Theater J, its old stage at the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center completely refurbished, will offer a slate of six new(or new-ish) stories about older (or ancient) events for its 2019-2020 season.
The company will lead off the 2019-2020 season with its sole musical, Ofra Daniel’s Love Sick, with music by Daniel and Lior Ben-Hur. The story is derived from that most ancient of sources, The Song of Songs. A woman, locked in a loveless marriage, wanders, naked and crazy, through the streets of Jerusalem, crying out for a lover she’s never met, but knows only through the letters he secretly sends her. “There’s a tragic resonance to a heart so thirsty for passion that, once fed, it fills to bursting and breaks,” observed Sam Herwitt of the San Jose Mercury News, who also noted that “The star attraction here is really the music…Jubilant and mournful, it’s a stirring world-music mix with klezmer clarinet…flamenco guitar…and propulsive drumming.” Christopher Renshaw directs this Glickman Award-winning play, which will run from September 4 to 29, 2019.
We move up several centuries for Theater J’s next offering, Occupant, Edward Albee’s play about the sculptor Louise Nevelson, a mid-to-late 20th-century artist who specialized in the use of cast-aside objects. The play is also, however, about the slippery nature of reality, a recurrent Albee theme. “Nevelson…determinedly shapes her history into a series of life-changing dramas and piercing insights,” says Darryl Miller of the Los Angeles Times. Aaron Posner directs; Susan Rome will play the imperious Ms. Nevelson. From November 7 to December 8 of this year.
Then it is 2020 and at Theater J, thoughts will turn to 1939, when we are not quite at war but when the implications of Hitler’s policies were impossible to avoid. An American Jewish couple has an audacious plan: bring fifty Jewish children to America, and thus protect them from Hitler’s ravages. In Alex Sobler’s Sheltered, they find out just how audacious the plan is when they try to convince friends of theirs to adopt one of the children. “[T]he two acts of Sheltered proceed at the pace of a good thriller,” says Arts Atl.’s Andrew Alexander. “Sobler knows her subject, both in the sense of her historical research and in her ability to imagine historical realities.” Theater J Artistic Director Adam Immerwahr directs a cast which includes Kimberly Gilbert, Alexander Strain and Erin Weaver. From January 5 to February 2, 2020.
Next: Esther and Schmuli are Satmar Hasidic Jews in a 1970s arranged marriage in Anna Ziegler’s The Wanderers. Esther feels stultified and trapped, but is she much different from Abe and Sophie, two sophisticated writers who live in the 1990s and whose marriage is haunted by a flirtation Abe carries on over the ‘net with a movie star he’s never met? (Shades of Love Sick!) . “Jewish history and Jewish guilt play a prominent role, and Ziegler effectively weaves them into the story, at first subtly, then climactically,” says Pat Launer of the Times of San Diego. “Ziegler’s dialogue is consistently crisp.” Amber Paige McGinnis will direct this play, which will run from February 19 to March 20 of next year.
Perhaps the couples in The Wanderers — perhaps all the lovelorn characters in Theater ‘s season — would benefit from the insights of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, America’s most beloved sex therapist. Mark Germain’s Becoming Doctor Ruth returns to Theater J next Spring, with Naomi Jacobson once again in the title role. “Mark St. Germain’s nimble script does justice to the rich material of Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer’s life experiences.” Debbie Jackson said about last year’s production in this DCTS review. “And Naomi Jacobson is exquisite as the legendary woman, down to the raised arched eyebrows, jaunty pacing, and exuberant spirit that we slowly find out covers unspeakable heartbreak.” Holly Twyford will direct; from March 27 to April 19, 2020.
Theater J will conclude the 2019-2020 season with the story of the man who obsessively sought to bring The Diary of Anne Frank to the stage…and failed. Rinnie Groff’s Compulsion tells the story of Meyer Levin — here presented as Sid Silver — as he rages against a theatrical establishment he believes took this sterling property away from him and gave it to two gentile writers instead. “Groff’s play is a gift on numerous levels,” says Carol Rocamora of Broad Street Review. “First, it reveals a little known and fascinating chapter of theater history. Second, it introduces us to a unrecognized champion of the memory of the Holocaust, Meyer Levin….Third, it serves as a sobering reminder of the fine line between dedication and fanatical obsession.” Theater J’s Obsession will feature Laura C. Harris and Paul Morella, and be directed by Joanna Gruenhut. From June 5-28 of next year.
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