Theater J Opens 2019/2020 Season with Sensual Musical “Love Sick”

Members of the cast and crew of “Love Sick” discuss the musical with its audience / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

The Song of Songs was put to new music in the Theater J east coast premiere, “Love Sick.”

Named for the quote “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved, what will ye tell him? That I am love-sick” (Song of Songs 5:8), the play, written by Ofra Daniel and co-composed with Lior Ben-Hur, spins a metaphysical tale about a dissatisfied married woman, Tirzah, who starts receiving love letters and finds her own sexuality.

It starts in what could be modern-day Tel Aviv; the cast is dressed in contemporary apparel. The bedraggled Tirzah (Ofra Daniel) reminisces about her love life in Jerusalem. As the narrative progresses, Tirzah slowly strips down to undergarments, and the dancing becomes more sensual and self-assured.

Though Sasha Olinick plays “The Husband” and Ali Paris plays “The Lover,” there’s undertones that Tirzah is really falling in love with herself, or maybe it’s the idea of love that gives her confidence. “The Women of Jerusalem” (Sarah Corey, Sarah Laughland, Kara-Tameika Watkins and Kanysha Williams) play the Chorus, passing judgment but sometimes lending support to the rest of the cast.

I found their harmonies to be impressive and haunting. The instrumentation didn’t drown out any of the singers, and it added diverse undertones, from Latin music to Middle Eastern. Hebrew and Biblical quotations are peppered into the lyrics, adding historical weight.

I also liked all of the choreography, particularly when the Women of Jerusalem danced around Tirzah with scarves. With so many people often on stage—up to seven actors and eight musicians—it was a true juggling act!

The ending feels a little sad, as we know Tirzah will ultimately abandon love and turn into the bedraggled woman from the beginning. But the audience in the cast talk back session of Sept. 11 was more interested in the true identity of the lover. Poignant to current events, the role of the lover is played by Paris, a Palestinian, while Daniel is Israeli.

Daniel pointed out that in her first iteration of “Love Sick,” she played all three roles of Tirzah, husband and lover, further lending credence to my self-love theory. But I like that the play has expanded to multi-cast; the other actors and musicians make this world feel expansively lush. Kudos as well to the crew for all of the moody lighting. I’m not sure what all the fog and the jungle sounds in the beginning were all about, but that’s okay! 😛 The tree provided a nice platform for the lover to ascend and play his music, on the harpsichord-like Middle Eastern qanun, down to Tirzah.

“Love Sick” will be running at the bright and newly renovated Edlavitch DCJCC until Sept. 29. You can buy your tickets here!

As 2019 Smithsonian Folklife Festival Celebrates Local Music, Nefesh Mountain Brings Jewish Bluegrass to DC

Nefesh Mountain performs at Adas Israel / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

Normally this is the time of year when I write out a little something about the Jewish history of the countries being honored at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. But the Folklife Festival is doing things a little differently in 2019.

For one weekend (this one) only, they are staying close to home with programming and performances to honor the DC music scene. Titled “The Social Power of Music,” the event plans to “celebrate the power of music to entertain, educate, inspire, preserve history, strengthen identity, and build community,” according to the website.

So I had to go back to the drawing board to think up a Jewish angle on this. 😛 But it also felt like something was staring me in the face. Music plays a big part in lots of Jewish DC organizational programming. Back in May, I highlighted klezmer bands playing Yiddish cinema music as part of the EDJCC’s inaugural JxJ festival. Then, just last Shabbat, the bluegrass (or “jewgrass”) band Nefesh Mountain played and workshopped at Adas Israel.

I attended their post-Shabbat concert, along with dozens of other people, on Saturday night. Melding bluegrass instrumentals and vocals with Jewish influences, they sang originally produced songs off of their new album such as “Bound for the Promised Land” (with new biblical allusions) and “Eretz Reel” (an amusing play on words.) They also played the haunting “Tree of Life,” written in response to the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre last year, with lyrics available for free on their website. Samples of their music are also available on their YouTube channel.

Husband and wife team Eric Lindberg and Doni Zasloff provided main instrumentals and vocals, with regular band members Alan Grubner and David Goldenberg joining them on fiddle and mandolin. By the end of the concert, people were dancing around the room, and then the group led us in a soulful Havdalah to officially end Shabbat and welcome in the new week.

It’s heartening to know how Jewish groups can find a home in American music while still honoring our shared roots. Hence drawing back to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival–culture through hybrid sound and diversity. For more on the Folklife Festival, taking place tomorrow and Sunday, click here! They should be back to their more traditional programming in 2020.

Edlavitch DCJCC Unveils New JxJ Festival with Hybrid Events incl. Music from Yiddish Cinema

New festival’s logo plays over the AFI Silver screen / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

The Edlavatich DCJCC wrapped up its inaugural JxJ arts project yesterday, a two and a half week mashup of their film festival, music festival and “hybrid” cultural events.

I decided to attend one of these hybrid events last Thursday evening, when Isle of Klezbos and Metropolitan Klezmer performed Music from Yiddish Cinema at AFI Silver Theater. The event included vintage film clips, mostly from the 1930s, as well as live accompaniment.

More accurately, the band performed personalized renditions of various songs featured in Yiddish films. These included a mournful ensemble quartet in Yidl Mitn Fidl and the more upbeat wedding song from Uncle Moses, among others. I usually found their pieces to be more jazzy than the originals; featuring more instruments, like drums and the piano, and fewer staccato notes. It was a fascinating dive into the evolution of musical expression. And the group had a great fusion sound, too!

Percussionist and film archivist Eve Sicular also shared insights into the subtext of various musical clips, for example pointing out the influence of tuberculosis in one of Molly Picon’s Mamele numbers, and the inside references to homosexuality in Americaner Shadchen. She also detailed highlights–some known and some suppressed by the Soviet Union–of Russian-Jewish actor Solomon Mikhoels. But with the event spanning almost three hours by that point–and on a weekday night no less–a little tedium started to settle in as Sicular read long excerpts from a memoir on the subject. Several people in the audience left early. But before that there was clapping and laughter in response to both these clips and the live music.

Overall, Music from Yiddish Cinema opened the door to the complexities of this genre, and served as a reminder that the past was as vivacious and full of life as the present. For more of a taste of this musical group’s hybrid flavor, click here!

Celebrate Purim in 5779!

Graphic courtesy of clipart-library.com

Purim starts on March 20, a festive holiday of rejoicing, yet again, in the fact that we (the Jews) have survived a persecution attempt. Huzzah! Though not as noticeable to the outside world as, say, Chanukah, it is definitely as fun—allowing people of all ages to dress up, eat special sweets, and wave noisemakers called groggers as the Megillah (book of Esther) is read out enthusiastically.

Alas, this is going up after all of the weekend festivities, but still, you don’t have to wait until the 14th of Adar to participate in this holiday. Enjoy these local offerings of Purim-related festivities leading up to and encompassing this holiday event! I’ll once again be at Adas Israel for their Purim spiel, as part of the flash choir! 😀 Chag sameach.

Tuesday, March 19
Resilience Unmasked: Purim, Protest and Power
https://www.sixthandi.org/event/resilience-unmasked-purim-protest-and-power/

Unmasked: A Modern Purim Celebration and Service Project
https://www.edcjcc.org/event/unmasked-a-modern-purim-celebration-service-project/?instance_id=22892

SHIN DC Purim & Nowruz Lecture & Celebration
jconnect

Wednesday, March 20

Purim at Adas: A Journey to Everywhere and Nowhere
https://www.adasisrael.org/purim

Sixth & I’s Shushan Circus
https://www.sixthandi.org/event/shushan-circus-a-purim-celebration/

Bethesda Jewish Congregation Megillah Reading and Adult Costume Event
https://bethesdajewish.org/event/megillah-reading-adult-costume-event/

Temple Shalom Tot Purim
jconnect

Oseh Shalom TV Characters Purim Spiel
jconnect

Har Tzeon-Agudath Achim Pirate Purim
jconnect

Congregation Etz Hayim Partial Megillah Reading & Purim Spiel
jconnect

Tikvat Israel Congregation Purim Puppet Show
jconnect

10th Anniversary of JewishDC!

Thank you to all the people who came to my blog in 2018 from across the world! / graphic courtesy of WordPress

Ten years ago in the summer, I had the idea that since I was attending a significant number of local Jewish events, I should do something with that. I was also fresh off of my journalism degree and I liked to write, and thus JewishDC was born!

Things have changed a little bit in the interim. Some organizations have come and gone. Just recently the (now named) Edlavitch Jewish Community Center announced that it’s doing away with it’s old, multiple festivals and creating a whole new huge one. So much to choose from, so little time!

I used to post weekly events updates, but now I leave most promotion to organizational twitters (you can see my aggregated list in the sidebar!) and the awesome GatherDC. I’m not really so much of a community organizer as I am one Jewish DCer, whose tastes have likely changed a bit from her twenties and into her thirties, documenting events I attend in the Greater Washington Area. For example, I now also look at our local indie bookstores, as well as Jewish institutions, when an author of the tribe comes into town!

You can find compiled lists of my reviews of literary, music, film and theater events here and here. I’m also thinking of making a new page for religious content. But for now I thought I’d go into my stats page and list my top ten review posts from 2009 to today.

I’m so glad that I started this project, that I have records of all these great events. And I can share what an inspiring town this is for celebrating Jewish culture! Happy new year, everyone, and may 2019 be great for Jews in DC.

Israeli Award-Winning Film Explores Forbidden Love in Cloistered Community

“Red Cow” movie poster / courtesy of the Israel Film Fund

Despite the first snow and sleet of the season, a full house of Washingtonians gathered at Bethesda Row Cinema last Thursday night for a showing of the Israeli film Red Cow. The movie was aired as part of the Edlavitch Jewish Community Center’s Washington Jewish Film Festival Year-Round Program. It was co-presented by Tagg Magazine and Reel Affirmations.

“Red Cow” (or “Para Aduma” in Hebrew) is named for the biblically heralded red heifer which portends a return to Jewish temple worship in the Holy Land. The movie opens when a fundamentalist religious group finds a cow that fits that description and assigns main character, Benny (Avigayil Koevary) with taking care of her.

Benny’s father Yehoshua (Gal Toren) is the leader of a gated community in East Jerusalem, which prays for a return to ancient Jewish life. He relies heavily on his only daughter, and seeming family after his mother’s death, but Benny feels alienated from his beliefs. The film chronicles her sexual awakening as she gets involved with new girl Yael (Moran Rosenblatt.)

Like most foreign films, at least in my limited experience, this hour and a half long feature is a very minimalist affair. Though Yehoshua quotes Scripture and argues with other religious men about politics, he never has a speech where he declares “Welcome to my compound! Here are the rules!” Deference from other characters points him as the leader, and he seems to be in charge of a school for girls. Otherwise, Benny spends her time praying with him when he can’t find a minyan and grabbing him from an ancient mikveh late at night.

The East Jerusalem landscape feels larger than life with its expansive views of ancient structures and roadways, and its audio populated by the muzzein and quickly chanted Hebrew prayer. Certainly lends to the air of conflict, as does Yehoshua trying to force entrance into the Temple Mount on Yom Kippur, and speaking blithely about destroying the Dome of the Rock and the people who must die to bring about his fundamentalist utopia.

But it’s such a personal story without any real threat that the man mostly comes off as cold, sad and awkward as his daughter’s indiscretions come to light. Again, it’s more about what he intuits from interpersonal scenes than any big revelations. Benny and Yael’s love affair is fast and viscerally shot. The relationship carries no dramatic climax cast to a cinematic score. One might even say that Benny’s relationship with the young cow brings more emotional gravitas. But the question of who she really is remains at the forefront of her troubled existence, even when the final scene takes her to the secular world.

Red Cow was nominated this year for 4 Ophirs (the Israeli Oscars) and it won for best feature and best actress for Avigayil Kovary. It is also Tsivia Barkai Yacov’s directorial debut, and is just recently making its rounds in the United States. Click here for more information. And you can find my similar content and movie reviews under the Books, Plays, Music and Movies tab!

Gary Shteyngart Tackles Hedge Fund Manager Culture in LAKE SUCCESS

Gary Shteyngart reads from his novel, “Lake Success.” / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

For the first time in a long while, I made my way over to Sixth & I Historic Synagogue Tuesday evening to hear a Politics & Prose book talk by novelist Gary Shteyngart. His latest, Lake Success, is a study on the dudebro culture of hedge fund managers (link to book trailer starring Shteyngart and actor Ben Stiller.) Self-made character Barry Cohen abandons his family and his under-investigation business to take a trip cross-country to rekindle an old flame. Sitting in a synagogue, Steyngart described his protagonist with Yiddish attributes–he’s a schmuck (a jerk), a gonif (thief) and schnorer (beggar.) The book is a satirical take on this culture, set against the backdrop of the 2016 American presidential election.

Shteyngart is most well known for writing a book every four years that dips into his own heritage. Born in Leningrad to Jewish parents, he immigrated to America as a child. He grew up in New York, and specifically expanded his output due to hedge fund managers being the only people who can afford to live in Manhattan anymore.

He spoke briefly and then read a few long excerpts about Barry’s quick-lived “bromance” with a former employee, whom he then attempts to beg for money to fund the rest of his journey. The author describes himself as having no imagination, and he himself actually boarded a Greyhound bus for a four-month trip to middle America. He also spent time with hedge fund managers and their wives, one of whom called a school “diverse” because some of the students had doctors or lawyers for parents.

His comments were witty and engaging, and several people took to the mic to ask him about his other books or lessons learned on the road. He spoke of Greyhound bus drivers as drill sergeants who call the shots, except that passengers have to make sure they’re awake while driving at night. He also ran into “interesting” people, ranging from college students, ex-prisoners and hospital patients crossing state lines, to white supremacists who boarded and talked about “crucifying Muslims and Jews.” What stuck with Shteynart was how the Trump administration may have emboldened them to be more open, but also the majority of the bus, largely comprised of women and minorities, didn’t challenge them.

In terms of writing satire, he wanted to bring his flawed characters to a place where they could almost taste redemption, but then fall short. Seems like most people in attendance won’t “fall short” of reading it! (Maybe I should leave the comedy to him. :P) Following the hour-long discussion and q&a, Shteyngart signed several copies of his work. To purchase a copy of Lake Success (and support your local indie!), click here. And you can find similar coverage of my attended literary events under the Books, Plays, Movies and Music tab!