Jewschool.com: Why the Syrian Refugee Crisis Encourages Me to Talk about My Least Favorite Subject

Originally published on Jewschool.

Syrian Refugees

The last thing I want to talk about is the Holocaust. From where I stand, it’s bad enough that Hitler decimated our grandparents’ generation. Letting discussion of the Third Reich and the Final Solution parasitically take over Jewish discourse two generations later seems to me that it’s giving Hitler a posthumous victory. A full year of my own Hebrew School education was dedicated to learning every minute detail of Hitler’s plan – memorizing the names of death camps and the terminology for each different position in the camp hierarchy, not to mention God knows what else. Imagine if, instead, we had spent a year learning about Rashi, Maimonides, and Heschel instead of Goebbels, Mengele, and Braun. Continue reading

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250 Word Reviews: The Pavilion

Originally published on 250 Word Reviews.

The Pavilion

THE PAVILION
(Off-off-Broadway: The Producer’s Club)

You know the story: middle-aged white guy has a mid-life crisis, so attends high school reunion to attempt to rekindle things with his high school sweetheart. In Craig Wright’s The Pavilion, the white guy in question is Peter (Jeffrey Delano Davis), returning to Pine City, MN from his life in the Twin Cities to make amends for impregnating then abandoning Kari (Ayesha Adamo). Their encounter is placed into cosmic context by a professorial narrator (Jon Adam Ross), who alternates between spouting philosophy about the nature of time and giving voice to all the other (unseen) reunion guests.

Michael Kostroff’s direction is strongest in the scenes between the two former-lovers, which find Davis exposing raw vulnerability only to be met by Adamo’s measured resistance. Ross is less successful overcoming his obstacles, often lecturing from a podium far off to the side of the stage or adopting ridiculous character voices while facing the opposite direction of his scene partners. The play’s reliance on a projection design (by Javier Molina) that feels straight out of Myst is unnecessary at best and often distracting. Zoey Russo’s simple but effective sets would have more than sufficed on their own.

The play itself isn’t nearly as profound as its philosophizing monologues indicate it wants to be, but it does feature a nice moment of meta-theatrics in the second act that offered one of the few surprises in the writing.

Production photograph by Melissa X. Golebiowski: Jeffrey Delano Davis as Peter and Ayesha Adamo as Kari.

250 Word Reviews: Dada Woof Papa Hot

Originally published on 250 Word Reviews.

Dada Woof Papa Hot

DADA WOOF PAPA HOT
(Off-Broadway: Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi E. Newhouse)

Most gay men of a certain age never envisioned a world in which they could get married and have children. At its surface, Dada Woof Papa Hot examines how two couples-with-toddlers adapt to this reality. But at its heart, Peter Parnell’s play considers whether relationships can survive when partners have radically different ideas of what their partnership should look like. Alan (John Benjamin Hickey) came of age in the pre-AIDS-crisis days of gay sexual liberation but was never much interested in partaking. By 2015, he’s married to Rob (Patrick Breen), who dotes on their daughter and relishes fatherhood – another activity in which Alan has only mild interest. They seek out friendship with younger dads Scott (Stephen Plunkett) and Jason (Alex Hurt), which goes well until Jason and Alan have a tête-à-tête, permitted in the Jason’s relationship but a clear violation on Alan’s part. Alan never wanted kids, Jason never wanted monogamy, and their partners who convinced them into their current arrangements feel betrayed.

As directed by Scott Ellis, the play feels more like a math problem than a drama, with a dose of armchair psychology sprinkled in for flavor. John Lee Beatty’s elaborately modular set is the most interesting thing on stage. Despite strong performances, particularly by Hickey and Plunkett, one gets the sense that neither the characters (beyond Jason) nor the playwright seriously considered that gay people might create and fit into relationships that don’t simply mimic heteronormativity, so the play becomes a straw man argument hardly worth engaging.

Production photo by Joan Marcus. Pictured (l-r): Alex Hurt, John Benjamin Hickey, Stephen Plunkett, and Patrick Breen.

CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: What About Today? Melissa Errico Live at 54 Below

What About Today?Originally published on CastAlbums.org.

One of the joys of spending an hour of so with a Broadway star in a cabaret setting is the ability to really get a sense of who they outside of the parts they play. Melissa Errico‘s new album, What About Today? Live at 54 Below, gives you the sense that Errico is all over the place. Capturing a cabaret act conceived and directed byRichard Jay-Alexander, the disc opens with a track called “Why are actors so nuts?” and that very well could be the title of the album.

The good news is that Errico’s brand of nuts has produced a diverse and often thrilling set of songs that might not otherwise find their way onto the same album, from the art-pop ofMichel Legrand (“The Summer Knows”) and Burt Bacharach (“April Fools”) to musical theater classics like “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” (Finian’s Rainbow) and “Small World” (Gypsy) to more contemporary fare like “The Heart is Slow to Learn” (Dracula) and even a dip into disco (“Last Dance”). Her voice is as beautiful as ever, equally at home lending warmth to the soprano numbers and character to her belt. The three-piece band under the direction of Tedd Firth provide a strong backbone for the evening, and producer Michael J. Moritz Jr. preserves the intimacy of the 54 Below experience — just add your own cocktail.

As for the bad news? Well, patter isn’t Errico’s strong point, and there’s a lot of it on this album. She doesn’t always trust her material, leading to oddities like half-a-rendition of “It’s An Art” from Working, like she hadn’t convinced herself as to whether the number was in her act or not.

Still, the album’s delights far outweigh the questionable moments (and for those, we have the “skip” button). Errico’s “No More” (from Into the Woods) prove the she’s as good with a lyric as she is with a melody, and her long-time fans will thrill to finally have a recording of her feisty “Show Me” from My Fair Lady (which Errico starred in on Broadway in 1993).

250 Word Reviews: On Your Feet: THE STORY OF EMILIO & GLORIA ESTEFAN

Originally published on 250 Word Reviews.

onyourfeet

ON YOUR FEET:THE STORY OF EMILIO & GLORIA ESTEFAN
(Broadway: Marquis Theatre)

One gets the feeling about halfway through the first act of On Your Feet that were you to quiz the cast where the song they were performing takes place, most of them would fail. The cynic in me says it doesn’t matter: the Latin rhythms (provided by a band that includes six members of the actual Miami Sound Machine), spiffy pastel costumes (by ESosa), and energetic dancing (courtesy of Sergio Trujillo) are entertaining enough that we can set dramaturgical demands aside and enjoy the concert. But while Alexander Dinelaris’s book aspires to be more than a greatest hits revue, it’s only intermittently successful. Jerry Mitchell’s nebulous direction does it no favors, and the show trips over itself to fit in most of Estefan’s hits while charting the rise of her career against the destabilization of her family. The latter gets shortest shrift, despite Eliseo Roman, Andréa Burns, and Alma Cuervo all making the most of two-dimensional characters. Genny Lis Padilla, as sister Rebecca, doesn’t even get that much, existing somewhere between prop and backup singer.

Regardless, the show lives and dies on the strength of Ana Villafañe and Josh Segarra as Gloria and Emilio. Villafañe perfectly embodies the Estefan we remember from the 80s: beautiful, strong, and with a voice that never falters. Segarra cuts a striking figure, but his breathy singing never quite makes it past the lip of the stage. Regardless, the show should please Gen X’ers who longed for a Jersey Boys of their own.

Production photo by Matthew Murphy: Ana Villafañe as Gloria Estefan with ensemble.

Keshet: Hineini: 10 Years of Coming Out in Jewish Spaces

Originally published on Keshet’s blog on MyJewishLearning.com.

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A dozen or so years ago, I was working as an educator at a large Conservative synagogue in the suburbs of Boston. Gay marriage was on the verge of legalization – and therefore on the front page of the newspaper every day.

The Conservative movement had not yet revised its decades-old opinions of sexuality, which could be summed up as, “We don’t hate you, but we’re going to leave it up to individual synagogues as to whether we treat you like members or allow you to do anything.” And despite being one of two openly gay educators at this synagogue, I found myself inching back into the closet at work due to an environment that made it clear that while it might be okay to be gay on my own time, no one wanted to hear about it on the clock.  Continue reading