Theater J Puts on Original Adaptation of David Grossman’s “Falling Out of Time”

The cast of “Falling Out of Time” discusses the play / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

Every year, I enthusiastically support the literary, film and music festivals put on by the DCJCC. I don’t however, patronize the theatre as much as I might like. Last Thursday provided me with an enticing opportunity, with the production of Falling Out of Time. I’ve had David Grossman’s novel, To The End of the Land, on my to-read list since copy-editing a review of it for Moment magazine.😛 I’ll get to it eventually!

This production is pretty unique for Theater J since it’s an original. Associate Artistic Director Shirley Serotsky had the idea to adapt Grossman’s novel, to which he agreed, and playwright-director Derek Goldman wrote the screenplay. Jessica Cohen provided English translation for Grossman’s novels, both inspired, in part, by the death of his son in the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict.

The story is meant to take various characters, all parents of deceased children, “out of time” and into a magical realist limbo. The staging also accomplished this for the audience, by seating some members on stage and some cast within the house. I was actually right behind Nanna Ingvarsson, who played the Chronicler’s Wife.

None of these characters had much by way of personal backstory, although we found out bits and pieces about the varied ways in which their children died. Going through the various stages of anger, grief and confusion, many in the group ultimately wandered throughout the theatre, looking for the “there” that might bring them back to their loved ones.

After the performance, various cast and crew came on stage to talk to the lingering audience about their consultations with Grossman, artistic choices, and a special event in conjunction with members of The Parents Circle. Members Robi Damelin and Bassam Aramin, amidst travels to the U.S., came to view the play in March.

The play felt rather repetitive and wearying to me, and there certainly wasn’t much room for levity. Occasional lines had sudden, startling impact; I think I agree with actor Joseph Mycoff, who said his favorite one regarded a father mentioning a son who died in August, ergo how could he move on to September? About a more specific tragedy, actress Erika Rose, while standing atop a looking tower, gave a haunting soliloquy to warfare, and the ways that spectators vs aggrieved family members view it.

Because of the minimalist props, some parts of the play didn’t translate as well for me. Near the end, the actors stripped down to veiny body suits near an unseen “wall” between the living and the dead, but it was only during the panel discussion that I came to understand that they were burying themselves in the earth. But other aspects were extremely well done, like the music and the staging; actors had to time their “aimless” steps around the theatre appropriately so that they could make their marks when they had to deliver their lines.

All in all, I would call the play a unique and arresting experience, which strips away traditional storytelling elements to focus on the strong emotions behind loss. The production continues until the 17th; you can buy tickets here.

And for more of my coverage of past Jewish plays in the DC area, check out The History of Invulnerability and Dai.

Black Jews Documentary and More at the Washington, DC Jewish Film Festival

Director Laurence Gavron in conversation with Michael Brenner and the audience about her documentary, “Black Jews: The Roots of the Olive Tree” / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

The house was packed at E Street Cinema for tonight’s showing of Black Jews: The Roots of the Olive Tree, a documentary about some unusual Jewish communities. Director Laurence Gavron traveled to Cameroon to meet Serge Etélé and his congregation. She also spoke with Rabbi Cappers Funnye, Michelle Obama’s cousin and head of Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation in Chicago.

It may be because I was sitting so close to the screen, but I really appreciated the cinematography and editing; the staging of interviewees against detailed backdrops, the wide, busy shots of crowds in Jerusalem or Cameroon, the archival footage from the U.S. Black Jewish community. Gavron and Michael Brenner from American University’s Center for Israel Studies, fielded questions afterwards about the growing global phenomenon of Africans turning from Christianity to Judaism, and how Cameroon’s community became so comfortable with mainstream Jewish rituals (largely through the internet.) I couldn’t help but smile as I witnessed these people read from the Torah on Passover while a rooster crowed in the background, or sing and dance to songs with which I was familiar, on the dusty, orange streets of a country halfway across the world.

I couldn’t just contain myself to one movie this festival, of course; I also made time for the intricately shot Song of Songs, which featured vinyl recordings of period Jewish music to underlay a story about early 20th century Ukrainian shtetl life; and Tales of a Serial Monogamist, a quirky dramedy set in artsy modern-day Toronto about a Jewish lesbian with commitment issues.

And although the first two showings (including Natalie Portman herself in attendance) are sold out, there may still be time to grab tix to the final airing of her debut directing/screenwriting gig of the Amos Oz memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness. The movie will wrap up the Jewish film festival, this Sunday, 9:45 pm at AFI Silver Theater. Maybe I’ll see you there!

Check out my past coverage of this film festival under the “Annual Events” tab.

Feb-March Jewish Books and Film in DC!

image courtesy of bitsela.com

So I’m counting down the days to the 26th annual Washington Jewish Film Festival.😀 I really should buy some tickets already before everything sells out.😛 (Alas, Natalie Portman directorial/screenwriting debut.) There’s all sorts of amazing components beyond the films themselves, from a documentary/panel discussion on Arab Israelis to the WJFF Visionary Award Presentation to speeches at the Library of Congress.

It’s true that several local Jewish cultural events don’t even take part within Jewish organizations. I thought I’d take this moment to highlight some Jewish-themed book talks that are associated with the broader Washington community. Please feel free to add any others in comments!

Monday, February 22, 6:30 pm
Kramerbooks
Michelle Adelman, Piece of Mind. A debut novel about a Jewish young adult dealing with a traumatic brain injury. The Jewish Book Council paid special attention to the beautiful cover, understandably!

Monday, March 14, 7 pm
Politics & Prose
Boris Fishman, Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo. I heard him read an excerpt at the Washington Jewish Literary Festival last October.; good hook!

Monday, March 14, 7:30 pm
Folger Theatre
Howard Jacobson, Shylock is my Name. The Man Booker-winning British Jewish author wrote a contemporary re-telling of The Merchant of Venice. It’s part of the the Hogarth Shakespeare project, in honor of the Bard’s 400th birthday.

Stay tuned to this blog, because I’ll definitely be writing some film reviews, and maybe something from the world of books as well!

Commemorate MLK Weekend and Tu B’Shevat 5776 in DC!

Traditional Tu B’Shevat bounty / photo courtesy of wikipedia

Happy 2016! As we enter the second half of January, one secular and one religious holiday crop up on the horizon. The long weekend set aside for commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. starts tomorrow, Jan. 16, and Tu B’Shevat commences on Jan. 24. Check out ways to get involved with the local community! Note: some events may be sold out.

Please feel free to add more events in the comments.

MLK Weekend

  • Sixth & I’s MLK Shabbat: Visions of Freedom and Justice. In conjunction with Turner Memorial AME church and featuring their two choirs.
  • Washington Hebrew Congregation’s MLK Shabbat Dinner. Hosting partner churches and mosques, with special guest William Jelani Cobb. Professor Cobb is director of the University of Connecticut’s Africana Studies Institute, amongst other things. Followed by Shabbat service.
  • Adas Israel’s Weekend of Tikkun Olam. This weekend of learning features a such guests as Imam Talib M. Shareef of Masjid Muhammad, the Nation’s Mosque; and Jared Jackson of Jews in All Hues. (I attended one of their programs a few years ago and wrote about it here.) Also a joint service at the Peoples Congregational United Church of Christ, and more!
  • Gather the Jews compiled a list of links to sign up for various days of service this Monday.

Tu B’Shevat

Chag sameach!

2015 in review for JewishDC!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

But before I herald out the secular year, a few notes on activities from December!

On Tuesday, December 8, I was at Sixth & I for an awesome, soulful, dance-y concert (made it in juuuust before getting sick with a bad cold. :D) The group in question was Bulletproof Stockings, a chasidic alt rock girls band from Brooklyn, on their first regional tour! I was able to cobble together a little teaser vid of the event; you can watch it here.

A week later, on Tuesday, December 15, I was back, at the DCJCC this time, to watch more New Yorkers (or close enough, at least, since they work for Tablet Magazine) visit the capital–the hosts of their podcast, Unorthodox. It was a rowdy, fun night, featuring such guests as Jewish food guru Joan Nathan, journalists Elizabeth Bruenig and Adam Kredo, and songwriter Jeff Knable. Also lots of great interaction with the audience, but alas, most of that got caught in the final show. Still very much worth checking out!

It’s been a great year for me, as I hope this blog indicates. I look forward to being back in 2016 to cover more DC-area Jewish events! Happy holidays.

Here's an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,000 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 33 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

DC Chanukah Happenings 5776!

courtesy of abkldesigns.com

The winter season is upon us; the weather is getting colder, and people are counting the days until they get a little time off from work or school. Why not warm yourself by the kindling Chanukah lights? Local Jewish groups are getting ready to roll out the red carpet for this well-known religious holiday, which will take place this year from sundown Dec. 6 to sundown Dec. 14. Check these out! Feel free to add more in the comments, and chag sameach.

The Women of Chanukah
For members Of A Certain Age (50+) to discuss texts and stories about women in Chanukah and other times of liberation.
Thursay, Dec. 3, 7 pm, DCJCC

Faygelehs and Bagelehs
For GLOE and related LGBTQ groups, a 21+ Chanukah brunch with mimosas.
Sunday, Dec. 6, 10:30 am, DCJCC

Chanukah at the Ellipse
American Friends of Lubavitch starts off the holiday season with this annual ceremony on the White House lawn.
Sunday, Dec. 6, 4 pm, the Ellipse

Read Between the Latkes
Rabbi Shira leads discussion on Chanukah, with latkes and sufganiyot.
Sunday, Dec. 6, 6 pm, Sixth & I

Hanukkah Happy Hour on the Hill
Annual young adult shindig sponsored by several Jewish organizations. Collection boxes for donations to homeless community charity, D25 at the DCJCC.
Monday, Dec. 7, 6 pm, Capitol Lounge and Station & Greene

Gen X Jews Chanukah Happy Hour
Featuring board games and donations.
Monday, Dec. 7, 6:30 pm, The Board Room

Essentially Chanukah
Not Your Bubbe’s Sisterhood event featuring essential oils, history and benefits for modern day living.
Monday, Dec. 7, 7 pm, Sixth & I

Chanukah Yoga
Jewish-inspired yoga near the Chanukah lights. Can bring your own menorah.
Wednesday, Dec. 9, 6:30 pm, Sixth & I

6th in the City Shabbat: Chanukah Carnival Edition
Musical Shabbat services followed by dinner and carnival amusements, including face painting, balloon animals and games.
Friday, Dec. 11, 6:30 pm, Sixth & I

Chanukah Celebration 2015
Family Chanukah party, featuring a moon bounce, games, crafts, treats and more!
Sunday, Dec. 13, 10 am, DCJCC

Novelist Panels at the Washington, DC Jewish Literary Festival

Jessamyn Hope, Jami Attenberg and Mary Morris in conversation / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

I had a moment on Monday, Oct 26, when I realized I’d read a novel a piece from three of the four writers on stage. This whole whipping my reading life into shape has been good for me. As much as I enjoy finding new voices and books, there’s something exhilarating about feeling in with the literary “in” crowd.

The event in question, Intrepid Time Travelers held at the DCJCC, featured Michelle Brafman in conversation with Mary Morris, Jami Attenberg and Jessamyn Hope. Their three latest novels, The Jazz Place, Saint Mazie and Safekeeping span centuries and continents, from mid-20th-century Chicago, to New York City a few decades earlier, to an Israeli kibbutz in 1994 and the Holy Roman Empire in the 14th century. Much of their conversation centered on balancing research with compelling narrative, general inspiration, and an intriguingly common thread throughout the three novels involving music and sound.

The Monday previous, Oct 19, I headed to the Folger Shakespeare Library for a panel called Replacement Lives. Officially put on by PEN/Faulkner, this evening featured Jewish former-Soviet émigrés, David Bezmozgis, Boris Fishman and Lara Vapnyar in conversation with Olga Grushin. I’d previously read Vapnyar’s short story collection, There Are Jews In My House, which she referenced briefly, particularly the titular story where she explored the murky reality of a jealous 1940s woman hiding her Jewish neighbors from the Nazis. She also admitted to the anachronism of having someone do up a zipper before they were invented.😛

The three authors read from their works either recently or soon-to-be published, and then they discussed everything from personal identity to the ways that people stand up for political ideologies in various parts of the world. At one point, Bezmozgis said that if he ever became a U.S. president he’d reinstate the draft so that everyone would have some “skin in the game;” Vapnyar countered that she wouldn’t vote for him.😛

The truly amazing thing about fiction is how many realities it can emcompass—spanning issues and characters ranging across time, geography and ideology. I read fiction, in part, to see how people outside of myself view the world. If you’re interested in novelists at the DC Jewish Literary Festival, there’s still time to get tickets to see Shalom Auslander, also a recent Showtime showrunner, tomorrow at 7:30 for the closing night. Happy reading!