Sunday, November 30, 2008

Hanukkah theater

I have been seeking out Hanukkah plays, partly because I wanted to put them on the web site, partly because I was curious about what other Hanukkah plays there were out there besides my own.

There are almost none that I can find.

I did find three based on books by Eric Kimmel, who had made a bit of a specialty of writing books relating to Jewish holidays, especially Hanukkah.  In fact, if this was a posting on Hanukkah books, my focus would be on his books, a few interesting modern ones from Kar-Ben Publishing, and The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming (the recent book from Lemony Snicket).

When growing up, I used to watch the Christmas specials and long for a Hanukkah special that was just as exciting as the Christmas offerings.  The fact that Irving Berlin had written the music for White Christmas (not the mention Easter Parade) seemed particularly unfair.  Of course, I enjoyed the occasional Saturday Night Live Hanukkah moment - Hanukkah Harry or Adam Sandler's song.  They follow the same spirit that I noticed hearing a clip of the Hanukkah song with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert in Colbert's Christmas special - a sort of self deprecating humor saying, well, it's OK, but it's not quite Christmas.  Which is all amusing enough.  But I wanted something that had some sincere...Hanukkah spirit.

When I was young, I was determined to write a Hanukkah special of my own.  Of course, as an adult, I never followed up.  But when I was asked to write a new Hanukkah play last summer, I got excited about the thought. Unfortunately, the theater that originally asked me changed their plans,  but by then I had already internally committed to the idea.  Thus Playing Dreidel with Judah Maccabee was born.

I realized pretty quickly that I no longer wanted to imitate Christmas tales.  I wanted to figure out what Hanukkah really meant, as a holiday.  And I was confronted with two realities - Hannukah as it is practiced, complete with dreidels, latkes, menorahs, and presents.  And then there was reality number two: the historical events on which Hanukkah is based.

I have always been fascinated with the transitional period between the old Temple in Jerusalem with its High Priest and animal sacrifices and the more contemporary (well, two thousand years old, but it's a relative thing) age of Rabbis, the Talmud, and prayer.  The Judaism I know barely resembles the ancient religion, which was closer in structure to the Catholic Church and closer in observance to paganism.  What would Judah Maccabee think of the modern day holiday supposedly based on him, I wondered. And what was it really, besides the presents, that seemed meaningful to me about the holiday growing up.

So that became the basis for my play.  I hope I have captured something authentically Hanukkah.  Looking at the selection of Hanukkah plays and fiction (or lack thereof), I don't think it is something that has been done very often, surprisingly.  

On board is the always reliable Peter Bean and Dmitri Friedenberg, who besides being a good actor is a cello virtuoso (he played the instrument in Hiroshima: Crucible of Light).  I've also drafted the folks at Evolve Company, as usual, for some puppetry.  They're doing a whole thing with a scroll and shadow puppets.  It should look beautiful.  And Cory Einbinder has done some neat looking fight choreography.  And Carla Gant, the costume designer, has been making a costume for Judah Maccabee much better than the one I improvised for the publicity shot.  (Barry Weil, who usually does our graphics, wasn't available, so I did the postcard above, as well as put together the publicity shot.  I was proud of the card, not because it was so beautiful, but because I managed it at all with my limited Photoshop powers.)

We open Sunday.  I'm curious to find out what people think.

1 comment:

Kasheri said...

I wish I could see this, as it sounds really interesting and entertaining.