J’accuse la Divinite

A group of Auschwitz prisoners, waiting for their potential call to death, decide to put God on Trial to determine if He is guilty of breaking His covenant with His chosen people.  The show is playing at First Central Congregational Church under the auspices of the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company.

Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s script doesn’t just tug at your heartstrings.  It drives a knife into your chest and gouges a hole in your heart.  It paints a brutally realistic picture of life in a death camp as the prisoners look starved and beaten and you can feel them desperately clinging to their last thread of self-control as they constantly dread the summons to the gas chamber that hangs over their heads like the Sword of Damocles.  Cottrell-Boyce’s taut and crisp dialogue really sells the trial as the prisoners argue over all facets of God.  Does He exist?  Is He just and loving?  Is He not all powerful?  Why would He allow His chosen people to suffer such an abomination?  Is He no longer on their side?  This show is really going to make you think and the utter silence I heard at the play’s end is the best tribute to its power which I can conceive.

Murphy Scott Wulfgar provides an immersive piece of direction.  The staging will make you feel like a fellow prisoner as the actors weave between audience members and perform inches from your face.  The coaching is sterling.  His performers shine in a series of monologues that will leave you feeling raw and wrung out.  The reactions of the prisoners are precise and exact.  In fact, one of the play’s strongest scenes is a moment of about two minutes of silence except for the sounds of a new group of prisoners being indoctrinated into Auschwitz (courtesy of Eric Griffith’s soundscape work).  The far-off sounds of heads being sheared combined with the fearful and haunted looks of the prisoners make it one of the best ensemble scenes of the season.

This play totally eschews the typical form for a show as there is no leading character.  Nearly everyone gets a moment to shine and provide a vital piece of the puzzle.  Some of the sensational performances you see come from Jack Zerbe who sizzles as Kuhn, a man who retains his childlike faith even in these dire circumstances and understands the true meaning of sacrifice.  Jeremy Earl gives the most honest and gut-wrenching performance of his career as Jacques, a French Jew whose use of logic leads him to a dark and hopeless place.  Michael Lyon stirs as the judge for the trial who hides a secret of his own.  Thomas Lowe pulverizes your soul as a father who watched his children taken away from him by the Nazis.

Scott Working is thoroughly believable as Schmidt, a rabbi who assumes the role of God’s defense counselor.  Always maintaining his calm, Working’s Schmidt elucidates the history of God with His chosen people and points out how serious blows to the Jewish people led to greater good for them and this period could simply be a test for them or even a purification ushering in the arrival of the longed for Messiah.  His defense of God centers around His mysterious nature and how His ways are not our ways and man’s misuse of free will.

On the other side of the table is the prosecutor, Mordechai, as essayed by Murphy Scott Wulfgar.  What I liked best about Wulfgar’s portrayal was that he ignored the obvious choice of anger.  Instead, he infuses Mordechai with an interesting blend of frustration, weariness, and logical induction.  Unlike Schmidt, Mordechai doesn’t use scripture to back his arguments.  Rather he uses the defense’s own words and examples and inverts them to prove that God is callous and doesn’t care for His special people.

Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek is spellbinding as Akiba.  Silent for most of the show, his one extended monologue manages to fuse the arguments of Mordechai and Schmidt into one combined entity.  A rabbi himself, Akiba is able to use scripture just as easily as Schmidt, but his arguments based off those scriptures support Mordechai as he argues God was never good, just merely on the side of the Jewish people.  Now, he argues, God is merely with someone else and they are suffering the fates of the Egyptians, the Amalekites, the Kenites, and others decimated by God.

Courtney Sidzyik’s simple set of wooden bunks and benches combined with a low, almost moonish, light bring a depressing reality to Auschwitz.  Charleen Willoughby’s costumes excel with the ill-fitting prison uniforms and cheaply made Star of Davids identifying the Jews and the green triangles signifying the criminals.

The church is not sound acoustically.  As such it was difficult to make out dialogue at certain points as the walls just sucked up the sound so the actors are really going to need to belt it in order to be understood, even with the audience so close.

This show is going to smack you across the face with its level of complexity.  It asks very difficult questions whose answers may be easy or hard depending on where you are on the spectrum of faith as well as shining a light on man’s hideous cruelty to his fellow man.  Yet even in all the evil and hardship, there is still the kernel of hope.  אנחנו עדיין כאן (We are still here).

God on Trial plays at First Central Congregational Church through April 17.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets start at $35 and can be obtained by visiting www.bsbtheatre.com or calling 402-502-4910.  First Central Congregational Church is located at 421 S 36th St in Omaha, NE.

Chanticleer Theatre Holding Auditions for ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’

Auditions for the fourth production of the Chanticleer Community Theater 2019 – 2020 season, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,  will be held on Monday March 2nd at 6:00 p.m. with callbacks scheduled for Saturday, March 7th at 7:00 p.m. Auditions will be held in the Hoff Arts and Cultural Center, 1001 South 6th Street, in Council Bluffs, IA. If you would like to audition but can’t make the March 2nd date please contact director Daena Schweiger at daena.schweiger@gmail.com.  An additional off-site date may be scheduled for auditions. Please check Chanticleer’s website or social media channels for audition site updates, or contact the director via email.

AUDITION MATERIAL

Please prepare 32 measures of music. An accompanist will be provided. Please bring sheet music to the audition – no acapella singing or singing with pre-recorded music will be allowed. Please be prepared to sing your song in a different style – (i.e. French, Country, Hip-Hop, Elvis, etc.)

We ask that you wear comfortable clothing and shoes as you will be asked to learn and perform a short dance routine in jazz style.

REHEARSAL SCHEDULE

Please bring a calendar to reference for rehearsal conflicts. Having conflicts will not necessarily preclude you from being cast but we need to know to plan schedules.  NOTE: There will be some weekend evening rehearsals in addition to weekday evening rehearsals. Rehearsals are tentatively scheduled to begin Saturday, March 21 in the evening and will be held in our new home at the Hoff Family Arts and Culture Center. Performance dates are May 15 – 24, 2020.

CASTING

The cast calls for both adult performers as well as youth and young adult performers (ages 7+). We would like our production to reflect the diversity of the world. As such, actors of all races, ethnicities, gender identifications and abilities are welcome and encouraged to audition. Actors with disabilities who need to request an accommodation needed to audition, please contact Bob Putnam, theater manager, at manager@chanticleertheater.com or daena.schweiger@gmail.com

SHOW SUMMARY

Told entirely through song with the help of a main character Narratorthe musical follows preferred son Joseph. After being sold into slavery by his brothers, he ingratiates himself with Egyptian noble Potiphar, but ends up in jail after refusing the amorous advances of Potiphar’s wife. While imprisoned, Joseph discovers his ability to interpret dreams, and he soon finds himself in front of the mighty but troubled, Elvis-inspired, Pharaoh. Joseph’s solution to Egypt’s famine elevates him to Pharaoh’s right-hand man and reunites him with his family.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Chanticleer:  712-890-5608

Email: chanticleertheater@gmail.com

Stage Director:  Daena Schweiger

Music Director: Todd Brooks

Choreographer: Julie Stanfill

Family Warfare Provides Strange Synergy of Heart and Humor

A long standing grudge between cousins Daphna and Liam boils over into warfare over who gets the chai necklace owned by their late grandfather.  They violently and cruelly argue about what is most important:  faith, culture, or self.  This is the plot of Bad Jews currently playing at the Blue Barn Theatre.

Do not let the title of the play trick you into thinking the play is anti-Semitic.  The bad Jews in question are just bad because one is a hypocrite, the other is an atheist, and neither are likable people.

Susan Clement-Toberer’s direction is outstanding in this dramatic comedy.  Not only has she molded some sharp performances, but she has also done a remarkable job finding the beats of this play.  From farcical comedy to tender moments, this show will take you on a thought provoking journey from start to finish.  Throw in a beautiful studio apartment set designed by Martin Scott Marchitto and you will be in for an interesting night of theatre.

Megan Friend is an absolute dynamo as Daphna Feygenbaum.  Deftly merging comedy and drama, Ms Friend knows how to be funny, yet keep the comedy utterly grounded in reality.  At the same time, she was capable of some powerful dramatic moments.  Ms Friend’s Daphna is little more than a mouth with hair.  She is unbelievably animated and talks incessantly about everything, anything, and nothing.  Daphna also has a personality so obnoxious that you’ll want to scream, “Shut up!!” five minutes after she starts talking.

But Daphna’s mouth is also a deadly weapon.  Her barbed tongue easily tosses verbal knives and she knows how to prey upon people’s weaknesses such as when she cons Liam’s girlfriend, Melody, into singing a song to prove her lack of talent.  Ms Friend’s Daphna seems to pride herself on her Jewish heritage, but that pride is akin to the Pharisees of the New Testament.  It holds no meaning for her other than the chance to prove her moral superiority by being holier than thou.  And this holier than thou attitude is why she thinks she deserves the chai necklace.

Jonathan Purcell portrays Liam Feygenbaum.  Having missed his grandfather’s funeral due to being on a vacation with his girlfriend, Purcell’s Liam returns dreading the fight that he knows is about to erupt when he learns that Daphna wants the chai necklace that he already possesses.  Purcell’s Liam is an extremely high strung person.  He dislikes Daphna with a passion with much of that dislike coming from the fact that he and Daphna are simply two sides of the same coin.  Not only do they use similar phrases, but his mouth is just as potent as hers when it comes to verbal barbs.  And his militant atheism serves as a counterpoint to Daphna’s militant “faith”.

I thought that Mr. Purcell’s performance somewhat missed the mark.  At one point, Daphna describes Liam as being smart and smug, but I never saw these attributes come through in Purcell’s interpretation.  He was more high strung and shrill.  Purcell also seemed to have some difficulty fusing the comedic and dramatic elements of his character.  A prime example of this being a rant that Liam goes on after Daphna leaves the room to brush her hair.  The words are incredibly mean-spirited, but Purcell’s interpretation is farcically hilarious.  With a touch of dramatic edge, the words could have dug the knife into Daphna a bit more deeply and demonstrated Liam’s smugness.  Without that fusion, Liam came off a bit whiney.

Jon Daniel Roberson gives a stunningly underplayed performance as Liam’s younger brother, Jonah.  Roberson’s Jonah is the voice of reason between his feuding family members.  He has a quiet strength about him as he takes the occasional shot from both his brother and cousin, but, with true courage, chooses not to respond.  He tries not to get involved in the battle as he agrees with both sides in certain aspects of their arguments.  In a stunning final moment, Roberson’s Jonah also proves that he is the good Jew in this story.  The only flaw in Roberson’s performance is that he needs to be louder.  It was difficult hearing him for a good portion of the play.

Sydney Readman comes off a little flat as Liam’s girlfriend, Melody.  Some of her line readings sounded memorized and her character seemed a bit one dimensional for the most part.  However, her utter mangling of a song in an attempt to cheer up Daphna was one of the highlights of the show.  Ms Readman also does a nice bit of character work at the end of the show after she gets involved in the climax of the chai necklace argument and reveals her own true colors.

Ultimately, the play’s compelling story, flawless direction, and fairly solid acting makes for a fine night of theatre.  Daphna’s hypocrisy and Liam’s smugness show how faith or lack of it can be used to make people feel morally superior.  But one simple act from Jonah will demonstrate what it means to be truly faithful.

Bad Jews plays at the Blue Barn Theatre through March 14.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 6pm.  Shows on Feb 28 and Mar 7 are sold out.  Bad Jews contains some very strong language and a scene of violence.  It is not recommended for children.  Tickets are $30 for adults and $25 for students, seniors (65+), TAG members, and groups of ten or more.  For reservations, call 402-345-1575.  The Blue Barn Theatre is located at 614 S 11th St in Omaha, NE.