FREE OF CHARGE 7PM – THURSDAY, JULY 27 A staged reading of Colin Greer’s (playwright of Imagining Heschel) current work-in-progress Spinoza’s Solitude, a play following the life of philosopher Baruch Spinoza, who changed all of Western thought and was excommunicated from his Dutch Jewish community. 7PM – FRIDAY, JULY 28 6:45 with a light dinner…Read More
Join us for a live staged reading of Calvin Alexander Ramsey’s award-winning play, The Green Book, performed at two locations. Ramsey’s work brings the Green Book back into public consciousness through this play and through the children’s book, “Ruth and the Green Book,” which inspired the Academy Award- winning film. Directed by David Y. Chack,…Read More
(Scroll down to see promo video, production history and playwright statement) A dark yet humorous play, H*tler’s Tasters is about the little known historical story of the spirited girls who were chosen to taste Hitler’s food to confirm it was safe. But in an updated contemporary and at times “rock and roll” style, it reveals…Read More
ShPIeL-Performing Identity with Bunbury Theatre presents TEATRON 2022: A Festival of Jewish Theatre. This digital online theatre with live events, festival, will showcase works from theatre companies and artists across the United States out of identity and social justice intersecting with Jewish heritage, culture, history and spirituality. VIRTUAL PROGRAMMING: HaMapah/The Map Dance-on-Film – A DNAWORKS Production.…Read More
INDECENT is about the evolution of the powerful play God of Vengeance (Got fun nekome) by acclaimed writer Sholem Asch; and the vibrant Yiddish Theatre of the early 1900s. Centering on a small band of intrepid Yiddish Theatre performers and klezmer musicians (klezmorim) – at times comical and at times poignant – they tell the…Read More
SHPIEL-PERFORMING IDENTITY PRESENTS
MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN
by BERTOLT BRECHT
TRANSLATED BY TONY KUSHNER
DIRECTED BY DAVID Y. CHACK FEBRUARY 6 – FEBRUARY 23, 2020
PERFORMANCES at LOCUST GROVE (in the Audubon Auditorium),
561 BLANKENBAKER LANE, LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY
War is like love, it always finds a way. — Bertolt Brecht
Louisville, Kentucky — ShPIeL - Performing Identity, announces its Louisville production of Mother Courage and Her Children by Bertolt Brecht, translated by Tony Kushner, and directed as an ensemble by David Y. Chack, the Producing Artistic Director of ShPIeL-Performing Identity in Louisville and Chicago. Performances will be held February 6 - 23 at Locust Grove in the Audubon Auditorium, the historic site at 561 Blankenbaker Lane in Louisville, off Brownsboro Lane and River Road.
Preview performances are on February 6 and 7. Tickets for previews are $12. Opening performances are on February 8 at 7:30 p.m. and February 9 at 4:30 p.m. Performances continue on the following dates: February 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 21, 22, 23. Thursdays – Saturdays are at 7:30 p.m. and the Sunday matinees at 4:30 p.m. Tickets are available online at Brown Paper Tickets https://www.brownpapertickets.com/ event/4492137 or day of, at the door. Ticket prices are: $24 for General Admission; $22 for Seniors; and $18 for Students. Groups of ten or more — contact Rhonda Reskin for discounted tickets - (502) 558-7881 or email [email protected].
One of the greatest plays of the 20th Century, Mother Courage’s relevance to today could not be more apparent and poignant. Through original music in the style of cabaret, klezmer and bluegrass by Louisville’s own Gregory and Abigail Maupin, outrageous comedy, meditative moments, and outright protest — Brecht’s play lyrically uses the historical events of the Thirty Years War in Europe in the 1600s, to question the meaning of continued wars, as well as the hatreds they stoke towards those stereotyped as ‘the outsider’ in society.
Brecht wrote Mother Courage and Her Children as an imminent warning in the 1930s, as he went into exile due to Germany’s racist policies, with his Jewish wife Helene Weigel, who later played the iconic role of Mother Courage. But just as the play asks how Mother Courage the outsider can survive — with the rise of supremacism, racism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia - it ultimately asks, “how can we all survive?”.
MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN (2019)
IMAGINING HESCHEL (2020)
A Jewish Joke
Chicago, Skokie, IL, Louisville, KY, NY City
Directed by David Y. Chack
THE REGIONAL PREMIERE OF A JEWISH JOKE
As relevant today as it was during the McCarthy Era…1950’s Hollywood, at the height of the Communist Blacklist, when careers were ruined by a whisper…We meet irascible comedy screenwriter Bernie Lutz. Funny & lovable Bernie has made his way up the ladder by being a spineless Hollywood sellout. Now, the night before a big red carpet premiere that will make Bernie’s career, he has been asked to name names, give up his friend, and give in to some anti-Semitic and racist slobs in Congress who go further than a “gentlemen’s agreement” in keeping America lily-white. He has one day to decide if he will accede to government demands and save his skin, or protect his friend in the most serious decision of his life. One man’s journey, through a historical reality and then into the depths of his own soul – that is at the heart of this multi-layered, compelling, and (given the demagoguery in politics today) very important play.
A Jewish Joke (2016-2019)
THE GREEN BOOK (2018, 2019)
January 18, 2017
Theatre Wit, 1229 West Belmont
The Hebrew word hasbara literally means “explanation.” But to modern-day Israelis it connotes something more like spin: the massaging of facts or almost-facts into propaganda for the benefit of an outside world seen as implacably hostile and pitifully ignorant. Israeli playwright Michal Aharoni’s “Angina Pectoris,” receiving its world premiere here in Chicago, is a satirical exploration of the hasbara universe, where all psychic energy goes toward rationalizing one’s own meshugas and furiously denouncing everyone else’s. While ShPIel’s rough production of this not-quite-finished play is no comic masterpiece, its head and heart are very much in the right place.
Which is fitting for a play that allegorically depicts Israel as a nation experiencing heart failure. The older generation is personified by Israeli Defense Minister Dan Yasour (Gary Saipe), a tough old bird who will die within days unless he receives a heart transplant. Problematically, he is the very same demagogic politician who passed a law forbidding the replacement of Jewish body parts with their goyische equivalents.
When a young Arab heart becomes available to Yasour and his preening, liberal cardiologist Dr. Gal (JP Thomas), Yasour’s daughter (and Gal’s ex-heartthrob) Masada (Katie Sherman), who’s engaged to an Uzi-toting wingnut (David Edward Smith), sniffs the Arab otherness of the heart muscle and insists that her father comply with his own racial purity law. Underneath the absurd premise there is timely dramatic conflict between divisive ideology and unifying compassion; the petty theatrics of politics and the immutable truths of life and death.
“Angina Pectoris” certainly leaves something to be desired. The set is shabby and the actors mug shamelessly. Director David Chack (ShPIel’s artistic director) plays Aharoni’s needling satire as broad farce. Yet the cardiac theme is provocative and universal, transcending the inside-baseball quality of the jokes. The play’s finest scene is also its least funny: Masada confronts the donor’s father, an embittered Palestinian, who now wishes to take back his son’s heart. “He’s all I have,” pleads Masada, who, for the first time, sees the Arab in front of her not as an abstraction but as a mirror of her own vulnerability. Here, hasbara is transformed into self-awareness. This moment of communion and hope makes the whole play worth seeing.
ANGINA PECTORIS (2015)
Cities of Light
January 18, 2017
Skokie Theatre, 7924 N. Lincoln Ave., Skokie
The Jewish cabaret scene in Berlin, Paris, Warsaw and Tel Aviv in the 1920s and '30s was brought to life more than three years ago when Rebecca Joy Fletcher performed the world premiere of her "Cities of Light" at the Piven Theatre Workshop. In the interim, Fletcher has performed the piece extensively, even taking it to Paris.
Fletcher brings a revised version of "Cities of Light" to the Skokie Theatre for performances May 27-31. It is presented by ShPieL—Performing Identity. The piece is paired with "The Salon of Jewish American Song," performed by David Chack, which focuses on selections from the Great American Songbook by Jewish composers.
"The show has been significantly reworked," Fletcher said of "Cities of Light." "I was experimenting with something at the Piven show and I was happy with what came about but once the dust settled, I realized that there was somewhere I wanted to go with the show to make it stronger."
The biggest change is that it is now a one-person show. The last time around, the pianist became a character.
"Now it tells the story of a single woman named Katrina Waldorf, who's a composite of many stories I researched and read about," Fletcher said. "It's the story of her fleeing but also going towards places where she hopes that her creativity and her Jewish expression will still be welcome."
First, she flees from Germany to Paris as Hitler is coming to power. Her arduous journey leads her to Warsaw next and finally to Tel Aviv. "That story is told indirectly," Fletcher noted, "because we meet her on the stages for cabaret. There's lot of room for the audiences' imagination of what actually happened to her and what the journey was like."
Fletcher said that ultimately for Katrina, "home is her art — as it is for many artists. She finds a place where she's safe and can do that fully, and she commits to that place."
Fletcher, who became a Chicago resident two years ago, has a multidimensional career as a playwright, actress, singer, Jewish educator and cantor. She has performed Jewish cabaret around the world. Her creation of the original script was facilitated by grants she received to study Jewish cabaret in Warsaw and in Tel Aviv.
The songs in "Cities of Light" are primarily performed with English translations but there is a smattering of French, German, Yiddish and Hebrew in the show.
Fletcher is pleased with her reworked show. "I hope that this structure allows the music to shine more," she said.
This project is very dear to Fletcher's heart because she feels "a personal, artistic affinity to the art form and to the music on a visceral level as a performer," she said. "I've grown to love these songs so much. It's not a nostalgic project. We brought them to where they really pop for audiences today, the way that they popped then."
ShPieL—Performing Identity presents 'Cities of Light'
CITIES OF LIGHT (2015)
The Passions of Emma Goldman
January 13, 2017
At Stage 773
Recommended *** When growing up, in our history classes, we learned about some of the women who “made a difference”. I tried to think back to those days and the name Emma Goldman. I could not recall why I knew the name, but I am sure that either in school or around my home, the name had been mentioned. Now thanks to Roslyn Alexander, one of Chicago’s top performers and director Dennis Zacek, and the one person solo performance “The Passions of Emma Goldman”, I am aware of who she was and what she did!
Russian born, MsGoldman came to the United States in the late 1800’s. Her goal in life was to bring a new social order to the world where women were treated as equals. She was a believer that society was unjust and that woman needed liberty, harmony and “true” social justice, not just rhetoric!. Due to her outlandish claims ( as they were called by those who disliked her ideas and ideals), she was criticized and despised, while her admirers, placed her upon a pedestal for her fights for the issues of sexual and reproductive rights for women, workers rights ( she herself has worked in the sweat shops) and prison reform, as well as the right to vote. She is someone to remember!
In this sparkling 90 minutes ( no intermissions) Ms Alexander ( she wrote the play) takes us deep inside the thoughts of this woman, far ahead of her time as she gives up her own needs and desires toexpress and fight for her convictions.Many of the rights that our mothers, wives and daughters have had are due to this woman, who many of us know only as a name. Her deeds are ones that should be taught andthis production is one that under the careful eye of Mr. Zacek will leave an imprint on all who see it. The set ( Rachel Claxton) is a study filled with letters and booksand other memorabilia. The intimacy of the smaller Theatre at Stage 773 where this show runs throughJune 1st brings us very close to Ms. Alexander and her portrayal of Ms Goldman. The show will move to The Skokie Theatre located at 7924 N. Lincoln Avenue on June 4th and continue there until June 22nd. While that Theatre is a bit larger and the stage elevated, I am sure the intimacy will still be felt as Ms. Alexander and Mr. Zacek will make the adjustments for the change of venue. They are after all, “Pros”!
THE PASSIONS OF EMMA GOLDMAN (2014)
The Invasion of Skokie
January 13, 2017
By Barbara Keer
At the Mayer Kaplan JCC of the Jewish Community Center of Chicago
The Invasion of Skokie by Steven Peterson has its North Shore premiere at the Mayer Kaplan JCC of the Jewish Community Center of Chicago and plays through June 23, 2013. Could there be a more appropriate venue? Recently there was a T. V. documentary, the” Nazis in Skokie” (http://video.wttw.com/video/2328967366/) leading many to think, “I just saw that”. The play, however, is a different take on the story. It is a wonderfully acted, powerful and poignant story of a family dealing with a cultural shift with the march as a backdrop. The play was appreciated with a standing ovation.
To me Steven Peterson’s skill at getting into the guts of the issues faced by the Jewish family living in Skokie was remarkable. Peterson may have had a special a unique perspective, at once broad, intimate and objective. He says that, “I grew up in Wilmette which is right next door to Skokie, so the Skokie march is an event I have always been interested in. My father had a business in Skokie as a dentist. His fellow dentists in his building were Jewish men and all of them, including my non-Jewish dad, were incensed by the Nazi threat to come to Skokie. I was in college during those years but boy did I get an earful from my dad. When I thought up the interfaith main story line of the play, I thought giving it the 1978 background in Skokie would greatly intensify the dramatic action.”
This story of the Kaplan family includes: father, Morry Kaplan (Neal Grofman), mother, Sylvia Kaplan (Justine Serino), daughter, Debbie Kaplan (Sarah Hecht), Debbie’s boy friend, Charlie Lindstrom (Josh Nordmark) and Morry’s friend from childhood, Howie Green (Michael Denini). The family lives in a nice suburban home in Skokie. Sylvia sells real estate and Morry owns a furniture store. With the threat of the Nazi march, Morry and other neighbors meet often to determine how to respond to this threat. Guns?
What the family doesn’t see coming is the invasion from within in the form of “Women’s Lib” and interfaith marriage-assimilation. From today’s perspective it is hard to remember how it was then but this play accurately captures the spirit of the time and the intensity of the family’s emotions.
Charlie was the one level head in the group and I wondered if there was a bit of Steven Peterson in him and was told that, “Although Charlie, like all the characters, is purely fictional, there probably is a bit of young me in him. I give him my own ethnic background as a Swedish-American. We're both kind of quiet and fade into the wallpaper when we're around a loud, boisterous family like the Kaplans in the play. But we're drawn to them. One way we're different, though, is that I come from a large, loving family, and Charlie, we come to understand, has no real family of his own. So for Charlie, the Kaplans are like the family he never had, and Morry is a kind of surrogate father. That makes Morry's rejection of him pretty hard for Charlie to bear. “
This production came together convincingly and powerfully. All of the acting was superb. Michael Denini's humorous role was a welcome break in some heavy-duty arguments. The play’s director Rachel Edwards Harvith commented, “The heart of the play is the relationship between Morry and his daughter, Debbie. Both are grappling with the idea of what it means to be a Jew in contemporary America.…I’m focusing on the complex dynamic between a father and daughter who love each other dearly, but are struggling to be understood and respected. It is a discussion that is as important in Jewish families today as it was in 1978.”
The play was developed at and had its initial run at Chicago Dramatists in 2010 and among the rave reviews was a three-star review from Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune. Artistic Director of ShPIeL-Performing Identity, David Chack, saw the 2010 production and approached award-winning playwright Steven Peterson to consider doing it in Skokie. Mr. Chack said, “I think what Steve is doing is right up ShPIeL’s alley, by creating intercultural theatre coming from the history of the Skokie community. The play is a drama but it is also humorous and bittersweet, telling the poignant story of the family’s desire and struggle to pass down their heritage and beliefs. In other words it is about the future! As a result of this event the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie was built.”
Others to be credited are:: Rachael Claxton (scenic design), Kristin L. Schoenback (costume design & Props), Scott Pillsbury (Lighting Design) and Heath Hays (Sound Design).
THE INVASION OF SKOKIE (2013)
January 12, 2017
By Noemi Schlosser and Ahsan Naeem
Produced by Salomee Speelt and ShPIel Performing Identity
At Theatre Wit, Chicago
You know how I feel out of place until I’m levered off my face
Date Me! is sort of like the Coupling to Sound of Silence’s Othelo. It’s very silly, almost entirely tongue-in-cheek, and yet still very true to life. It’s far-reaching and ambitious – maybe a little too big for its own britches – improvisational and conversational.
The story – loosely defined – is about two single women, Noemi Schlosser and Michelle Slonim, at the wedding reception of Noemi’s younger sister. She’s taken Michelle as her date, in lieu of any male presence in her life. While they down champagne and cocaine like it’s Cristal and good rock, they bemoan their sex lives (or lack thereof), their past relationship triumphs and squalid failures. On the fringes of the scene is the bridegroom’s brother, Brandon Galatz or Josh Odor, who is DJing the event. He stops by the girls’ table to chat, flirt and joke around.
Overall, it’s a funny 80 minutes or so. Very of-the-times – young, hip, bawdy. It’s plenty shambolic, though, and feels more like a living, improvisational performance rather than a set piece of theatre. Noemi and Michelle have a great rapport and good comic timing, which is sure to only get better as the run goes on and they get more used to live audiences. Date Me! is definitely good for a fun, light trip to the theatre, but might be best observed under a similar state to the characters onstage. Still, at this point it remains fairly rough around the edges.
Reviewed on 11.16
DATE ME (2011)
Sound of Silence
January 12, 2017
By Jean Cocteau
Produced by Salomee Speelt and ShPIel Performing Identity
At Theatre Wit, Chicago
Ni le bien qu’on m’a fait, ni le mal
The Sound of Silence was originally conceived as a one-woman tour de force for Edith Piaf in 1940, a time when Europe was mired in the depths of war. Indeed, the play opened mere months before France fell to the Germans. It was in this context that Jean Cocteau and Edith Piaf debuted a one-act about a woman so utterly controlled by a man that she can neither leave him nor kill him. He says not one word, and his silence causes her to expunge everything from herself.
Noemi Schlosser takes on Piaf’s role in this production. It opens with her simply waiting, watching time crawl by, measured by cigarette butts in the ash tray. She calls a place her husband frequents, looking for him; he’s just left. No, they don’t know where he was going. His sister calls, asking if he’s there in the hotel with her; she lies, says he’s in the bathroom and can’t talk, sorry. Finally he comes home and starts reading his newspaper. It’s after 2am. She asks where he’s been, why he’s so late. He says nothing. We’re never sure if he’s even listening. She pours out everything; she hates him, she’s going to kill him, but then she’d have to kill herself, because she couldn’t live without him. This is a tortured woman. Her husband is having an affair with an ugly old woman, and she can do nothing. She is jealous of the people he dreams about. She is jealous of the people in his dreams; she wakes him up because he looks too content. The self-destruction is almost incomprehensible and yet all-too-human, all-too-possible.
And the production does a great job with the text; the acting, the direction, the sets and costumes and lights. Noemi Schlosser finds all the deep crevices and crannies in this woman’s broken psyche and inhabits them. The set is bare, almost nothing but stage markings; there are two equipment racks with television screens in them, one showing a phone, the other showing images of a clock, dolls with legs swinging, an ash tray. They are at once symbolic and literal. The great projection screen in back shows us the hotel room with Emil (Vitalski, who is at once subtle and devastating), the woman’s husband, reading his paper.
This is a well-put together piece of theatre. It is distinctly modern in its staging, but wholly universal in its storytelling and its appeal. It is certainly a piece that must be talked about at a pub with one’s companions afterwards – because discussion bears great fruit with this play.
Reviewed on 11.16
SOUND OF SILENCE (2011)
January 12, 2017
BY MARY SHEN BARNIDGE
Playwright: Oren Neeman, based on a novel by Yonatan Ben Nachum. At: Maya Productions et al. at Theatre Wit, 1229 W. Belmont. Phone: 773-975-8150; $27.50. Runs through: Feb. 20
The Kol Nidre is the prayer recited at the start of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. This plea for absolution from oaths sworn, but not honored, may seem of small necessity in our tolerant society, but its import was very immediate for the 500,000 Spanish Jews who, in 1391 and after, were given the choice of converting to Christianity or suffering persecution at the hands of the newly appointed Inquisition.
Allegedly based on a true story, Conviction recounts the crisis of a Catholic priest executed for heresy in 1486, whose crimes against a state-sanctioned religion might have withered in obscurity but for an Israeli scholar in 1962 attempting to steal the 500-year-old dossier from the Archivo Hist�"rico Nacional in Madrid. The inquiry into the motives behind this abortive theft reveals a tale of star-crossed lovers, long-buried secrets, double lives and agonizing risk, as detailed in the confession of a priest named Andrés Gonzáles, who, one fatal day, succumbed to the lure of the bewitching conversa Ysabel and the childhood memories awakened by her family's illegal worship.
Fans of mystery-suspense literature will likely guess the outcome of this doomed adventure after the first 15 minutes: Yes, Andrés is himself a converso, he and Ysabel marry, have a son, are betrayed and the fate of their child erased from memory. Cassock-ripping romance is not the goal of playwright Oren Neeman, however, nor of Yonatan Ben Nachum, from whose novel this play has been adapted. While Andrés struggles to reconcile the spiritual conflicts that torment his soul as fiercely as the threat of exposure and certain death, his exploration of warring faiths lead him to renounce, not Jesus, but those who commit inhumane deeds in His name.
Generating empathy for a 15th-century theological argument is a hefty task for a single actor, even assisted by a text both incisive and evocative in its imagery, but under the direction of Kevin Hart, Ami Dayan shifts effortlessly between his various roles—chiefly, the smug archivo official and the vulnerable Andrés—to paint a very human picture of this humble martyr's excruciation and ecstasy. His portrayal is enhanced by Jon Sousa and Yossi Green's score of Spanish guitar incidental music, its complex harmonies suggesting inner turmoil as intense as the serenity invoked by the orderly script of Fr. Andrés journal projected on the spartan stage.