Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company will stage Goats by Alan Berks March 5-27
By DORIS RUBENSTEIN
What is it about goats that brings out the leadership in Jews?
Many of our most admired ancestors — Abraham, Moses and even Yitzhak Rabin — owned flocks of goats or were goat herders. Goats wander far and wide, and are great climbers, so keeping track of such independent animals calls for their keeper to think like a goat and become, in effect, the “Alpha Goat.”
This leap of intellect and identity is part and parcel of the lessons learned by the protagonist of Alan Berks’ autobiographical one-man play Goats, which will open March 5 at Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company’s Hillcrest Center Theater.
Berks’ tale of self-discovery is typical, yet unique, for 20-somethings who embark on low-budget trips around the world in search of something they haven’t quite figured out. He made a detour to Israel to make some money to finance his continuing journey, and then, he says, “other things happened.” And that’s the story that became Goats.
- Ryan M. Lindberg stars in Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company’s production of Goats. (Photo: Sarah Whiting)
A native of the Chicago area, Berks never expected to find himself as a goatherd in the Mount Eitan area, west of Jerusalem, working for a mystical sabra who started a goat cheese operation and sold his product from a refurbished cave. Meeting such an unusual character is only the first of a series of unexpected, and often dangerous, experiences that unfold for the audience in the play.
“The purpose of the play,” Berks said, “is to create an experience for the audience, so that by the finale, we’ve all had a common experience.”
Berks is well prepared to undertake creating this experience. He is the winner of a prestigious Jerome Fellowship, which brought him to Minnesota in 2003 to work at the Playwrights’ Center of Minneapolis. This allowed him to refine Goats, which had its first incarnation as his M.F.A. thesis at Arizona State University, and later had its world premiere at the Phoenix Theater in Indianapolis in 2002.
Fans of the Minnesota Fringe Festival might remember an earlier version of the play that Berks performed there in 2004.
And Berks knows Israel well, too. He comes from a Conservative Jewish home, and his adventure with the goats of Mount Eitan was not his first visit to Eretz Yisrael; his parents sent him to Israel at a crisis point in the country’s history — immediately following the 1995 assassination of Rabin.
A one-person show is a challenge to any actor, and Berks knew that, although the play is autobiographical, it was not right for him to take the role.
“You can only be 23 so many times,” he observed.
But MJTC Artistic Director Barbara Brooks knew just the right one to become Berks’ alter ego: Ryan M. Lindberg.
Lindberg is already familiar to Twin Cities audiences for his work at the Guthrie (Six Degrees of Separation), Park Square Theatre, Theatre in the Round and Walking Shadow Theatre Company. He was in the inaugural class of the University of Minnesota’s partnership program with the Guthrie Theater. This is his fourth show for MJTC.
“After all the work I’ve done with MJTC, I’m almost an honorary Jew,” he quipped.
Lindberg took the part because while reading the play he was impressed with Berks’ use of language. It doesn’t hurt that he also has some interesting experience in working with goats — that is to say, a goat.
“In my first stage performance as a 10th grader at Apple Valley High School, I had to work with a pregnant goat in The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” he recalled. “During my part, the goat relieved herself right on stage. It sure made me glad that I was an actor, and not a stagehand.”
For fans of this show who travel to Israel, the goat cheese factory near Mount Eitan will surely become a destination. Unfortunately, for Shomrei Shabbat Jews, the unconventional cheesemaster only sells his products on Saturday. In the meantime, they’ll get a great taste of the story behind the cheese while they enjoy this production of Goats.
Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company (MJTC) will stage the area premiere of Goats by Alan Berks 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 1 and 7 p.m. Sundays, March 5-27, at the Hillcrest Center Theater, 1978 Ford Pkwy., St. Paul.
For tickets and information, call 651-647-4315 or visit: www.mnjewishtheatre.org.
(American Jewish World, 3.4.11)