Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Theater Profile: Seattle Jewish Theater Company

Carolyn Cox, Sara Schweid and Alice Bridgforth
in "From Door to Door" (Joan Golston)

Art Feinglass relocated to Seattle from New York about four years ago. With a thriving theater company in New York, Mostly Murder, he continues to be bi-coastal, as they say. Mostly Murder is a travelling theater company that stages corporate events, fundraisers, and team building events. Art says, “We present murder mysteries that audiences have to solve and get prizes for solving. The company’s been going for 22 years and now I run it from Seattle. I write the scripts and do the casting from Seattle and then people do it in New York.

“Four years ago I moved to Seattle to be near my grandkids and founded Seattle Jewish Theater Company. I run it pretty much the way I run the mystery company. We go from location to location. We bring the cast and whole play to different venues around the Seattle area.”

SJTC has been to synagogues throughout the Greater Seattle area and will shortly be going as far south as Tacoma and as far north as Woodinville. Their latest presentation was a lovely, three person play called From Door to Door by James Sherman. The title is a pun on a Hebrew phrase, “l'dor v'dor” or from generation to generation. The characters are a grandmother, mother and daughter over a 64 year span.

Actors Alice Bridgforth, Carolyn (Puddin) Cox and Sara Schweid gave touching performances that detailed growing differences over the years of women’s places in the home and religious life of the Jewish community. The play takes place in Chicago and suburbs, where Sherman is from. The strong dialogue deftly sketches the cultural mores of each generation and the bond of the family.

So far, the production history of SJTC is: The Last Seder by Jennifer Maisel, Spring 2011, The World of Sholom Aleichem by Arnold Perl, Fall 2011, The Last Night of Ballyhoo by Alfred Uhry,  Spring 2012, Crossing Delancey by Susan Sandler, Spring 2013, and From Door to Door. Up next is a one evening presentation, Shalom! Open for Business: Tales of Jewish Merchants in Washington State to be presented September 7 at the Washington State Jewish Historical Society's annual fundraising event at the Museum of History and Industry, to recreate an important aspect of local Jewish life over a century ago.

Art says, “Actors portray merchants from 100 years ago and they will interact with attendees at MOHAI, a combination of scripted and unscripted elements, and a combination of historical and comedic bits. I am doing the research and will write the script. It will include about a dozen actors. We might do some other kinds of performance with it.”

Art says the mission is simple, “to bring classic and contemporary Jewish theater to the Seattle area.” Last fall, he did a reading of an English translation of a Yiddish play, Mirele Efros (the name of the main character), by Jacob Gordin, at the University of Washington Ethnic Cultural Theatre for the Department of Jewish Studies performance.

He is quick to say that he does not cast only Jewish actors, and does not wish only a Jewish audience. “The stories have to have some Jewish connection. The Jewish connection in the play is what makes it Seattle Jewish Theater Company. We want to share the cultural treasure with the Jewish and non-Jewish community.”

Art’s vision for the future includes a desire to present a Sephardic play. He says, “Most of what we’ve been doing is Ashkenazic and I’ve been talking to the Sephardic studies department at the University about doing a play. There’s a big Sephardic community here. I went to graduate school here at UW 40 years ago, and wrote an article about the Sephardic community back then. I got an MFA in writing.

“So it’s no surprise to me that there is the large Sephardic community. The theatrical traditions are different. Historically, Yiddish theater started in 1876 in Romania when Avrom Goldfaden wrote the first play. There was no Avrom Goldfaden for the Sephardic world in the Ottoman Empire. It evolved differently. I’m still looking for a play that reflects Sephardic culture.”

He would also like to expand the number of productions he does per year and even to do musicals. “Also on my wish list, I’d like to produce The Dybbuk, Tony Kushner’s version. It’s a Yiddish classic, a very powerful play, probably the most famous. It’s got a big cast and is a very dramatic piece.”

I know I certainly hope his aspirations become reality!
Art Feinglass directing (Joan Golson)