DECEMBER 14, 2017 – BOSTON – Right now Boston does not have a Jewish theater company, but the Jewish Arts Collaborative (JArts) hopes to change that. Evolving from the New Center for Arts and Culture and the Boston Jewish Musical Festival, JArts has sought to serve as a catalyst for the development of such a company with a Jewish theater series. This past June it held a staged reading of the 2014 honored play “God’s Honest Truth’” by Renee Calarco featuring award-winning actress Annette Miller (“Golda’s Balcony”). Now the Newton collaborative will present a reading of ‘’Bar Mitzvah Boy,’’ an award-winning drama by Canadian writer Mark Leiren-Young (the Shakespeare-inspired play “Shylock”) at the Fenway Community Center. Director Becky Price recently spoke to the Journal about the Collaborative’s series and the play.
“This series,” she explained, “was created to facilitate conversation about Jewish theater and how it connects with our own lives.” Price found such a combination of conversation and connection in Leiren-Young’s play. The Brighton-based reader and script judge with a bachelors in theater education from Emerson and a masters in directing from Roosevelt University revealed that “This (“Bar Mitzvah Boy”) is a play I selected and then realized it was the (2017) Jewish Playwriting Project winner (chosen out of 219 submissions).” In fact, she learned, “He (Leiren-Young) was excited that we had selected his play independent of the JPP list.’’
It’s not hard to see why “Bar Mitzvah Boy” is a play of distinction. Leiren-Young’s 2017 one-act drama (projected at about an hour’s length in performance) smartly interweaves two very different tapestries – the quest of mid-60’s secular Jewish lawyer Joey Brant for a bar mitzvah ceremony and new purpose and the struggle of early 40’s Rabbi Michael Levitz Sharon to find her way and sustain her faith as she copes with her daughter Rachel’s terminal cancer. Along the way, Joey gains important insight about being part of the Jewish community as well as Torah, Tefilin, prayer and Hebrew. At the same time, Michael tests her long-standing belief in God and her understanding of Torah stories like creation and Noah’s ark as rich sources of metaphor. Besides strong characterization and fine dramatic development, “Bar Mitzvah Boy’’ features lively banter – for example, discussion about Judaism’s view of evolution- and ironic humor – including Joey’s reference to Tefilin and the verses inside as a kind of original Crackerjack Box. Important unseen figures like brave Rachel and Michael’s enigmatic husband Daniel are vividly detailed in the backstory and sidebar-like moments of this essentially two-character play (with only occasional comment from offstage Sherry in the Rabbi’s office).
Price’s insights on the characters tied in significantly with their respective odysseys. “She’s on a path downward and he’s on a path upward,” she noted. ‘He very clearly doesn’t want to be talked down to, and she meets him where he’s at.” As it turns out, the actors playing Michael and Joey are also a study in contrast. DeDe Jacobs-Komisar, who plays the cap-wearing Rabbi,”does cover her hair in real life,’’ Price said. She is also an arts administrator at the Huntington Theatre Company. “Stuart Hecht, who plays the lawyer, “Price pointed out, “is a professor of the history of the Jews and musical theater at Boston College.” The director will be reading stage directions at Fenway Community Center.
Price, who sees the JArts Collaborative “working through a Jewish lens,’’ hopes to do a full staging of ‘Bar Mitzvah Boy” someday.