Noah Greenstein of Haverhill will star in a new production coming to Rockport in July. “Rite of Passage” is a semi-autobiographical play by Izzy Salant, an up-and-coming playwright from Maryland who attended UMass-Amherst. The play will run from July 13-30 at the Windhover Performing Arts Center.
The story centers on David and his autistic son, 12-year-old Harold, as they prepare for Harold’s bar mitzvah. This take place in the shadow of Harold’s mother’s recent death, based on the true story of Salant’s mother’s passing, and the somewhat more fictional resulting secret and questions that remain.
Greenstein, who grew up in Boxford, has played a big role in the show’s production, from starring in it, to doing the graphic design for the poster, to even originally bringing the piece to Punctuate4 Productions, the company that is producing the show.
Back in 2020, amidst the chaos of the pandemic, Greenstein and Salant met during an online artists’ event. After being placed in a breakout room together, the pair became fast friends. When Greenstein, a member of Puncuate4 since 2017, asked if Salant had any plays, Salant was quick to send him a copy of the script he’d been working on for the past seven years.
The event ended late, after 1 a.m., Greenstein recalled. “I was so tired,” he said. “I only read the page with the character description and the synopsis and I was like, ‘This show is gonna be good.’ Just from those six character descriptions, I felt that anyone could see themselves on stage.”
Greenstein passed the script onto his mother, Linda Menzies Greenstein of Boxford, a producer at Puncuate4. In October 2020, Salant, Greenstein, Menzies-Greenstein, and Myriam Cyr, the prospective director, all met in person for the first time – masked and 6 feet apart in a coffee shop at Boston University.
In November, after months of Cyr and Salant workshopping the play together, the team took the show to Temple Israel in Portsmouth, N.H., for a table reading to gauge the audience’s reaction. “There’s nothing like Jewish women to give you an opinion!” chuckled Menzies-Greenstein, who is now the show’s producer. The feedback was smashing: Across ages, faiths, and those on the autism spectrum, the audience loved it.
The show is unique for many reasons. At Greenstein’s suggestion, Salant and Cyr chose to make it a sensory-friendly production, meaning people with autism or other conditions could comfortably attend without loud noises, flashing lights, and enclosed spaces.
“Sensory-friendly is not a common thing in theater,” said Greenstein, who researched sensory-friendly productions for the production. “I did a show in 2020 that was not sensory-friendly, and I played one of the leads. I had to delay a character’s entrance because I couldn’t handle the [strobe] lights … If it bothers one person, it’ll bother someone else.”
In “Rite of Passage,” there are no flashing lights, no sudden fade-to-blacks, and no startling noises. The Windhover Performing Arts Center itself is outdoors, with nearby picnic tables if audience members need more space.
“You don’t just want to put people on stage for the sake of putting people on stage,” said Salant. “You want people to have representation, you want the people that you’re representing to be able to see the show.”
For Greenstein, the experience is special not only because he gets to play a character with a sensory challenge. Unlike Salant/Harold, Greenstein did not have his own bar mitzvah. For the show, Greenstein is working with a local rabbi to learn the actual haftarah for Salant/Harold’s bar mitzvah portion, Isaiah 60:1-22.
“This is kind of a redemption for me,” he said. “I know it’s not my bar mitzvah, but it’s so cool to be able to do this show and kind of be able to live vicariously through Harold.”
In July of 2022, the cast took the show to Rockville, Md., where Salant grew up, for a table reading at his family synagogue. “So many people in the audience had lived through the story,” said Menzies-Greenstein. “There were a lot of tears. But there were a lot of laughs, too.”
For tickets, visit punctuate4.org