By DORIS RUBENSTEIN
Last year’s Fringe Festival was replete with offerings with substantial Jewish connections and content. While there are fewer “Jewish” performances in 2018, American Jewish World readers seeking something Jewish will not have to search far to find it.
The question here is: Which among the 2018 performances is the most Jewish? Let’s take a peek at just a few:
Following the structure of medieval mystery plays, The Womyn’s Mysteries takes the often skewed and brief stories of the great women in the Judeo-Christian Bible — principally the Torah — and transforms them into a powerful production. An ensemble of eight women bring their personal experience and contemporary vantage point to these epic tales.
The play’s producer/director/facilitator/content screener is St. Louis Park’s own Chava Curland. A product of the Minneapolis Talmud Torah, B’nei Emet and Hopkins High School, Curland cut her theatrical teeth at the Minneapolis Children’s Theatre as a teenager and went on to a B.A. in theater at Ithaca College, as well as having worked with various New York City theaters. She came to her senses, returned to Minnesota, and has been successful as a director at local venues, including the Sabes JCC theater.
Curland states: “I’ve had the idea for this play since I was in college. There are so many fascinating stories of biblical women. This is a way to dig deeper into them from the point of view not of the original male authors, but by women story-tellers who have their own concepts of gender identity across age, race, religion and other forms of identity.”
Proof! An Alien Abduction Pop Musical, tells the story of Zoe, a single gal stuck in a humdrum, nine-to-five grind, who fears that the best of life has passed her by. Little does she know that she has been selected by a desperate alien race to be the test subject of their soul-harvesting experiment. Waking up on an alien spaceship, Zoe realizes the future of the human race is in her hands. Does she come to her senses too late, or can Zoe discover her purpose in time to save the planet from imminent alien invasion?
A yiddishe neshuma (Jewish soul) might be their real objective and playwright/star Anna Olson is the one who can give it to them! She admits that “I do have a strong sense of yiddishkeit,” having been raised by a New York Jewish mother. That quality has served her well in several productions at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company over the years.
It’s the Jewish ability to deal with adversity that shines in Proof! An Alien Abduction Pop Musical.
“This play deals with some serious issues, but — in the tradition of people like Mel Brooks — it takes them on with a special kind of humor,” says Olson.
Judaism has little to say about life after death. Jewish theology alludes vaguely to Gan Edenor Olam ha-Ba, loosely referring to what in English is called heaven. Then there’s Gehenom, its opposite.
So it’s highly appropriate that the Casket Arts Building stage in Northeast Minneapolis, formerly a manufacturer and distributor of funeral supplies, is the venue for the death-themed, site-specific production The Member of Some Gods. Joshua Weinberg composed the music for this event and is directing the music as well.
Weinberg hails from the college town of St. Peter and he plays the harp. He didn’t have a lot of opportunity to live the kosher lifestyle until a life-changing Birthright trip to Israel in the early part of 2017.
“Reconnecting to my Jewish heritage allowed me to expand my creativity in new directions,” he says with pride.
Weinberg invites you to be part of an audience — the souls of the departed — who must survive a trip through the underworld to gain eternal life. How Jewish is that? This is the kind of experience that theatergoers can usually expect from the Fringe Festival, so, only you can decide!
Send your favorite for “Most Jewish Fringe Show” to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Fringe Vote” as the subject. The editors will forward the responses to me and we’ll report on them in a future issue!
(Editor’s note: Also worth checking out is Animal, Vegetable, Political, created by and starring Howard Lieberman and Loren Niemi, in which the storytellers will take a look at the day’s news and use it to generate a dialogue with themselves and with the audience)
The Womyn’s Mysteries plays at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 4; 8:30 p.m. Aug. 6; 10 p.m. Aug. 8; 7 p.m. Aug. 11; and 2:30 p.m. Aug. 12 at the Minnsky Theater, 1517 Central Ave. N.E., Minneapolis.
Proof! An Alien Abduction Pop Musical plays at 8:30 p.m. Aug. 4; 7 p.m. Aug. 5; 8:30 p.m. Aug 6; 10 p.m. Aug. 9; and 2: 30 p.m. Aug 12 at Augsburg University Foss Theater, 625 22nd Ave. S., Minneapolis.
The Member of Some Gods plays at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 3; 2:30 p.m. Aug. 4; 7 p.m. Aug. 6; 7 p.m. Aug. 9; 7 p.m. Aug. 10; and 2:30 and 7 p.m. Aug. 11 at Casket Arts, 681 17th Ave. N.E., Minneapolis.
Animal, Vegetable, Political plays at 10 p.m. Aug. 4; 8:30 p.m. Aug. 7; 5:30 p.m. Aug. 8; 7 p.m. Aug. 10; and 8:30 p.m. Aug. 12 at Augsburg Mainstage, 625 22nd Ave. S., Minneapolis.
More information on Fringe shows is available at the Minnesota Fringe website at minnesotafringe.org.
(American Jewish World, 7.27.18)