August 18, 2019

Curtain to Rise on Women’s Conflicts

In a rehearsal room at the Odyssey Theatre, Colette Freedman propped her electric-blue high tops on a chair and good naturedly laughed at herself. "I’m truly flawed," the 30-ish actress-playwright said. "I am totally a hypocrite."

Well, not totally. While her "Deconstructing the Torah," an evening of one-acts, skewers part of herself, it mostly dissects conflicts faced by Freedman and other modern Jewish women.

In "Serial Killer Barbie," a spurned seventh-grader plots to kill the popular blondes at school. In "First to the Egg," a nerdy sperm woos an ovum who prefers strapping Aryans. In "Shoshanah’s Shabbat," a woman placates her mother by inventing a fictitious beau, Schlomi Finkelstein, when she’s really dating a non-Jew.

While Freedman did feel like killing the cliquey blondes at her Baltimore high school, she didn’t lie to her Conservative parents about her Quaker boyfriend at Haverford College. But she could tell they disapproved.

"They thought he wasn’t ‘ambitious’ enough," she said wryly. "That was a euphemism for, ‘He’s not Jewish.’"

Meeting her smart, funny Jewish fiance — "My first nerd," she said — on three years ago not only pleased the folks, it also inspired Freedman, then an actress and script reader, to write her first one-act, "First to the Egg."

With trepidation, she submitted it to Circus Theatricals under a pseudonym, Naomi Lefkowitz, but came clean when the piece was accepted for a 2002 production. More playlets followed, all featuring Jewish women who are "flawed but not caricatures," she said.

In the Odyssey rehearsal room recently, several 20-something actresses told the author they related to her characters. Jade Sealey, who plays a cliquey 13-year-old, recalled feeling "left out and kind of a weirdo" as one of two Jews at her Santa Fe, N.M., junior high. Another actress, Jamie Mann, who plays Shoshanah, said her parents deem her rock musician boyfriend "unsuitable," because he did not attend elite schools.

Zack Ruben, who grew up in Israel, said she hasn’t married her non-Jewish beau, in part, because of her distressed mother. "These one-acts capture the kinds of identity issues and pressures we face as young Jewish women," she said.

Freedman believes the characters work because they’re versions of herself. "I’ve put my foibles and my frustrations on paper," she said.

The play runs March 9-April 13 at the Odyssey Theatre. For tickets, call (310) 477-2055.