Lantern Theater’s ‘Photograph 51’ Review: Jew, Scientist, Woman

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“Photograph 51” is playing at St. Stephen’s Theater at 10th & Ludlow Streets until Oct.11. Tickets $34-$39. 215-829-0395. Photo by Mark Garvin.

The Lantern Theater is opening its fall season with a revelatory production of Anna Ziegler’s “Photograph 51,” a play about Rosalind Franklin, whose X-ray image became the key factor in the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA.

Eros and logos, desire and reason, love and science, are in opposition and tandem — like the two strands of a double helix — throughout this captivating story of Franklin’s fraught life.

Franklin (played beautifully by Philadelphia actress, Genevieve Perrier) works in isolation at King’s College in London in the 1950s, where she is a triple threat to her male scientist-colleagues, James Watson and Francis Crick: Jewish, brilliant, and beautiful. “She’s not fat,” Watson laments when he meets her.

The audience witnesses the driven and prickly Franklin, subjected to both sexism and anti-Semitism as the men around her race to unlock the structure of DNA. It is witnessed too how the mundane, quotidian co-exists with heights of grandeur as Watson can wax poetic about unlocking the secrets of the universe and complains that his teeth hurt.

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Trevor William Fayle as James Watson (left) and Harry Smith as Francis Crick. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Franklin refuses to become embroiled in the petty scientific rat race that Watson and Crick play. “She’s a cipher where a woman should be,” the sexist anti-Semite Watson comments.

While the most obvious story playwright Ziegler tells is the story about Franklin’s life, her evocative writing suggests more than meets the eye. “We made the invisible visible,” Franklin’s partner, Maurice Wilkins (the excellent Joseph McGranaghan), says. And Ziegler too has made something about scientific pursuit more palpable in her own dramatic creation. With this play, she has given us a glimpse into the mysterious, zigzag work of science with its petty jealousies, power plays, false turns, mistakes and sexual gossip.

It is a play of ideas, which illuminates the poetry and philosophy behind scientific investigation. The playwright grounds her own investigation into the nature of creation, God, memory and faith through a story about a mysterious woman who did her work quietly and methodically, and in doing so discovered one of the keys to human life.

Spoiler alert: “I do love the shape of things even before they mean something,” Franklin muses at the end of the play, when she knows she is dying of ovarian cancer.

Franklin is only 37 years old and Watson and Crick’s model of the double helix had been made public. They will be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1962. When Wilkins despairs “we lost,” Franklin adds, “No, the world won.” It is a stunning moment of theater.

A love story is here too, in this elegantly structured drama, with its minimal stage set by Meghan Jones, and its precise direction by Kathryn MacMillan.

Ziegler imagines Franklin attending a performance of Shakespeare’s “Winter’s Tale,” where Antigonus says “the spirits of the dead may walk again.” In “Photograph 51,” through Ziegler’s imaginative act of remembering the life of Franklin, who had been relegated to a scientific footnote, we see that the spirit of the dead does indeed walk again.

Lantern Theatre’s ‘QED’ Not as Special as Its Subject

In the Lantern Theatre’s production of “QED,” the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman is preparing a lecture entitled “What We Know.”

What we, the audience, know is that a two-hour monologue about a famous person needs to have more dramatic tension, more imagination, more daring, and less by-the-book, “official” structure than in Peter Purnell play, directed by M. Craig Getting.

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Peter DeLaurier is a fine actor, tall and lanky as Feynman was, and energetically inhabits the role of the cool but quirky, absent-minded, tender-hearted but tough-minded physics professor.

The play’s title refers to Feynman’s work on quantum electrodynamics, for which he won the Nobel Prize. The play is inspired by the writings of Feynman, and Ralph Leighton’s book, Tuva or Bust!

The play shows that the iconoclastic Feynman did not like “the official way of doing anything.” Unlike Feynman, who won the Nobel Prize by thinking outside of the box, the play works safely within the standard biographical play formula, as Ben Brantley wrote of the original production starring Alan Alda in 2001:

Careful dropping of names and/or awards to establish subject as person of consequence? Check. Scenes in which subject sinks into self-doubts followed by scenes that affirm joy of living? Check, check, check.

[Read more…]

Theater Review: “Bad Jews”? Bad Play!

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Although Sofie Yavorsky gives an energetic performance as Daphna Feygenbaum, a Vassar student who is grieving the loss of her grandfather, the play relies on caricatures, not characters.

The overbearing, dominant, kvetchy Jewish woman is alive and well in Joshua Harmon’s comedy, Bad Jews, playing at the Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio until November 30.

Directed by David Stradley, the play is set in a studio apartment on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, immediately following the funeral of the characters’ poppy. We meet Jonah and Liam Haber, their cousin Daphna, and Liam’s stereotypically-blonde girlfriend Melody as they engage in a family squabble about who is to inherit their grandfather’s necklace.

Although Sofie Yavorsky gives an energetic performance as Daphna Feygenbaum, a Vassar student who is grieving the loss of her grandfather, the play relies on caricatures, not characters. Listening to Daphna yell at her cousin Liam, who brings home his shiksa girlfriend Melody, that he is not a real Jew and that he can go ahead and “f*** an ethnic free bush,” did not pack the punch that was presumably intended in this kind of dialogue.

Listening to Liam accuse Daphna of being a purist, even a “Nazi,” who is interested in preserving the integrity of Jewish blood line, when she argues he should not marry a shiksa, sounded like a familiar, schematic and wooden rendition of the old particular-universalist, ethnic-assimilationist debate. We have heard these debates before, and this particular tale of family inheritance, grief and familiar strife adds nothing new to the story in its language.

What does it mean to be a Jew is a perennial question that “Bad Jews” attempts to answer, but is far too in enamored by its easy “shocking” repartee to even being to engage this question in a complex, serious way. A particularly low point is when Melody, an opera major in college, sings an embarrassing version of “Summertime” for Daphna, to cheer her up. It is a cheap moment that goes for an easy laugh that feels out of place in the play.

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If such misogynistic stereotypes of women pass as “brave comedy with tragically high stakes” (The Financial Times), then something is seriously wrong with theater reviewers.

 

Harmon’s writing has neither the comic timing and wit of Neil Simon, nor the intellectual weight of Tom Stoppard. The highlight of the show is perhaps Liam’s use of “Holocaust” as a verb: “Don’t Holocaust me” he warns Daphna.

Other than that, the play has little original writing, little story, and a lot of yelling by a clearly hysterical Jewish woman who is mean, vindictive, and self-righteous. If such misogynistic stereotypes of women pass as “brave comedy with tragically high stakes” (The Financial Times), then something is seriously wrong with theater reviewers.

Bad Jews had its world premiere at Roundabout Theatre Company’s Roundabout Underground in the fall of 2012 and was nominated for three Outer Circle Awards. Sitting through the 90 minute (no intermission) family brawl among young cousins made me long for a good 25-minute episode of Larry David’s creative, quirky, whimsical sitcom, “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

Society Hill Playhouse Features “Golda Meir”: Interview

Golda Meir: A Life of Purpose

Written, conceived and performed by Rene Goodwin.

Sunday, June 22 at 3 p.m. at the Society Hill Playhouse, 507 S. 8th Street, Philadelphia.

For Tickets, call (215) 923-0210. For information on Goodwin’s shows contact [email protected].

The Society Hill Playhouse will feature the theatrical monologue, “Golda Meir: A Life of Purpose” this Sunday, June 22 at 3 p.m.  

The play will be performed by Rene Goodwin. In addition to being an actress, Goodwin is a singer and vocal coach. She trained in London, and has performed in Japan and throughout the Eastern U.S.

Before her one-woman show on Golda, Goodwin has researched, written and performed shows on women such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Dorothy Parker and Jackie Kennedy Onassis. But as she said in the interview, Golda is dear to her heart.  

Interview after the jump.


Rene Goodwin as Golda Meir.

Q: Are you from Philadelphia?

RG: I am from around the corner from my house here in South Philly. My grandparents got off the boat from Poland and, as I laughingly tell people, they thought it was California. They found that it was not, but they stayed anyway.  

I was about 13 when I started doing real performances. I had known from an early age that I wanted to perform. I seized every opportunity I could to study and train. I still teach voice.  

We all want to feel that we have a purpose. I believe strongly in what Jonah Salk said: “Our biggest responsibility is to be good ancestors.”  

Q: How did you come to develop this arsenal of iconic women you portray? What led you to this work?

RG: Over the years as a professional actress I was cast in roles of strong women, like Marlene Dietrich and Tallulah Bankhead. I began to look at these women as pieces of a puzzle to put together: What makes a woman of such a caliber that people look at her and say that she is a strong woman? In men, people do not give it a second thought. They do not say, “he’s a strong man.”

Q: They assume it.

RG: That is exactly right. With that thought, consciously and subconsciously, I began to do a little reading and research. I had always been interested in Eleanor Roosevelt and I decided I wanted to write a piece about her. I had done some work with the American Historical Theatre, and their focus was on historical characters. I asked them if they would put a piece in their repertoire and that is how it started.

Q: Playing these roles, can you describe psychologically, physically, emotionally, what happens to you? Do you feel like these women inhabit you? Does your husband have to call you “Golda”? Did it make you stronger to inhabit these women?

RG:I love all of the people I do, but Golda in particular: I just fell in love with her. Golda’s story is amazing.

I started studying Golda because when I was doing a performance of Eleanor Roosevelt, a man at the performance said at the end of a show, “you should do Golda.” I thought, “nobody does Golda.” This was before William Gibson’s “Golda’s Balcony.”  

I started to think about it and play around with it in my mind. I started to do some casual investigation, and that is how it all started.

Golda epitomizes the resilience and adaptability of what we consider a strong woman. Because one of the universal truths about her story is that we experience what is it like for a family to emigrate to America, which so many of us have experienced in recent generations. Not only did she have to overcome obstacles as a woman, but she had to overcome obstacles as a non-American.

Q: And then moving to Israel too. When did she move?

RG: In 1921.  

Q: Why did she go? Can you tell me about Golda’s background?  

RG: When I start a piece, I am not sure what period of time I will cover. For this piece on Golda, I only knew Golda the prime minister. I have learned that she had become aware of herself politically as a child.  

In one scene in the show, Golda and her sisters are living in Pinsk; their dad has already come to the U.S. She has an older sister, Shana, and a younger sister, Clara. They are living in two rooms near a police station. Golda liked to sit on a warming shelf near the stove — that was her “little place.”

One day she was up there, and her sister Shana came in with some friends who were politically aware and unhappy with what was going on with the Czar in Russia. And the sister does not know that Golda is in the room, and they are whispering, and she hears them talking about this place where children like her, Golda, are being thrown out of windows, and women are being slaughtered. They seem to have committed no crime but that they are Jewish, and she does not understand, she is a child. Not that anyone could understand at any age.  

The sister realizes that Golda is there, and she tries to comfort her, because she feels that she has created fear in her, and she says, “We’re trying to change things.” Golda asks, “Well, how are you going to do that?” The sister answers, “If we can overthrow the Czar, then we can have a country like America” and Golda said that sounds like a good idea. Her sister said, “But it’s not a new idea, Golda. you yourself said it last Passover.” Golda asks, “I did?” The sister reples, “Yes. L’shana ha’baah b’Yerushalayim. Next year in Jerusalem.”

That was the start of it for Golda. By the time she was a teenager she was speaking on street corners in Milwaukee.    

Q: Some people might have said “Golda’s been done,'” and I am thinking about Gibson’s play, “Golda’s Balcony,” that Tovah Feldshuh performed on Broadway.  

RG: “Golda’s Balcony” covered such an expansive period of time, that it was almost overwhelming. Mine is a different approach, I call it a “theatrical monologue.”

The setting for my Golda show is this: On November 29, 1947, the United Nations voted that there should be a Jewish state. But the Declaration wasn’t signed until May 1948. The Jews knew from the minute that vote was taken that they were going to be attacked. So what did they have?  

Golda was sent in early 1948 to raise money from American Jews because they knew once the declaration was signed, what was going to happen. So the setting for my piece is much narrower in my treatment of Golda. Golda is in America to ask for help, support and money form American Jews. She raised $50 million.

Q: Talk about the audience, and live theater, and what it means to you.

RG: Radio had a power that television does not have. Because the writers and actors and sound effects people would create something that required your imagination. Television and the movies so over-give it to you, you could be numb.

If these studies of iconic women I created were going to have any value to the audience, it would be a learning experience, of women in particular. I asked myself: what could I do to ensure it has the most impact?  

I had to figure out a way of drawing in the person so they have to invest: They have to invest what they know of that character; they have to invest their curiosity of what they did not know. They have to find something in which they connect with that character, and maybe something they do not understand. They have to invest themselves. This is not passive. I demand that they be there. I will give you my heart, and my soul, and my sweat, and my blood, but I want yours back; it is not an option.    

Theater Review: Chekhov’s “The Three Sisters” at the Arden Theatre


Left to right: Sarah Sanford, Mary Tuomanen and Katherine Powell. Photo by Mark Garvin.

The world premiere of a new translation of The Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov, playing at the Arden Theatre until April 20, is a vibrant, well-acted, well-directed production that should not be missed this season.  

Chekhov’s influential story about a family’s unrealized aspirations was translated by Curt Columbus, and is directed by Terrence J. Nolen.

“Chekhov isn’t easy — there’s not a tried and true method to make his work speak to modern audiences,” stated Nolen, Arden’s producing artistic director. “But no other playwright speaks more eloquently to the essence of the human condition, and that challenge is irresistible to me as a director.”  

Through research, workshops, readings, and travel, the play is the culmination of a two-year exploration of the master storyteller’s work that took the theater company from Moscow to Providence, Rhode Island to Philadelphia.

More after the jump.

“The Three Sisters” was originally performed at the Moscow Theatre in 1901. It is a classic four-act drama that examines the lives of the three Prozorov sisters and their brother Andrei, who have lived for 11 years in a small provincial town, where their late father had commanded a brigade. Unsuited for provincial life, the sisters long to return to Moscow, their childhood home and idealized haven.  

Although there is not a single Jew among these characters, there is something profoundly heimish in Chekhov’s play, as Diane Samuels wrote in the Jewish Quarterly:

No Jew would have inhabited this social milieu. And yet the sense of community, the emotional highs and lows, the ill-tempered humor, the corny asides, the affection, the melodrama, the poignancy, the hope, the despair, all — as actress Tracy-Ann Oberman insightfully noted when she first mentioned to me that she hoped to find a writer ready to take up the challenge of writing a Jewish version of the play — smack of something very Jewish indeed. Maybe it is the Russian background.

Still, a leap was required to find a way of extrapolating the Jewishness out of Chekhov.

This moving production’s most innovative turn takes place in the first act. We are watching a play within a play, as the actors seem to be having a dress rehearsal for a play, which is being videotaped as we watch it. Refreshingly disconcerting, the clever technique works, and by the time we get to the second act we are in the play itself, but the intimations of the video and the sense of life being a dress rehearsal linger.  

All three “sisters” are outstanding in their respective roles: Katherine Powell as Masha, the sardonic, restless middle sister; Sarah Sanford as Olga, the oldest sister; and Mary Tuomanen as Irina, the youngest sister.  

Lt. Colonel Alexander Vershinin, portrayed by Ian Merrill Peakes, is the play’s philosopher:

There will come a time when everybody will know why, for what purpose, there is all this suffering, and there will be no more mysteries. But now we must live… we must work, just work!

Fine. Since the tea is not forthcoming, let’s have a philosophical conversation.  

Chekhov might not have been Jewish but he speaks to the human condition in this sad, poignant play that embraces all of life: from the boredom of marriage to the ravages of war, from the hopes of youth to the regrets of the middle age. Near the end of the play, Vershinin reflects on that:  

In two or three hundred years life on earth will be unimaginably beautiful, amazing, astonishing. Man has need of that life and if it doesn’t yet exist, he must sense it, wait for it and dream of it, prepare to receive it, and to achieve that he must see and know more than our grandfathers and fathers saw or knew.  


The full cast of “Three Sisters.” Photo by Mark Garvin.

In “The Three Sisters,” Chekhov has written a masterwork that doesn’t reduce life to easy platitudes or resolutions, but captures the fleeting nature of life in four acts that the Arden’s production staff honors in its bold new production.

Single ticket prices are between $36 and $48, with discounts available for seniors, students, military and educators. Groups of 15 or more enjoy significant discounts. Main stage subscriptions are on sale for between $84 and $135.

For tickets, call the Arden’s box office at 215-922-1122, order online, or visit the box office at 40 N. 2nd Street in Old City, Philadelphia.

Post-show discussions will be held following the performances on March 30 at 2 p.m., April 3 at 8 p.m., April 9 at 6:30 p.m., April 13 at 2 p.m., and April 16 at 6:30 p.m.

Theater Review: “4000 Miles” and Nothing Gained


“4000 Miles,” playing at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad Street, until Nov. 11. Post-show discussion with playwright Amy Herzog on Nov. 8.

“4000 Miles” by Amy Herzog, directed by Mary Robinson and playing at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre until November 11, is the theater version of easy-listening music.  

While the performances by Beth Dixon (Vera) and Davy Raphaely (Leo) were outstanding, and the two-hour play goes by fast, it is not a conceptually or intellectually compelling evening at the theater. In both plot and dialogue, it is a traditional drama that does not take any risks, but delivers a familiar family story that is predictable, if heartwarming and poignant all the same.  

Playwright Herzog tells the story of Leo, a young man in his 20s who arrives in his Grandmother Vera’s New York City apartment one night at 3 a.m., after biking cross-country. Both characters are confronting death: Leo is silently grieving his best friend’s death, and Vera, the last of a group of progressive octogenarians, finds herself confronting death regularly.    

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Herzog tells a familiar story, that could have been more interesting had Herzog rooted the communist Vera in a historical, ethnic, or religious history. The play is based on Herzog’s family, with Vera “based quite directly on my real biological grandmother, who is 95 and lives still in Greenwich Village.”  

In the play, Herzog de-racinates Vera, so she could be either a New England Wasp lefty or a Jewish New Yorker one. This failure to root her in a clearer ethnic background limits the play’s impact, but widens its appeal. The play, like a television sitcom, becomes a generic portrayal of a family that, in its lack of specificity, merely appeals and entertains on a sentimental level.  

I could not help agreeing with Herzog’s real-life grandma, Leepee, who after seeing “After the Revolution,” another of Herzog’s plays, said, “Well, Amy is very creative, but ultimately she’s a conservative.” While I take “conservative” here as politically conservative, I would add aesthetically conservative as well, as the play does not push any creative boundaries.


Beth Dixon and Davy Raphaeli.

Leo, a self-described hippy, who eschews college for cross-country biking, wall climbing, tending a community garden and living off his parents and grandmother, is a New Age idealist, whose certainty and cockiness belay his own emotional confusions and his vulnerability.  

In a scene where he brings a young Chinese Parsons student (Amanda, played by Leigha Kato) back to his grandmother’s apartment to seduce her, the art student is alarmed by his grandmother’s communism.  

“Are you a communist?” she asks him, stating that her parents escaped Communist oppression and that she doesn’t think she could get romantic in a “communist” apartment, Leo reassures her that “communism is like recycling:” It was the progressive way to be when his grandmother was young. In other words, communism in Herzog’s play is a consumer fashion, that might show up on Portlandia anytime soon.  

Other than the Chinese character, who is a caricature of young artistic energy and clichéd dialogue, the characters are devoid of history, as is the communism in the play itself. The play depoliticizes communism, which becomes a vague signifier about resistance, or irreverence or other-ness, mildly tinged with danger and bravado.  

Although vague reference is made to a book that Vera’s second husband edited about Cuba, communism is presented as passé; indeed, even Vera’s neighbor, who shares her lefty political beliefs, is repeatedly dismissed as a “pain in the ass.”  

The personal is not political in Herzog’s play — it supercedes the political. It does not disrupt the nuclear family’s sentimental conflicts — it is like the beautiful setting and lighting (by Thom Weaver) of the play: Pleasant to look at, and go home and forget.

But politics, other than as a vague reference, is not what Herzog is exploring. It is the realm of human emotions and familial ties that bind and unravel. One of the more compelling sub-plots is a reference to an incestuous relationship between Leo and his adopted Chinese sister.

But this is left unexplored in the play, which ventures into a potentially interesting territory: that of sexuality, commitment, aging and desire, remaining superficial in its treatment.  

Obie Award-winning, and Pulitzer-nominated, “4000 Miles” remains a non-challenging, but highly entertaining bit of theater. It will offend neither tea party-ers, nor communists, nor anything in between — which, depending on your politics and aesthetics, might be either comic or tragic.      

Cooking (and Laughing) with the Calamari Sisters

Cooking with the Calamari Sisters
Through: May 19, 2013.
At: Society Hill Playhouse, 507 S. Eighth St.
Tickets: $45.
Information: 215-923-0210 or ComcastTIX.

— by Lisa Grunberger

Cooking with the Calamari Sisters has two weeks left of a long run at Society Hill Playhouse, and if you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and “Screw the Gym, Pass the Lasagna,” as the Calamari Sisters say and go to this fabulously entertaining show.

This campy, irreverent show stars Jay Falzone as Delphine Calamari, and Stephen Smith as his sister Carmela Calamari. Yes, this is a tour-de-force drag show, complete with audience participation, improvisation, risqué humor, song and dance, and real cooking. From sausage jokes to Jesus jokes, the Calamari Sisters strikes the right balance of campy irreverence and edginess — it’s difficult not to laugh out loud, and laugh you will.

More after the jump.
Created with Dan Lavender, the show comes to Philadelphia after a two year run in Rochester, NY. This over-the-top show pokes fun at food shows like “The Rachael Ray Show” even as it covets a place in the holy grail of the Food Network. Learn about “Antipasta for Anorexics: Dishes Desgined to Block Your Arteries,” and Grandma Minestrone as you watch these tireless, professional drag queens bring the house down in a highly engaging performance that will leave you humming “Volare” as you walk onto 8th Street. “In our family, the only zone is a calzone,” says the Calamari Sisters.  

Interview: the Show That Proves That Women are Funny

— by Lisa Grunberger

I had the opportunity to interview Jennifer Childs, Artistic Director of 1812 Productions, Philadelphia’s All Comedy Theatre Company, about her new comedy, which she wrote and directed, It’s My Party: The Women and Comedy Project. It’s My Party began in 2010 with two questions: how do women use comedy and how does the usage change as they age. Through collage, cabaret, and stand-up Childs investigates gender stereotypes that lock women into certain roles, such as the ditz, the vamp, and the old maid.  

In some ways, the play responds to Christopher Hitchens’ provocative comment in a Vanity Fair article years ago, claiming that women aren’t funny. The first act of this compelling show had the audience laughing on the opening night last Wedensday. The all-woman ensemble includes comedic veterans of the Philadelphia theatre. The play incorporates original and devised music by the cast and the musical director Monica Stephenson, and features a set by 1812 Productions’ designer Lance Kniskern.

Full interview after the jump.

It’s My Party: The Women and Comedy Project
Playing at: Plays and Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey St.
Through: Sunday, May 19.
Tickets: $22 to $38.
Information: 215-592-9560 or 1812 Productions’ website.

Q: Tell me how The Women and Comedy Project came about? What was your process? There are African-American Women, white women, an Asian woman, and a diverse age-range. No Latinas and or Jewish women — how did you make casting decisions and were questions of ethnicity important in your thought process?

JC: I interviewed over 100 women all along the East coast, pulling together anecdotes, stories and personal experiences. I wanted it to be racially and age diverse, but I was more interested in exploring the brains, heart and sous of these women. It would have become a different show if there was one woman representative of each “flavor” or ethnic background.  

Q: How did you arrive at the three act structure of the play?

JC: I could have written a linear 90 minute script, but I gave myself permission to stretch the form and it was very liberating.

Q: Can you briefly describe each act and what you had in mind?

JC: The first act, which I call ‘The Lecture,’ represents the youngest age, say women in their 20s who I found use humor to gain attention. It’s an age when you don’t have your own voice and you use stereotypes and imitations to find your comedic voice.  

The second Act, called ‘The Ritual,’ represents women in their 30s and 40s, when women discover that comedy can save your soul. You can use humor as a weapon to fight and survive.

Q: This is where we hear the women sharing their stories. Were these stories autobiographical or were they a composite or synthesis of the many interviews you did?

JC: They were the actresses’ own stories, that we had “workshopped.”

Q: In the second act, we hear one of the characters tell a story about learning she has breast cancer, which her mother had died of. Was this the actress’s own story, and couldn’t this be seen as potentially not funny? Or as simply “empowering” and therapeutic to share but not necessarily art or theatrically interesting?

JC: It is her own story, and I’m surprised that that’s confusing to people. I was reading about the comedienne Tig Notaro and how she was diagnosed with cancer right after her mom died, and she was so funny. It’s about owning what happens to you and not apologizing for it, and that can be funny.

Q: Tell me about the third act of the play.

JC: The third act, called ‘The Rave,’ is about the oldest age, women in their 70s, and it’s about being audacious. In naming it “the rave” I’m referencing the rave dances, but also the association with stark raving mad and the rave as a rant. By this age, women don’t care anymore. If you want to wear polka-dots, stripes and mismatched shoes, so be it. My daughter is 9 and my mother is in her 70s, and I see similarities in their not caring about what other people think.

Q: How, if at all, do you think about audience?

JC: Comedy is about audience. I think it is extremely important to connect with the audience, which I think of as the last character in the play. The show isn’t finished until there is laughter. Only then is the rhythm complete. I mean, if a joke is told in a forest and no one is there to hear it, is it funny?

Q: One of the characters says “I’m too radiant for irony.” What did you learn during your interviews about women, humor and irony, and how did this get translated into the show?

JC: I was surprised that no woman I interviewed thought she was funny. When I asked them to sing a rap I had written during the auditions — and this was a rap about being smart and beautiful and sexy — the women were tentative. Some feared that people will not like them if they sing a song like this. But this is exactly what the play is exploring — I want women to take ownership of their own goofiness. To find a way to say “this is what I want.”

Q: The danger is sounding too sincere or sentimental in this approach, right? Too much like Jack Handy’s “deep thoughts.”

JC: It’s a fine line. More and more people employ irony and cynical humor on the stage, but it’s the death of theatre if we presume that you can’t be hurt, that there’s no vulnerability. Part of comedy is precisely this threat of being vulnerable. I see sincerity and openness as being a lot braver than coming up with snarky comments. it was important to me to create something that felt honest and honored the interviewees’ stories.

Theater Chat: Together We Act

— by Hannah Lee

I’ve witnessed how theater is transformational when I observed how a young family friend, petite and shy, blossomed into a singer and actor on stage, first at the Perelman Jewish Day School and later in “Ragtime” at the Papermill Playhouse, the state theater in Millburn, NJ. Somehow having a script and an audience enables people to forget their usual persona and voice.

The experience of King George VI and his struggle with stuttering was portrayed brilliantly by Colin Firth in his Academy-award-winning role in the 2010 film, The King’s Speech. How much more fun would it have been for the King had he attempted theater? This weekend, the Adrienne Theater will host two performances of “Tough Cookies,” a one-act play by Edward Crosby Wells, with actors from Together We Act, a non-profit outreach theater company that is committed to educating, motivating, and building confidence in people who stutter.

Details about this weekend’s shows after the jump.


Shinefield being interviewed on Fox 29

Together We Act’s founder and executive officer, David Shinefield, a lifelong stutterer, discovered the thrill of acting at Yeshiva University. Upon realizing that he did not stutter when on stage, he decided to create Together We Act so that all people who stuttered could have a chance to immerse themselves in the world of acting. Shinefield hopes that “the theater community will be revolutionized in a way that will cause the inclusion of all sorts of actors, no matter what “handicap” they may seem to possess.”

Together We Act raised funds through crowdsourcing on Kickstarter by offering backers tickets to the shows, an official t-shirt, donor recognition in the playbill, and a recording of the play. According to Shinefield, some other troupes for inclusion are Our Time, a stuttering group for children, and Identity Theater, both located in New York. “Tough Cookies” will be directed by Kathe Mull of New York City.

“Tough Cookies” will be performed on Sunday, February 17 and Monday, February 18, in the Adrienne Theater at 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA. Both performances will start at 7:00 PM and each will be followed by a Q&A session.

Summer Encounters With New York’s Theatrical Jewish Culture


This summer theater lovers will have an opportunity to participate in Tent: Theater, New York City. This is a seminar about Jews and the performing arts that lasts for one week. Participants will be able to meet playwrights, directors, and actors. The group will go to several Off-Broadway productions. The influence of Jewish performers on American theater will be examined. One of the highlights of the visit will be a Q and A session with Tony Kushner, Pulitzer prize winning author of Angels in America. Applications are due March 4.