Five Montgomery County-based community theater groups chose independently to stage productions with Jewish themes within the next three months. While that is not rare in the arts, especially in a multicultural metropolitan area, a season where such choices predominate is noteworthy. We must wonder what about these times makes such themes particularly relevant.
The season begins Aug. 11 and 12 with two performances of Israel Zangwill’s “The Melting Pot,” co-produced by the brand-new Jewish Community Theater of Montgomery County (JCTMC) and the Temple Beth Ami Players at the Rockville temple.
“For our premiere production,” JCTMC’s Artistic Director David Fialkoff said, “we wanted a play that meets both of our missions: works about Jewish people and culture and works on issues of social justice.”
They chose the 1908 play that “deals with anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant sentiment toward Eastern European Jewish refugees who came to America fleeing the pogroms,” he said, because “it is depressingly astounding how similar the insults directed at them – ‘They’re stealing our jobs,’ ‘They are animals’ — are to the vile rhetoric about refugees entering the U.S. today.”
As such, Fialkoff said, his group “is partnering with HIAS, the Jewish refugee agency founded in 1881 that now helps refugees of all ethnicities worldwide, to educate our audience on the importance of standing by those entering our country in dire need.” He noted that the production’s lead actor, who is playing a Jewish immigrant, is “an immigrant himself, having come from El Salvador as a child. Our hope is that his Latino accent will serve as a reminder that the horrors his character recounts are still happening to innocent people in 2018.”
September starts with six performances of Jason Robert Brown’s 2001 musical “The Last Five Years” a collaboration between the long-established Montgomery Playhouse (MP) and the “fairly new” Theatre@CBT (Congregation B’nai Tzedek) from Sept. 14 through 23 at the Randolph Road Theatre in Silver Spring.
Lauren-Nicole Gable, who serves on both organizations’ board of directors, brought the idea to MP’s board and its Executive Producer David Jones. CBT Artistic Director Elizabeth Weiss said she and Gable felt it is “important that we give back to the community and focus on themes that connect and build our audience base. In selecting ‘The Last Five Years,’ a favorite show of both (of us), we decided (to) add to the current political climate and the conversation about interfaith marriage.”
Weiss, who also has an acting role in Fialkoff’s “The Melting Pot,” sees “The Last Five Years” as an “opportunity to put on a fan-favorite musical that will connect with a multitude of theatergoers who recognize pieces of themselves and their relationships in these two characters.”
Next up will be Sandy Spring Theatre Group’s (SSTG) six-show production of Diane Samuels’ 1995 play, “Kindertransport” from Sept. 15 through 23 at the Arts Barn in Gaithersburg. The play is based on the experiences of children who were permitted to leave Nazi Germany for England in 1938-40. SSTG first did the play in 2004, with current Director Bill Spitz playing all the male roles. Spitz has served as board president for the past eight years and first took the SSTG stage in 1984.
The Clarksburg resident and self-described student of history, especially World War II and the Holocaust, said he felt it appropriate to do the play again on the 80th anniversary of the actual event and the SSTG board agreed. In 2004, Spitz said, a talkback session with local people who had been Kindertransport children greatly enriched the experience; he and assistant director Evelyn Renshaw are attempting to set up a similar session.
Spitz noted that he and SSTG tend to prefer “great shows that audiences love to see again and again rather than new, avant garde and relatively unknown ones.”
(RLT) will do six performances of “The Diary of Anne Frank” between Sept. 28 and Oct. 7 at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre in Rockville. “The Wendy Kesselman adaptation is one that RLT has wanted to produce for a number of years,” said RLT Board President Dean Fiala, explaining that “the board felt the script’s increased focus on Anne and its inclusion of her struggles with being a normal teenage girl would resonate with audiences.”
In conjunction with RLT’s mission “to entertain, enlighten and educate all who attend our theatrical events,” Fiala said the play “will serve all three purposes. It would be a compelling play if it were fictional, but it is more — it is a history of what happened to Anne, her family and millions of others at the hands of the Nazis.”
He believes the play “will draw the audience into Anne’s world, where they will be reminded that there are people who seek to marginalize and murder those they consider less than human. They will also see the human capacity for love, hope and resilience even under oppressive circumstances.”
And, finally, Peace Mountain Theatre Company (PMTC) will perform Barbara Lebow’s 1984 play “A Shayna Maidel” (A Pretty Girl) seven times between Oct. 11 and 28 at Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac. The company, said PMTC’s Artistic Director Laurie T. Freed, “has wanted to do this play for some time. We look for works that combine PMTC’s mission [‘theater with a purpose: to entertain, to inform, to think and to touch your heart’] with the play’s story.”
“A Shayna Maidel,” she observed, “is unique in that it begins after World War II. It brings family together after years of separation following the Holocaust. Within this reunion are hidden guilts and suffering, but also love, joy and the eternal beauty of family.”
“What was real in 1946 [the time of the play] is real today,” Freed pointed out. “Separation and reunion are topics we are constantly reading about today. Relevance for today’s audiences is very important to us…. ‘A Shayna Maidel’ gives us insight into what is going on now concerning immigration.”
PMTC, Freed added, will hold panel discussions after two of the shows — the first, on Oct. 14 titled “The Jewish American Dream,” during which panel members will discuss the how and why of their own immigration to the U.S.; the second, on Oct. 21, “The Current American Immigrant Experience,” featuring an immigration attorney, a newly minted American citizen and a Dreamer [DACA].
Jewish Community Theater of Montgomery County & Temple Beth Ami Players
8 p.m. Aug. 11 ($15) & 1 p.m. Aug.12 ($10), $5 discount for students with ID
Temple Beth Ami, 14330 Travilah Road, Rockville
Tickets: at the door (cash/checks only); email@example.com
The Montgomery Playhouse & Theatre@CBT
Sept. 14-16 & 20-23; 8 p.m. Friday & Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Randolph Road Theatre, 4010 Randolph Road, Silver Spring
Tickets: $22 at the door
Sandy Spring Theatre Group
Sept.15-16 & 20-23, 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Arts Barn, 311 Kent Square Road, Gaithersburg
Rockville Little Theatre
Sept. 28-Oct. 7, 8 p.m. Friday & Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $22, $20 seniors (62-plus) and students (with valid I.D.)
F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, Rockville Civic Center Park, 603 Edmonston Drive, Rockville
Peace Mountain Theatre Company
Oct. 11, 13-14, 18 & 20-21, 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $24 at the door, $22 at website, $18 each in group of 10-plus
Congregation Har Shalom, 11510 Falls Road, Potomac