV will also be airing the event live. Sponsored by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors and produced by the County Arts Commission. 3-9 p.m. Free. Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 972-3099. http:www.holidaycelebration.org.

The Calendar Girls: Picks, kicks and plugs


SAT | JANUARY 26

(KIDS)
andeebhdspa@yahoo.com.

(FILM)
” target=”_blank”>http://americancinematheque.com.

(LECTURE)
Have a thirst for higher education, but don’t want to deal with the hassle of test taking, registration and studying? Now you can go “Back to College For a Day” and learn from renowned USC and UCLA professors, among others. Lecture topics include the impact of stress on behavior and the brain, the coexistence of Christians, Muslims and Jews in Medieval Spain, and law in a multicultural world. 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. $179 (parking and lunch). Mount St. Mary’s College, Chalon Campus, 12001 Chalon Road, Los Angeles. (818) 704-4207. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.plays411.com/thrillme or ” target=”_blank”>http://maccabilosangeles.com/.

(SINGLES)
The Jewish Single Parents and Singles Association has a lovely Sunday all planned out for you: start out with a hearty omelet or toasted bagel with cream cheese at local favorite Katella Deli, then spend the rest of the day with the group, wandering the glorious art-filled halls of the Getty Center Museum. Exhibitions to check out include the photographs of Andr�(c) Kert�(c)sz, the history of the nude in photography and Nicole Cohen’s critically acclaimed video installation, “Please Be Seated.” 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Katella Deli, 4470 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos. (714) 964-7031.

(THEATER)
Harry Boychick is inviting you to his bar mitzvah. Don’t know him? Doesn’t matter. None of the guests know Harry, but they will be joining him and his family at a rollicking reception. Amy Lord, the creator of “Grandma Sylvia’s Funeral,” brings us her new interactive show, “The Boychick Affair: The Bar Mitzvah of Harry Boychick,” where the audience joins in the insanity, mingling with actors, dancing, laughing and even partaking in the celebratory meal. This promises to be unlike any show (or bar mitzvah) you’ve ever been to. Sundays at 2 p.m. (open-ended run). $36 (twice chai for the bar mitzvah boy!). Price includes meal. Hayworth Theatre, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (800) 838-3006. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.westsidejcc.org.

(VOLUNTEER)
Drag your honey out of bed to do some good today. ATID’s Couples Havurah, for young Jews (married or dating) between the ages of 21 and 39, has planned a volunteer day where you and your other can help prepare kosher meals for people with HIV/AIDS. “Project Kitchen Soup” will leave you feeling so warm and fuzzy inside that you’ll forget you woke up at 7 a.m. 7:45 a.m.-12:15 p.m. Free. Hirsh Family Kosher Kitchen, 338 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P. required, (310) 481-3244. ” border=”0″ vspace=”8″ hspace=”8″ align=”left” alt=”pick”>Erudite composers Hans Gal and Robert Kahn were forced into exile when they fled Nazi Germany in the late 1930s. Their music was removed from libraries and destroyed, and they were stripped of their prominent posts. Tonight, contemporary musicians on cello, bassoon and piano will reclaim the banished music of their forbears during an evening of “Recovered Music by Exiled German Jewish Composers.” Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Stephen S. Wise Temple and Kehillat Israel are underwriting the program and proceeds will benefit the Alfred and Miriam Wolf Scholarship Fund of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. 4 p.m. $36. Second Space — The Stage @ Santa Monica, Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, Santa Monica Boulevard (between 10th and 11th streets). (310) 434-3414. ” border=”0″ vspace=”8″ hspace=”8″ align=”left” alt=”pick”>Comedian Wendy Liebman confessed something during a Hillel fundraiser last summer that deeply shames her: “I have separation anxiety … so I can’t do laundry.” The fundraiser was so successful, it’s happening again. Hillel 818 Presents “Comedy Night” is a cacophony of L.A.’s most wicked, witty and wild talent: the handsome Elon Gold, Lisa Ann Walter, who’s not sure if she’s naughty or nice, and Liebman. With nights like these, the partnership between the Pierce and Valley Colleges Hillel and the CSUN Hillel seems like a match made in heaven. 7 p.m. (VIP reception), 8 p.m. (show). $10-$75. The World Famous Laugh Factory, 8001 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (818) 886-5101 or

Theater: De-fusing ‘Random Sharp Objects’


In the semi-autobiographical play “Random Sharp Objects,” two Jewish women engage in a kind of impromptu psychoanalysis session. Hali (Hali Morell) describes growing up with a hippie-therapist Dad who talked too frankly about sex. As an adult, she says, she was drawn to a series of disturbed men she hoped she could “save,” including homeless men and a skinhead who taped quarters to her floor.

Esther (Esther Friedman), who is half black and half Jewish, recounts how her mother once beat her for playing house with an African American classmate and advised her to spurn black men because they “only want to get into your pants.” Esther felt frightened by black men who called out to her in the street: “I built a white picket fence around myself,” she says in the play. “I’ll be walking to my car, and they yell out at me. And I’ll flash back my ‘look.’ It’s called, ‘Back the f— up. Don’t come any closer. Don’t even ask me my name because I will cut your b– — off.”

“Objects” began four years ago when Friedman, who is in her 30s, wrote a solo show to explore why she wouldn’t even speak to black men, much less date them. When she brought her work-in-progress to director Frank Megna at the Working Stage Theater, he suggested she develop extra scenes with Morell.

“I thought both women had a similar dynamic about how their pasts had influenced their relationships,” he says.

The artists talked frankly about themselves as they improvised parts of the show. Morell — now happily married — remembered how she’d seek out “the troubled guys and try to be that ‘special’ person who could make them come around.” Although she never dated a homeless man, she was drawn to “bums who looked kind of attractive, like they could have been from the 1960s. I found myself wondering, ‘How did they get there,’ and I’d want to get to know that person.”

Friedman described how confused she felt about her diverse identities. On the one hand, her grandmother encouraged her to “pass” as white; on the other, she was perceived as black (and thus, alien) at Hebrew school. Her mother forced her to attend, stating that “Jesus was Jewish, and so are you.”

“All the kids and their moms would stare at us when we arrived,” Esther says in the play. “I asked, ‘Mommy, why are they looking at us like that?’…. The kids made fun of me and said I wasn’t a real Jew.”

The play has proved cathartic for both actresses. “I kept many of these stories secret for years, because they were so painful,” Friedman says. “But keeping secrets can kill your spirit.”

“Random Sharp Objects” runs through Oct. 20 at the Working Stage Theater, 1516 N. Gardner St., West Hollywood. For tickets and information, call (323) 851-2603.

Arts in LA


DECEMBER

Sat., Dec. 9

“Jamaica, Farewell.” Jamaica Cultural Alliance benefit performance of the one-woman show, written and performed by Debra Ehrhardt, about her bold escape from revolution-torn Jamaica in the early 1980s. Post-performance reception with Jamaican specialties and an exhibit of Jamaican artist Bernard Hoyes’ work. 7:30 p.m. $35. The Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank. (323) 692-0423.

Filipino American Jazz Festival. Two-day festival features Filipino jazz vocal quintet Crescendo; pianist, conductor and arranger Toti Fuentes; vocalist Charmaine Clamor; and saxophonist Julius Tolentino, among others. Jazz-Phil. 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.; also Dec. 10, 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. $25-$30. Catalina Bar and Grill, 6725 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 512-5543, ext. 2.

Sun., Dec. 10

“Laugh Is Hope Comedy Club” Aboard the Queen Mary. Comedy, fashion, silent auction and dancing fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. Featuring comedian Steven E. Kimbrough. 7-11:30 p.m. $65. (909) 631-0100. www.laughishope.com.

Debbie Reynolds’ Show-Stopping Hits. Reynolds pairs with dance partner Jerry Antes in this musical revue. 3 p.m. $35-$57.50. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos. (800) 300-4345.

Mon., Dec. 11

Los Angeles Master Chorale’s “Messiah” Sing-Along. Music Director Grant Gershon conducts the Master Chorale and the audience in a singalong to Haydn’s masterpiece, including the “Hallelujah Chorus.” 7:30 p.m. Also Dec. 18, 7:30 p.m. $19-$64. Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (800) 787-5262.

Tue., Dec. 12

Matthew Bourne’s “Edward Scissorhands.” Adaptation of Tim Burton’s gothic fairytale motion picture. Dance at the Music Center with Center Theatre Group. 8 p.m. $35-$85. Through Dec. 31. Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 365-3500. www.musiccenter.org/dance.

“Slava’s Snowshow.” This theatrical extravaganza, created by master clown Slava Polunin, melds the art of clowning with visual images and fantasy, culminating in a snowstorm that engulfs the audience. UCLA Live series. 8 p.m. $32-$68. Through Jan. 7. Royce Hall, UCLA campus, Los Angeles. (310) 825-2101. www.UCLALive.org.

Thu., Dec. 14.

Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter. The comedians, two of the stars and creators of the 2005 TV show “Stella,” appear together. 8 p.m. $22.50. Wiltern LG, 3790 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 388-1400.

Fri., Dec. 15.

Tyne Daly in Scenes From “Agamemnon.” Stephen Wadsworth directs a small cast performing significant scenes from the first play in the “Oresteia” trilogy and explores Aeschylus’ dramaturgy, literary identity, and preoccupations as artist and citizen. Villa Theater Lab. 8 p.m. Also Dec. 16, 8 p.m.; Dec. 16, 3 p.m. $17. Getty Villa Auditorium, 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. (310) 440-7300.

Sat., Dec. 16.

Woody Allen and his New Orleans Jazz Band. Writer, actor, director and jazz clarinetist Allen performs with his jazz ensemble. 8 p.m. $25-$125. Royce Hall, UCLA Campus, Los Angeles. (310) 825-2101.

“Gold Rush!” Interactive programs allows visitors to discover the myths and realities of the American gold rush. 30-minute programs, ongoing between 11 a.m.-1 p.m., Sat. and Sun. Free with museum admission ($3-$7.50). The Autry National Center’s Museum of the American West, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles. (323) 667-2000.

Thu., Dec. 21

Bolshoi Ballet Academy’s “Nutcracker.” More than 50 dancers from the Bolshoi Academy perform this family holiday classic to Tchaikovsky’s music. 7:30 p.m. Through Dec. 24. $15-$55. 300 East Green St., Pasadena. (213) 365-3500.

Fri., Dec. 22

Hoobastank. Alternative pop/rock group best known for their crossover hit “The Reason.” 7 p.m. $17-$20. The Key Club, 9039 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (310) 274-5800.

JANUARY

Thu., Jan. 4

“Saul Bass: The Hollywood Connection.” Exhibition of the graphic designer’s work for the American film industry includes film posters, a montage of motion picture title sequences and an Oscar-nominated short documentary. Our California Series. Through April 1. Free. Related film screenings on Tuesday afternoons, through February. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. www.skirball.org.

Fri., Jan. 5

“Up Close and Personal.” Exhibition of Gilbert B. Weingourt’s candid photos of icons and public figures from the late 1960s through the mid-1970s. 11 a.m.-midnight, daily through Feb. 15. Reception with the photographer Jan. 13, 6 p.m.-8 p.m. ArcLight Cinemas Galleries, 6360 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 464-1478.

Blues Traveler Concert. Hamonica Virtuoso John Popper performs with his blues and rock band, best known for their hit “Run Around.” 8 p.m. $25-$47.50. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos. (800) 300-4345.

Sat., Jan. 6.

Louis Malle’s “Black Moon” and “Lacombe Lucien.” Part of American Cinematheque’s “Overlooked and Underrated” series, showcasing films from the 1940s through the 1980s that received modest praise when released but have emerged as classics. Upcoming films include Jules Dassin’s “10:30 PM Summer,” Edward Dmytryk’s “Mirage” and Robert Mulligan’s “Baby, the Rain Must Fall,” among others. 7:30 p.m. Through Feb. 4. $7-$10. Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 466-3456.

Art Garfunkel. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame legend performs his greatest hits and personal favorites, including “Mrs. Robinson” and “Sound of Silence.” 8 p.m. $32-$57.50. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos. (800) 300-4345.

Melody of China and The Hsiao Hsi Yuan Puppet Theater. Director Hong Wang narrates an exploration of Chinese music played on traditional instruments. Also, southern Chinese traditional puppet theater, “budai that,” with stage movements and vocal styles adopted from Peking Opera. World City Series. 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Free. W.M. Keck Foundation Children’s Amphitheater, Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 972-3379. www.musiccenter.org

Tue., Jan. 9.

Justin Timberlake’s “Futuresex/LoveShow.” Accompanied by a 14-piece band and back-up dancers, Timberlake will perform in the round. Includes special guest Pink. 8 p.m. $56-$97.50. Honda Center, 2695 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim. www.hondacenter.com. Also Jan. 16 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. (213) 480-3232.

Fri., Jan. 12

“Defiance.” Set in 1971, this second play in John Patrick Shanley’s trilogy that began with “Doubt!” explores race relations on a North Carolina military base. Through Feb. 18. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. (626) 356-7529.

Last chance for ‘Hakuna Matata,’ and please, try the Hot Pstromi


Saturday the 25th

” target=”_blank”>www.moca.org.

Sunday the 26th

You may not be feeling “Hakuna Matata” if you miss taking the kids to Disney’s “The Lion King” this winter. Complete with gorgeous costume design and puppets galore, the touring stage musical directed by Julie Taymor is back in Los Angeles for an eight-week run, and then the lion sleeps.

Through Jan. 7. $15-$87. Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (213) 365-3500.

Monday the 27th

It’ll be in theaters mid-December but you’re too Hollywood for that. Head today to “Reel Talk With Stephen Farber” for a sneak preview of the “Dreamgirls” movie musical. Post-screening, he’ll interview writer-director Bill Condon about the making of the film, and maybe even dish on Beyonce.

7 p.m. $20. Wadsworth Theatre, on the Veterans Administration grounds, Building 226, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 479-3003.

Tuesday the 28th

7 Days in the Arts


Saturday the 29th

The most avant-garde comics find a gorgeous forum, once again, with the release of the sixth edition of editor Sammy Harkham’s anthology, “Kramer’s Ergot 6.” Geeks celebrate its release tonight at the Hammer Museum, which features performances by Kites and The Mystical Unionists, films by Paper Rad and a presentation by painter and “Raw” contributor Jerry Moriarty.

9 p.m. Free. 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 443-7000. ” TARGET=”_blank”>www.tlc.discovery.com.

Monday the 31st

“Look, but don’t touch” is the unspoken challenge to viewers of the Gatov Gallery’s new exhibit, “Soft Art.” On view are the vibrant textile works of Israeli artists Udi Merioz and Johanan Herson, created with a technique employed by only four known artists in the world. Pieces come together by applying brilliant colored textiles onto a soft canvas, and pressing them into one another with a special needle. The gallery at the Alpert JCC hosts the show through Aug. 15.

Open daily, times vary. Free. Alpert JCC, Weinberg Jewish Federation Campus, 3601 E. Willow St., Long Beach. (562) 426-7601.

Tuesday the 1st

Our interest in, and relationships with varied species of the animal kingdom makes up Fahey/Klein Gallery’s new show, “Not All of Man’s Best Friends Are Dogs.” Photographers Richard Avedon, Garry Winogrand, Shelby Lee Adams and Steve Schapiro are a few of the contributors who depict people’s interactions with bird and beast.

10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Tues.-Sat.). Through Sept. 2. 148 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 934-2250. ” TARGET=”_blank”>www.yicc.org.

Thursday the 3rd

Multiple loveless affairs, a lustless marriage and in-vitro pregnancy are some of the bigger manifestations of one young woman’s fear of abandonment. Her journey to lead an emotional life appropriate with her age is the subject of Jessica Bern’s one-woman comedy, “Days of Whine and Roses.” It opens today.

8 p.m. (Thursdays). Through Aug. 31. $20 (in advance). Elephant Lab Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Los Angeles. (323) 960-1056.

Friday the 4th

Neil Simon laughs for all this month. In the Valley, the Secret Rose Theater offers the classic “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.” Simon’s homage to the time in his career spent writing for Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows” takes us into a 1950s TV writer’s room. Or, head to the 90212 for “Rumors,” in which hilarity ensues when an anniversary party goes awry; the host shoots himself in the head (a flesh wound), his wife goes missing and the guests must entertain themse
lves.

“Laughter”: Through Aug. 20. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. (866) 811-4111.

“Rumors”: Through Sept. 3. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills High Campus. (310) 364-0535.

7 Days in the Arts


Saturday, July 1
In time for summertime, the Skirball has rekindled its weekly Café Z live music series. Take advantage today, and head down to groove to Elliott Caine Quintet’s Afro-Cuban jazz beats. According to Caine’s Web site, KCRW’s Bo Leibowitz described him as a “terrific trumpet player, bandleader and composer … deserving of wider recognition.”

Noon-2 p.m. Free. Zeidler’s Café, Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

 

Sunday, July 2
Miami City Ballet whoops it up for its 20th anniversary, with its tour of performances of signature pieces by Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine and Twyla Tharp. Included are Robbins’ classic “Fancy Free,” which was the inspiration for the musical, “On the Town,” and Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs,” accompanied, as you might’ve guessed, by songs by the blue-eyed crooner.

June 30-July 2. $25-$95. Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 365-3500

Monday, July 3
Shaken or stirred, the martini is more than a drink today. It is a symbol. Sculptor Thomas Mann asked artists to riff on it, reinterpreting the conical glass’ shape and context. “The Martini Show” premiered in New Orleans as a benefit for Craft Emergency Relief Fund. It runs here at Altered Space Gallery, through July 24.

Contemporary art+craft+design, 1221 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice. (310) 452-8121

Tuesday, July 4
What goes great with burgers and dogs? Your radio dial tuned to 89.9 KCRW-FM. Its special Independence Day programming features “a day of music by American artists who embrace the spirit of independence.” The lineup of musical patriots includes Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Roy Orbison, Patti Smith and the Dixie Chicks. The presentations feature music as well as interview clips and other materials.

89.9 KCRW-F, ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Wednesday, July 5
Collapsing just moments after a performance of his stirring trio, “In memoriam Dmitri Shostakovich,” at the Jewish Music Commission concert last month, professor Joseph Dorfman was unable to be revived. He died at age 65. In his memory, a concert will be held this evening at Valley Beth Shalom, to benefit the newly founded fund in his name.

7:30 p.m. Free (general), $15 (reserved seats). 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. R.S.V.P., (818) 788-6000.

Thursday, July 6
Gay lovers struggle to deal with their oppressive societies against the backdrop of World War II France in the case of “A Love to Hide (Un Amour à Taire),” and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in the case of “Zero Degrees of Separation.” The two films are part of this year’s Outfest 24th Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, which begins today.

Times, prices and screening venues vary by film. Abovementioned films screen at Directors Guild Theatre, 7920 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles.

Friday, July 7
More lovers caught on opposite sides of the political fence emerge in the film, “Only Human.” Opening today, the Spanish production tells the farcical tale of Jewish Leni, who brings home her boyfriend, Rafi, to meet the folks. But madness ensues when they find out Rafi is Palestinian.

Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino. (818) 981-9811. Laemmle One Colorado, Pasadena. (626) 744-1244. www.laemmle.com” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

‘Hybrid’ Actor Crafts ‘Everyman’ Show


Is it possible for an everyman to be a leader? Can an everyman be a woman?

Ameenah Kaplan, who calls herself a “hybrid” — the product of an African American mother who converted to Judaism and a Jewish father — is directing, choreographing and co-producing “Everyman for Himself.” Appearing weekends at the Unknown Theatre in Hollywood, the show is a hybrid itself, in that it blends music, dance, theater and capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian dance form that incorporates self-defense maneuvers. Kaplan also wrote and conceived the production and, indeed, thinks of herself as an everyman.

Shaped by Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” Kaplan, 31, grew up in Atlanta, where she was bat mitzvahed and confirmed and where, she says, she would “float into different communities and never really fit into any of them.” As the only non-Christian among blacks, the only black among Jews, she says, “you’d be in a room and nobody sees you.”

Everyman, the title character in her show, played by Michael Gallagher, is both invisible and conspicuously visible. Where the other ensemble players paint their faces and wear togs like members of an African or Indian tribe, Everyman looks like a stiff businessman, donning a tie, starched shirt and long pants.

“Go with the flow,” is one of the adages he reads from a book, yet Everyman never quite fits in. He is singled out by one female character, who engages in a kind of martial arts match with him that is equal parts seduction and boxing.

None of Kaplan’s characters have traditional names; instead, they sport generic titles like Ball Girl, Judge, Bee and Boss. With the beat of African drums playing in the background as the ensemble characters teach Everyman to dance, there is the sense that we are witnessing an ancient ritual among primal beings.

In the production notes, Everyman is billed as a Buster Keaton/Charlie Chaplin “genius/fool”; he appears awkward, a modern man, exposed as if for the first time to the world of conformity that dates back to our days as early Homo sapiens in the Horn of Africa.

“People are essentially primal anyway,” says Kaplan, sitting on a couch in a lounge down the hall from her actors’ rehearsal hall. Wearing a head wrap that conceals her afro, Kaplan says, “We’re all simple and alike at the bottom. My acting training taught us that. Come into the room, get your shoes off and build the actor from the ground up.”

We share more than not, she says, pointing out “the visceral body connections celebrating those things that bring us together — sound, energy, drums, heartbeat, blood flowing.”

Kaplan has the slim, athletic body of a dancer; she has played numerous TV and legitimate theater roles, and sees herself first as an actor. She smiles when asked if she was somewhat conflicted over not playing the lead role herself, but she says that Gallagher embodies Everyman. She also stresses that every actor in the show contributes as much as the others. All of the actors play multiple roles: “The ensemble is the show. There are no supporting roles. No one’s playing crossword puzzles backstage. There are no cigarette breaks.”

One scene flows into the next, each one carrying totemic significance. The smallest prop — whether it’s a book, a jacket, a ball or a handkerchief (a nod perhaps to “Othello”) — becomes a talisman in this primordial landscape, where the characters speak very few words and those they do are often monosyllabic.

Everyman may be more Jesus than Adam. He must choose whether to fight or kill another man. Unlike the others, he is consumed with grief.

“What he’s going through is the human condition,” says Kaplan, whose work ethic really comes through in person. Reluctant to leave her actors for an interview, Kaplan never loses her graciousness and generosity; she has the maturity and seriousness of one who knows that, without her, the play will not proceed. Even during the brief interview, she wants to make sure that the actors are OK. At one point, she tells the stage manager that the actors will need her to be there for the next scene, involving some dance routines that they have not tried before.

As the interview ends, Kaplan, the everyman, springs to her feet with the physicality of Keaton. She will direct her cast without any crossword puzzle or cigarette breaks. She is anything but invisible.

“Everyman for Himself” plays Friday and Saturday nights at Unknown Theater, 1110 Seward St., near Santa Monica Boulevard, through April 29. For tickets and information, call (323) 466-7781.

 

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, January 14

See Harrison Ford battle Nazis in his quest to secure the Ark of the Covenant from a lost Egyptian city. The classic Spielberg adventure movie, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” comes to the Aero Theatre today as part of its special “Indiana Jones” trilogy weekend. Head back tomorrow to catch a double feature of the two follow-up films, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

Sat., 7:30 p.m., “Raiders…” and Sun., 5 p.m., “Temple of Doom” and “Last Crusade.” $6-$9 (single and double feature). 1328 Montana St., Santa Monica. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Sunday, January 15

Opening this weekend is galerie yoramgil’s latest exhibition, “Two American Classics: Abraham Walkowitz and Reuben Nakian.” The retrospective displays a large selection of both renown artists’ works, including some 40 abstractions by Walkowitz and terracottas, bronzes and drawings by Nakian, with saucy titles like “Nymph and Goat” and “The Emperor’s Bedchamber.”

Jan. 14-Feb. 28. Opening reception Jan. 14, 6-9 p.m. Free. 462 N. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 659-2641.

Monday, January 16

For a special program honoring the memory of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., look to the Museum of Tolerance. Its commemoration takes place twice, once on Sunday as its “Family Sunday” event, and once on Monday, with personal stories by Tommy Hawkins, former L.A. Laker and vice president of the Dodgers, and other sports and music icons.

2 p.m. (Sun. and Mon.). Ages 10+. Free. Photo ID required. Simon Wiesenthal Plaza, 1399 S. Roxbury Drive, Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 772-2526.

Tuesday, January 17

David Mamet comes to Pasadena today, as Classic and Contemporary American Plays (CCAP) presents a staged play reading of “American Buffalo.” James Eckhouse, of “90210” fame, directs actors Bill Smitrovitch (“Independence Day”), Joe Spano (“Apollo 13”) and Michael Weston (“Garden State”) in the drama about a coin heist gone awry.

Jan. 17 and 18, 7:30 p.m. $25. Main Stage at Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena.

Wednesday, January 18

For those who haven’t yet caught Palestinian director Hany Abu Assad’s “Paradise Now,” the UJ presents a screening today. The film about Palestinian suicide bombers has already garnered a Golden Globe best picture nomination, as well as some controversy. A post-screening discussion will feature Abu Assad; Nadav Morag, former senior director for domestic policy at Israel’s’ National Security Council, and Nick Cull, professor of public diplomacy at USC’s Annenberg School of Communications, and is moderated by The Journal’s Marc Ballon.

7:30 p.m. $10. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. R.S.V.P., (310) 440-1246.


Thursday, January 19

All the young Jews looking for a little nightlife to go with their latkes need look no further than the legendary comedy club, the Laugh Factory. Aish presents a “Funnikah Party,” featuring stand-up acts by rising Jewish comedians. One free drink is included with admission, and the second l’chaim’s on you.

Ages 22-33. 7:30 p.m. Free (with advanced R.S.V.P.), $20 (at the door), plus two-drink minimum. 8001 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (310) 278-8672, ext. 703.

Friday, January 20

Although we’re not quite clear on when exactly Shabbat lost its funk, OJG Productions’ new CD, “Hip Hop Shabbat,” promises to put the funk back in. And not a moment too soon. Tonight, the group is welcomed to the University of Judaism, along with Jewish young professionals, for a gathering named after the CD. Twenty- and 30-somethings will dine and sing along to the hip-hop, reggae and electronic Shabbat beats.

Ages 22-39. 7 p.m. $20. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. R.S.V.P., (310) 476-9777, ext. 473.

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, DECEMBER 31

“Auld Lang Syne” it with the Santa Monica Playhouse this year, as it presents its New Year’s Eve dinner theater event, “Sing Sholom Aleichem.” Highlights from the playhouse’s repertoire of Jewish musicals will be featured in two cabaret performances. Price of admission also includes buffet dinner, champagne, sparkling cider, hats, noisemakers, tiaras and leis.

6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. $39.50-$49.50. 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 394-9779, ext. 1.

Sunday, JANUARY 1

Celebrate the eighth day Yiddish style with the Workmen’s Circle. This afternoon, it presents its “Last Night of Khaneke Party,” complete with latkes, menorah lighting and klezmer music by the 17-member Arbeter Ring and Sholem Community Klezmer Project.

3 p.m. $8-$12. 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 552-2007.

Monday, JANUARY 2

Artist Jules Blaine Davis invites viewers back into the womb with her new interactive exhibition, “Inside.” The by-appointment-only show offers visitors a multisensory experience. Entering the space, you’ll hear a heartbeat and, Blaine Davis hopes, feel reconnected “with this universal experience we all share.”

Risk Free Press Gallery, 8533 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (213) 219-4911.

Tuesday, JANUARY 3

Give one more gift today. Temple Kol Tikvah hosts a Red Cross Blood Drive. Worldwide disaster relief efforts have depleted California blood supply reserves, and the holiday season can also be a time of greater need. Your donation alone can save three lives.

11 a.m.-5 p.m. 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 348-0670.

Wednesday, JANUARY 4

Brush up on the mother tongue today. Israeli author, poet and correspondent for Yediot Aharonot Amalia Argaman-Barnea discusses her books, “Mine Enemy” and “Hom Camus,” at the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles. The lecture will be in Hebrew only.

7 p.m. 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 761-8644.

Thursday, JANUARY 5

Sweet and wicked all at once, vaudeville chanteuse Janet Klein is back with her Parlor Boys this month at the Steve Allen Theater. Together, they’ll perform pop, Yiddish and novelty tunes from the 1910s, ’20s and ’30s.

8-10 p.m. $15. 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 960-7785. www.cfiwest.org/theater.

Friday, JANUARY 6

Billy Crystal’s one-man autobiographical piece, “700 Sundays,” opens today at the Wilshire Theatre. Tickets have already gone fast, but there are still a few left to see the actor-comedian’s most personal performance, in which he becomes the characters that have influenced him the most in his life.

Jan. 6-Feb. 18. Wilshire Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (213) 365-3500. www.BroadwayLA.org.

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, December 3

Your momma remembers this drama. The Skirball has its last show of “12 Angry Men” this afternoon. The classic courtroom tale about a teenage boy accused of killing his father has been around a while, but gets refreshed by L.A. Theatre Works, with the help of performances by Hector Elizondo, Robert Foxworth, Dan Castellaneta, Armin Shimerman and Richard Kind. A Q-and-A session with noted scholar Rabbi Lee Bycel follows the Saturday performance.

Nov. 30-Dec. 4. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 827-0889.

Sunday, December 4

Today’s concert at the Simon Wiesenthal Center offers an homage in strings to the Romanian Jewish immigrants from 1890-1914, who trekked across Europe to reach ports where they could travel to the United States. Titled “Di Fusgeyers,” and commissioned by the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity, the performance is inspired by Stuart Tower’s historical novel, “The Wayfarers” and was composed by Yale Strom.

7 p.m. $15. 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 772-2452.

Monday, December 5

Big-name actors also convene tonight to celebrate another literary classic. “This Is on Me: An Evening of Dorothy Parker” features Broadway veterans Angela Lansbury, Victor Garber, Frances Conroy and others in a staged-play reading of works by the sharp-witted Parker (née Rothschild).

7 p.m. $25-$500. Brentwood Theatre, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Brentwood. R.S.V.P., (213) 365-3500.

Tuesday, December 6

Attend the Skirball’s screening of 1958’s “Marjorie Morningstar” this afternoon, part of their twice-monthly “Classic Films” series. The story of a Jewish young woman, struggling between a traditional upbringing and a desire for a less-conventional life was probably never meant to be provocative. But Jewish feminists haven’t exactly approved of Miss Morningstar over the years. Now you can decide for yourself….

1:30 p.m. Free. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

Wednesday, December 7

In the nimble hands of Lorel Cornman, Betty Green, Nancy Goodman Lawrence and Mary Beth Schwartzenberger, everything from maps and buttons to fabric and Venetian turpentine become art. The works of these four artists is on view in the University of Judaism’s “Mixed Media” exhibition starting this week.

Public opening is Dec. 4., 2-4 p.m. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1201.

Thursday, December 8

Old world mixes with new, as playwrights Ross Pavis and Howard Teichman premier their play, “Simcha.” The story about a Jewish beggar and storyteller imbued with magical powers might as well have been written by Sholom Aleichem. But, in fact, the stories in the play are all original, based on the “old country” superstitions the playwrights’ parents and grandparents believed.

Limited three-week run closes Dec. 18. $9-$18. Theatre 40, Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills High Campus. R.S.V.P., (310) 364-0535.

Friday, December 9

Playwright Tom Dudzick offers up an interfaith story for the holidays, complete with Christmas Eve miracle. The play is “Greetings,” and tells the tale of an atheist Jewish girl who accompanies her Catholic boyfriend home for Christmas, where she meets his cast of characters family, which includes his very devout parents and mentally challenged 30-year-old brother. Could hilarity not ensue?

$16. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood. R.S.V.P., (818) 700-4878.

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, November 26

Artist Joyce Weiss’ paintings may give you that déjà vu feeling for a couple of reasons. Her latest works, showcased in her “Dreamscapes” exhibition at the Alpert JCC’s Gatov Gallery, are meant to evoke “the fantasies that elude us in our waking hours.” Or, it could be that you’ve seen similar works of hers on “Friends” or “NYPD Blue.”

3601 E. Willow St., Long Beach. (562) 426-7601.

Sunday, November 27

A two-fer worth checking out today is Laurelgrove Theatre Company’s “States of Mind,” a production of two Yale Udoff plays titled “Nebraska” and “The Little Gentleman.” The plays shed light on mankind’s selfish tendencies, whether in the scope of world politics, or the family home.

3 p.m. (Sun.), 8 p.m. (Fri. and Sat.). $20. Hollywood Court Theatre, Hollywood United Methodist Church, 6717 Franklin Ave., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 692-8200.

Monday, November 28

In an oil on canvas titled, “Red Heifer III: The Presenter (We Come in Peace),” a woman sits, with an olive leaf in her mouth, astride a red heifer. It’s a thought-provoking and provocative image, and the one the artist Karen Leibowitz, chose to represent her latest exhibition of paintings and drawings. It, as well as her other images of women in Jewish mythology, can be seen at UCLA Hillel’s Dortort Center for Creativity in the Arts.

10 a.m.-4 p.m. (Mon.-Fri.). 574 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-3081.

Tuesday, November 29

To hear works of L.A. Jewish composers exclusively, attend the Jewish Music Commission of Los Angeles’ “A Little Jewish Night Music” this evening. The classical music of Aminadav Aloni and Robert Strassberg, as well as a world premiere of composer, producer and symphonic conductor Michael Isaacson’s “The Shul in My Right Mind,” will be performed.

7:30 p.m. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6000.

Wednesday, November 30

The 21st Israel Film Festival’s opening gala happens tonight, with the showcase of Israeli films continuing through Dec. 15. Attend this evening’s festivities, honoring important contributors to Israeli cinema, then catch the screening of “What a Wonderful Place,” Israel’s official entry for best foreign language film at the 78th Academy Awards.

$100 (gala), $7-$10 (general admission), $40 (festival pass). ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Thursday, November 24

Michael Raynor’s acclaimed one-man show, “Who Is Floyd Stearn,” has returned to Hollywood. Follow Raynor’s journey as he seeks answers about the biological father who died before he had a chance to know him. Was Floyd a brilliant engineer or a bum, a loving father or a deadbeat dad?

$20. Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. R.S.V.P., (323) 960-1052.

Friday, December 2

Released the same year as Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” the documentary “Sister Rose’s Passion” tells the lesser-known story of Dominican nun Sister Rose Thering, who battled anti-Semitism in the church her whole life, and played an integral role in the drafting of Nostra Aetate, the document that positively changed the Catholic Church’s position on Jews. The film’s director, Oren Jacoby, presents a screening as part of ALOUD at the Central Library.

7 p.m. Free. Central Library, Mark Taper Auditorium, Fifth and Flower streets, Los Angeles. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, September 3

Levantine Cultural Center celebrates its new Culver City home with a series of events aimed, as always, at celebrating the many cultures of the Middle East, North Africa and Mediterranean countries. Clearly meant to push buttons, the series title “Camel Jockeys and Flying Carpets,” may be aggressive, but it certainly got our attention. Tonight’s inaugural event for the series and for the center’s new permanent space features music by Hicham Chami’s Mosaic Trio and Arab world-beat electronica by Naked Rhythm, comedy by Ahmed Ahmed and, of course, bellydancing.

7:30 p.m. (reception), 8 p.m. (concert). 5920 Blackwelder St., Culver City. (310) 402-6469.

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Sunday, September 4

The History Channel re-airs the 1985 made-for-TV movie, “Hitler’s SS: Portrait in Evil.” Starring John Shea and Bill Nigh as German brothers who come of age during Hitler’s reign, the film also features performances by Carroll Baker and David Warner, who reprises his “Holocaust” role as Reinhard Heydrich. The movie also serves as a bizarre footnote on Tony Randall’s career, with his performance as an androgynous cabaret entertainer that bears more than a little resemblance to Joel Grey’s emcee in “Cabaret.”

4 p.m. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Monday, September 5

It’s your last chance, at least for a while, to encounter more than 7,000 free-flying butterflies in The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County’s Robinsons-May Pavilion of Wings. The giant swallowtails, monarchs, American painted ladies and California dogfaces will soon flit into hibernation until next spring.

900 Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 763-3466. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Tuesday, September 6

Depression-era Manhattan provides the backdrop for the first production of the Ahmanson’s 2005-2006 season. The play is “Dead End,” which preceded the 1937 Humphrey Bogart film. Written by Sidney Kingsley, it tells the story of a gang of poor teenagers being displaced by the wealthy tenants that threaten to move into their neighborhood. Expect stunning visuals with a set that includes a 40-foot-high New York City skyline and a simulation of the East River, accomplished by filling the playhouse’s orchestra pit with more than 10,000 gallons of water.

Runs through Oct. 16. 135 North Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 628-2772.

Wednesday, September 7

Just when you’d forgotten about Tara Lipinski, she turned up as the mystery guest at ACME Comedy Theatre’s “What’s My Line?” Journal singles columnist J. Keith Van Straaten moderates the weekly live act based on the television show of the same name. You’ll recall that’s the one where celebrity panelists try to guess the occupation of a guest by asking only yes or no questions. Other past mystery guests and panelists have included Camryn Manheim and Hector Elizondo.

8 p.m. $15. ACME Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 525-0202.

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Thursday, September 8

Ditch the striptease aerobics and focus inward today. Get your soul in shape with Atid’s Spiritual Bootcamp III: Jewish Meditation With the Zen Rabbi. Young professionals are invited to spend the evening with Rabbi Alan Lew, who discusses the upcoming high holidays utilizing the Jew-Bu (that’s Jewish Buddhist, to you) philosophies of his latest book, “Be Still and Get Going: A Jewish Meditation Practice for Real Life.”

7 p.m. Free (Sinai Temple members), $5 (nonmembers). R.S.V.P., (310) 481-3244.

Friday, September 9

We here at Seven Days can’t resist good wordplay. And so we must devote today’s space to Beth Shir Shalom’s cleverly named open house, barbecue and Shabbos tish, which is called … wait for it … “Tish Kabob!”
It’s too cute to resist, and so you shan’t either. You shall go and eat and pray and enjoy music by the progressive Reform synagogue’s all-member band, the Tish Tones.

6 p.m. 1827 California Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 453-3361.

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, August 6

While we are of the opinion that adult twins who dress alike are about as cheesy or creepy as you can get, we can’t speak for the Rosenblum Twins’ comedic skills. The identically attractive Jewish girls perform their bit, “The Separation Anxiety Tour,” as special guests in tonight’s Masquers Cabaret lineup.

9:30 p.m. $15 (cover, plus two-drink minimum). 8334 W. Third St., Los Angeles. (323) 653-4848.

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Sunday, August 7

Down-home blues and pretty bluegrass are just some of the sounds you’ll hear today at the Skirball’s “American Roots Musical Festival.” Acclaimed blues and gospel performers The Holmes Brothers and zyedeco artist Geno Delafose headline the daylong extravaganza that highlights our musical past.

2-7 p.m. $5-$15 (general), free (children under 12). 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (866) 468-3399.

Monday, August 8

The dirt behind the manicured lawns of fictional suburban town, Agrestic, Calif., is “Weeds,” a new Showtime comedy series. Created and executive produced by Jenji Kohan (Emmy Award-winner and sister of “Will and Grace” exec producer/creator David Kohan), the show stars Mary-Louise Parker as a different kind of desperate housewife. The widowed mother of two turns to selling pot to pay the bills after her husband’s sudden death. Elizabeth Perkins and Kevin Nealon also star. The show premieres this week.

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Tuesday, August 9

Cuz you can’t get enough industry talk in this city, head downtown tonight to partake in yet another conversation on the state of Hollywood through Zócalo at California Plaza. Robert J. Dowling, 15-year Hollywood Reporter editor-in-chief, and L.A. Times columnist Joel Stein discuss both the culture and the business of this business — and, most importantly, TomKat.

7 p.m. Free. 351 S. Olive St., Los Angeles. (213) 403-0416.

Wednesday, August 10

For one heck of a hora film, see Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in “Wedding Crashers,” about two friends who crash weddings to hook up with women. The opening montage includes the two hamming it up at various ethnic weddings, including a Jewish one.

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Thursday, August 11

The rich diversity of L.A.’s religious community is on display in photographer Robert Berger’s latest book, “Sacred Spaces: Historical Houses of Worship in the City of Angels.” The book’s title and contents also make up the Skirball Cultural Center’s new exhibition of Images representing L.A.’s religious sanctuaries of past and present. It opens today.

Runs through Nov. 27. Free. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

Friday, August 12

For escapist humor don’t look to Theatre 40’s latest production. Jules Feiffer’s biting black comedy, “Little Murders,” will offer you humor all right, but there will be no escape. Set in an urban, violent Manhattan, the play centers on one family coping with the usual American family dysfunction, complete with overbearing mother, passive father and sexually confused son. It plays through Sept. 3.

8 p.m. (Thurs.-Sat.), 2 p.m. (Sat., Aug. 13, 20, 27 and Sept. 3; Sun., Aug. 7). $18-$20. Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills High Campus. R.S.V.P., (310) 364-0535.

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday 25

Israel Prize laureate Ehud Manor passed away in April but his beloved songs live on in the hearts of Israelis. Tonight, the UJ pays tribute to his memory with a concert by Einat Sarouf, accompanied by Tali Tadmor and other guest artists.

9:30 p.m. $40 (includes wine and hors d’ouevres). Gindi Auditorium, University of Judaism, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1246.

It’s official. Poker is now everywhere. Tonight, American Friends of Citizens Empowerment Center in Israel raise funds “in support of our historic mission of preserving the democratic future of Israel.” And what better way than with some Texas Hold ‘Em? A tournament and black-and-white party complete with jazz ensemble and party lounge fill out the night of “Poker at the Shore.”

3:30 p.m. 1541 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica. www.cecisrael.com.

Sunday 26

It’s official. Poker is now everywhere. Tonight, American Friends of Citizens Empowerment Center in Israel raise funds “in support of our historic mission of preserving the democratic future of Israel.” And what better way than with some Texas Hold ‘Em? A tournament and black-and-white party complete with jazz ensemble and party lounge fill out the night of “Poker at the Shore.”

3:30 p.m. 1541 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica. www.cecisrael.com.

Monday 27

Big-time comedy in the comfort of your own home now comes courtesy of Big Vision Entertainment. “The Comedy Shop” host Norm Crosby has released a five-disc collector’s series of best-of moments from his show titled “The World’s Greatest Stand-Up Comedy Collection.” Watch three- to four-minute sets by more than 300 comedians including Jay Leno, Garry Shandling and Phyllis Diller until your stomach hurts.

$24.95. www.bigvisionentertainment.com.

Tuesday 28

Yiddishkayt L.A. partners with ALOUD at Central Library today for a unique conversation between film critic Kenneth Turan and Aaron Lansky, aka “the man who rescued a million Yiddish books.” Lansky also authored a book about his quest to save Yiddish literature, a read that Cynthia Ozick said is “as stirring as it is geshmak.” Live klezmer by the L.A. Community Klezmer Band rounds out the evening.

7 p.m. Los Angeles Public Library, Mark Taper Auditorium, 630 W. Fifth St., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (213) 228-7025.

Wednesday 29

In “The Talent Given Us” the retired parents of three adult children decide to embark on a road trip with their two unmarried daughters in a quest to see their uncommunicative son who lives in Los Angeles. In a novel concept, Andrew Wagner directs his real-life parents and siblings in this comedy about familial angst that has been hailed by critics. Catch a sneak preview tonight at the Egyptian Theatre or a regular screening tomorrow and next week at the Laemmle Sunset 5.

7:30 p.m. 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. www.americancinematheque.com. www.laemmle.com.

Thursday 30

In “The Talent Given Us” the retired parents of three adult children decide to embark on a road trip with their two unmarried daughters in a quest to see their uncommunicative son who lives in Los Angeles. In a novel concept, Andrew Wagner directs his real-life parents and siblings in this comedy about familial angst that has been hailed by critics. Catch a sneak preview tonight at the Egyptian Theatre or a regular screening tomorrow and next week at the Laemmle Sunset 5.

7:30 p.m. 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. www.americancinematheque.com. www.laemmle.com.

Friday 1

“Layali Al Saif.” Translated from Arabic, it means “Summer Nights,” an apt title for the sensual offerings of this dance show, which runs for three days only. The multicultural celebration of Middle Eastern dance includes Egyptian raqs sharqi (women’s solo dance), Persian banderi, Rom (Gypsy) circus and Turkish styling, as well as fusion pieces.

8:30 p.m. (June 30 and July 1 and 2), 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (July 3). $20. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 315-1459.

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Shoah Slave Driver to Disney Designer


In Nancy Keystone’s “Apollo — Part 1: Lebensraum,” Nazi rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, now the darling of the United States space program, gushes about how Americans will reach the moon. Punctuating his remarks are the memories of a ghost, a Hungarian Jew, who describes the underground factory in which he and 20,000 others died while building von Braun’s Nazi missiles.

“Gray skeletons push and drag insane loads,” he says of the slave labor. “The SS guards whip and club the terrified prisoners.”

When von Braun proudly displays his model space ship, the ghost pours ashes out of the interior.

It’s a pivotal scene in “Apollo,” a multidisciplinary piece about how the U.S. military secretly brought 118 German scientists here to build Cold War-era missiles and our space program. The work joins a subgenre of plays that explore the Holocaust from the margins, such as the Pulitzer Prize-winning “I Am My Own Wife,” which spotlights a German transvestite and opens June 14 at the Wadsworth Theatre.

The acclaimed, 42-year-old Keystone, who is Jewish, described her play in a conversation that ranged from matter-of-fact historical discussion to ironic laughter. The writer-director said she was drawn to the subject upon reading a 1990 article on the military operation that erased war crimes from the dossiers of scientists such as von Braun and Arthur Rudolph. While von Braun died a hero in 1977, the Office of Special Investigations called on Rudolph in 1984 and eventually deported him.

“What interested me about the story was not the Holocaust,” Keystone said. “It was in what we did by bringing these people into the country and later by kicking them out. We whitewashed Rudolph’s record when we decided he was important for national security. But when the game is over, can you really change the rules and is that justice?”

To begin creating the daunting project in 2001, the writer-director and her cast read FBI reports, Rudolph’s interrogation transcripts and books on the slave laborers and their concentration camp, Mittelbau-Dora. Keystone also visited two of the surviving German scientists; although she had been warned they would not discuss Dora, they enhanced her “sense of how these people deluded themselves and how they cared only about rocketry.”

As Keystone developed the play in seven six-week workshops, one challenge was describing the camp without tapping into viewers’ “Holocaust fatigue.”

“Depicting the [Shoah] is aesthetically very difficult,” she said. “All our impulses go to the banal, the hackneyed. So we kept using different poetry and images and guards and beatings and it was completely ineffective.”

A breakthrough occurred when the von Braun character stood on a rolling chalkboard and scribbled as the prisoner pushed him around the rehearsal room. In the play, the image “reminds us of the human cost of making these rockets, and raises questions about the price of progress,” Keystone said. “When the people of the United States celebrated the fiery liftoff of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969, few knew that … came on the backs of thousands of innocent Holocaust victims.”

Another reminder is the ghost himself (Richard Anthony Gallegos), who lurks onstage throughout much of the play. While the Latino Gallegos initially wanted to make his character highly emotive, Keystone said she wanted the prisoner to seem detached from his words; to retell the story, not relive it, as if he had achieved inner wisdom and peace.

“So the hardest part for me, as a human being, is relating his memories while feeling disconnected from them,” Gallegos said.

Keystone, whose husband lost relatives in the Holocaust, isn’t completely disconnected from those feelings, either. While her play empathizes with Rudolph as a pawn of our government — which she acknowledges will be controversial — it also forcefully condemns his actions in Germany.

Her anger at von Braun emerges in a blackly comic scene with Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney, who put von Braun on TV and hired him to help design Disneyland’s Tomorrowland. In the satirical sequence, the oblivious Mickey declares of the slave factory, “A mine! Gee! Little men working underground. Heigh ho!”

“I have a lot of rage about how people like von Braun could be so self-serving and amoral,” Keystone said of the scene. “And von Braun got away with it, unlike Rudolph.” In the Disney scene, his loving concern for the astronauts contrasts with his utter disregard for the Dora prisoners, “Which is what makes me so crazy,” she said.

Yet the director doesn’t simply want to label the scientists “evil Nazis.”

“If we do, we are letting ourselves and our government…off the hook, and we perpetuate the profound denial surrounding our own actions and our culpability in this affair,” she said.

Keystone believes that culpability continues today: “We created Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, then turned the tables because of our self interest,” she said. “My hope is that ‘Apollo’ provokes questions about how we can act responsibly, as individuals and as a society.”

The play runs June 12 to July 3 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. For tickets and information, call (213) 628-2772.

 

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