Jewish festivals have various durations: Purim lasts but one day, while Hanuka encompasses eight crazy nights (as the song goes). St. Paul’s Six Points Theater (formerly the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company) has a lot to celebrate, so it created a New-Play Reading Festival that goes on for 18 days, March 2-20.
A New-Play Reading Festival is well-suited to a small-screen production. Readings don’t require costumes, sets, or high technology sound, lighting and special effects. What such a festival does require are several gripping stories read by outstanding actors who can create with only their voices and gestures the multitude of elements usually displayed in a fully staged production. Six Points has put together these essential talents into a program of three plays that are sure to please viewers.
The Six Points artistic team handed the play selection to one of its seasoned partners, Robert Dorfman, as the festival director. Aside from his more than 40 years on the stage and screen, Dorfman has substantial experience in evaluating new plays for theatrical award programs.
“For the most part, scripts were solicited by invitation only [and] were extended to some playwrights directly, theatrical agents, as well as organizations such as the Playwrights’ Center here in the Twin Cities,” Dorfman explained. “That said, Six Points Theater, in general, has been generous in accepting and reviewing new and unsolicited plays. All told, I must have read upwards of 40 scripts.”
Three plays were selected, two of which have strong Twin Cities connections.
The Book of Vashti retells the Purim story through the eyes of the banished queen, turning the megilla tale on its head with even more fun and humor than you’d have at an Adloyada procession on Purim. The script, though new, is one of the last products of the fruitful mind of the late, legendary Twin Cities playwright Barbara Field. Field was one of the founders of the nationally acclaimed Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis.
It’s fitting, then, that one of the play directors for the festival is Jeremy Cohen, producing artistic director of the Playwrights’ Center. This is Cohen’s first collaboration with Six Points Theater. Joining Cohen, along with Dorfman, as one of the production directors is Lily Tung Crystal, artistic director of Theater Mu, Minnesota’s Asian-American theater company. Dorfman noted, “The plays may be Jewish, but we’re stretching for a rainbow coalition across the community for this festival.”
The script by St. Paul’s Mathew Goldstein, Groupthink, is about as far from the Purim story as a playwright can go. In this provocative, fast-paced satire on business, politics and the state of being human, the young and idealistic Kevin, in his first job with a public relations firm, is faced with the dilemma of doing the right thing while representing a highly controversial client.
This is Goldstein’s first play; he hadn’t set out to be a playwright. How much has he drawn from his own experience?
After a typical Twin Cities Jewish upbringing — St. Paul Central High School, Bar Mitzva at Shir Tikvah Congregation, a summer at Camp Butwin — Goldstein struck out for the University of Southern California — but not to study in any of their acclaimed arts programs. Upon graduation, he jumped into the back-offices of Democratic politics.
“My first couple jobs out of college, living in New York and Washington, I was exposed to a lot in politics, advocacy work, P.R. and had some kind of wild experiences,” Goldstein recalled. “My dad actually said, you should write a play about that, you’ve got the material. And I didn’t think anything of it.”
Then, the restrictions of the pandemic gave him the time to put in the effort of slowly crafting the story and the characters into a cohesive script. People who knew about the upcoming festival at Six Points encouraged Goldstein to submit Groupthink for consideration. Reluctantly, he did it.
“You never know what other people are going to think about something you write,” said Goldstein. “But then it ended up getting selected, which was nice. I think it got picked because it’s ultimately a play about people, and the decisions we make, which is a pretty relatable topic. It resonates because of the state of the world.”
Jessica Fechtor, the playwright of Book of Hours, is forging her first links to the Twin Cities. As a San Francisco-based writer, Fechtor developed the play at The Ground Floor at Berkeley Repertory Theatre and the Great Plains Theatre Commons. It was a finalist for the Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. In addition, Fechtor’s bestselling memoir, Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals that Brought Me Home, was published by Penguin Random House (and is on the reading list for the Jewish Book Council). Her essays have appeared in highly respected newspapers and journals.
In Book of Hours, two very different couples reveal themselves to one another in a multilayered meditation on loss, grief, love and living. Taking place in a mountain cabin retreat, this warm devotional pays homage to the resilience of the human spirit.
As the Jewish World went to press, the actors for these plays had yet to be announced. Whoever they may be, they’ll be working with top-notch material.
To purchase tickets for Six Points Theater’s New-Play Reading Festival, call 651-647-435. For information, go to: sixpointstheater.org.
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