Arts & Culture

We welcome you to send us any news you might have regarding the vibrant arts and culture scene here in Philadelphia. If you have books to review, theatre productions, music, or museum exhibits please feel free to contact Art & Culture Editor Lisa Grunberger at art@pjvoice.org.

“The Ruined House” – A Collision Between Traditional and Contemporary Jewish Life

A Sapir Prize-winning novel, The Ruined House, by Jerusalem-born Ruby Namdar, is a highly imaginative and illuminating portrayal of the struggle between the spiritual and corporeal domains of mankind. It tells the story of two houses: the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, host to the soul of a people, and Andrew P. Cohen, host to the soul of a man. Both houses flourished, until outside forces and inner flaws laid siege to their protective walls leaving them lying in ruins. [Read more…]

Ken Stern’s “Republican Like Me”: Building Bridges Within a Two-Party Country

By Steve Wenick

I was intrigued by the title of the book, Republican Like Me by Ken Stern, because the author was the former CEO of NPR and a life-long Democrat. Like virtually all of his family and friends, Stern readily admits that he spent his life enclosed in a liberal bubble. But his is a story of how he managed to burst that bubble and venture forth to environs unknown to him while keeping his liberal principles and values intact. [Read more…]

Author Chronicles His Life From Childhood in Nazi Germany to Success in America

Mazel tov” is the customary exuberant response to the sound of shattering glass at the conclusion of a Jewish wedding ceremony. But for a young Fred (Fritz) Behrend, the sound of breaking glass meant anything but celebration.

The harrowing events that defined the formative years of Behrend’s life are chronicled in an engrossing book that he co-authored with Larry Hanover, Rebuilt from Broken Glass: A German Jewish Life Remade in America. In this book, we learn about the years leading up to the Holocaust as witnessed though the eyes of a young boy who led a life of innocence and privilege. But in 1938, when he was 13, the life he knew was abruptly shattered by the event known as Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass). [Read more…]

Book Review: “Start Without Me”

Start Without Me is a highly readable novel by Joshua Max Feldman. The protagonists, Adam, a recovering alcoholic musician, and Marissa, a married, one-nighter-mistake, flight attendant, both learn that living with their poor choices in life can be easier than coping with the decisions they inevitably must make going forward.

It is a story of love, but not of lovers, strangers whose chance meeting in an airport lounge finds Adam and Marissa supportive of each other’s need to shore up the courage to return home to family on a fateful Thanksgiving morning. In often colorful and graphic prose Feldman carves out a tale of self-effacement, good intentions, failure, and hope. With Thanksgiving dinner looming for both Adam and Marissa, it’s not about turkey and pumpkin pie; it’s about a slice of life they must learn to swallow without it consuming them.

If you dread looming family reunions at Thanksgiving, or any other time for that matter, this book will help shepherd you through the valley of anxieties that may be churning in the pit of your stomach. It will renew your faith in the strength and resilience of the human spirit and the inherent compassion that defines our humanity.

 

From the Book of Life to the Book of Lewis: Richard Lewis Returns to Philadelphia

This article is a sequel to a piece written by the author for The Philadelphia Jewish Voice in 2016.

After we have so recently been inscribed in the Book of Life during the High Holidays, some choice laughs are definitely in order. Fortunately, for the Philadelphia Jewish community, Richard Lewis is returning to Philadelphia, to perform his comedy, October 19 – 21, at the Helium Comedy Club. [Read more…]

The Currency of Belief: Fringe Show Confronts Prayer

“Currency of Belief.” Photo courtesy: Fringe Arts

In a few weeks, Jews worldwide will crowd synagogues to welcome the new year, shaking off tallit, dusty from closets, but still smelling just like Grandpa.

Recently in Philadelphia, a one-woman show at the Fringe Festival used the prayer shawl in a different way. The performer wound it around her head, swung with it on a trapeze, and threw it on the floor.

“The Currency of Belief: Trapeze and Spiritual Comedy” had a surprisingly small amount of trapeze, a little comedy, and a lot of spirituality. Not wholly bad or good, Noa Schnitzer’s solo show at Christ Church Neighborhood House was a strange 50-minute experience.

Rather than an orderly bedtime story, “The Currency of Belief” was a night of dreams, each blending oddly into one another. Schnitzer played multiple characters, from the stooping MC to a snail that could sense thoughts, in a series of disconnected dances, trapeze performances, and shadow puppetry. Interactive throughout, she encouraged the audience to raise their pinkies to show their bodies were warmed up, and to sing a prayer in parts with her.

Whether Schnitzer was midair or on the ground, every piece of the show concerned prayer – what it means to pray, how exactly one prays, and who is allowed to pray.

“Prayer is the currency of belief,” Schnitzer said in the performance, using the same words as in the title. “In prayer, we can give thanks for what is and plant seeds for who we want to be.”

External restrictions on prayer seemed to interest Schnitzer, creator of the work with director Deanna Fleysher. One example was the shadow puppetry, during which Schnitzer narrated the story of an illiterate shepherd. Instead of reading the prayers in synagogue, he decides to play a flute, which the congregation criticizes for its strangeness. But the rabbi calls the shepherd’s prayer the most honest of them all.

In addition to dealing with methods of prayer, “The Currency of Belief” briefly addressed gender roles in Jewish religious practice. Along with the symbolism of a woman using the tallit, a garment traditionally for males, the show also featured a prayer meant only for men to sing, but which Schnitzer taught to the audience.

In a Fringe Fest interview, Schnitzer said that even after she “stopped practicing” Orthodox tradition at the age of 18, old prayers popped into her head and wouldn’t leave. Her show was not so different.

It was not exactly the must-see of the Fringe’s many event opportunities. It was often hard to understand how scenes cohered or who her characters were. The slow-voiced MC only gained a name near the end of the show, when Schnitzer appeared to take her final bow, but really got into a multipersonality argument with the MC and herself. Yes, really.

However weird and mysterious, the tune of “The Currency of Belief” will stick in the mind. The trapeze work was beautiful, especially in the intense first episode, in which Schnitzer swaddled the tallit around her face and flipped herself blindly over a trapeze bar. It brought back some sort of primal awe at flight with her  twisting and slithering securely up in the air. Too bad it took 30 more minutes to see her up there again.

The frequent interactions with the tallit were fascinating. Schnitzer wrote in the program that it “was an object used by the other. It was not offered as part of my [Orthodox] practice.” Often in the show, her actions toward the traditional cloth were highly emotional, showing a mix of anger and longing. She kicked it, wrapped it around her head, and reached desperately for it from the trapeze after letting it go from about twenty feet high.

The show was unsettling and hard to understand. Much of the meaning gleaned from “The Currency of Belief” took hours to gather. But prayer isn’t always easy.

 

As The Matzo Ball Turns is Turning Out at the Fringe Festival

The Philadelphia Fringe Festival is back for another year of experimental performances around the city. Of the dozens of comedies, dramas and tragedies, one musical at the Independence Seaport Museum might affirm your belief in following your dreams — and working part-time at a deli.

Running Sept. 7-10, “As The Matzo Ball Turns” follows a Hollywood story onstage, but has plenty of twists and turns behind the scenes.

Jozef Rothstein (played by Sebastian Paff) embodies the “aspiring” in aspiring actor. He dips his spoon into the chicken soup of Hollywood and just can’t seem to get a taste, especially with the ominous Hollywood Machine blocking his path. While he’s fighting for his shot at the screen, he works at a well-known Los Angeles deli and logs hours at an acting studio with his pal Mary (played by Joanna Ferbrache).

“We see the struggle of falling in love, trying to find his purpose, and I think it really speaks to everyone,” said Sara Viteri, producer and co-director. “No matter what career path you’re choosing, I think we’re all trying to find our place in the sun.”

[Read more…]

“Curvy Widow”: An Off-Broadway Toast to New Beginnings

http://curvywidow.com/presskit/

Actress Nancy Opel (left) and playwright Bobby Goldman (right). Photo: Matthew Murphy.

“It’s all about self-reliance and not depending on anyone else,” said playwright Bobby Goldman, of her new Off-Broadway musical comedy, Curvy Widow, now playing at the Westside Theatre in New York City. An autobiographical memoir adapted for the stage by Goldman, “Curvy Widow” is an 85-minute show that peeks inside the life of a new widow as she throws herself into the internet dating scene. It is a raw and honest portrait of a feisty woman who has to reinvent herself after the loss of her husband of 30 years. [Read more…]

From Barrack to Broadway

David Treatman (left) and Alan Koolik (right), Columbia University students and theater producers in New York City.

David Treatman, a 2016 graduate of the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy,  and and his business partner, Alan Koolik, are two of the youngest producers on the New York theater scene. They are students at Columbia University: Treatman, a sophomore, and Koolik, a junior. [Read more…]