Thursday, December 13, 2012

20th Anniversary Memories: Playing Dreidel with Judah Maccabee

Peter Bean and Dmitri Friedenber
Playing Dreidel with Judah Maccabee was not originally written for Untitled Theater Company #61. A theater was seeking a Hanukkah play, and so I envisioned a story that explored Hanukkah through the form of an encounter of a modern boy and the historical Judah Maccabee. I was particularly intrigued by the chance to explore one of my obsessions…the difference between modern, rabbinic Judaism and the Judaism practiced in the time of the Temple in Jerusalem, with its High Priest and animal sacrifices.

I fear my interests proved too esoteric for the particular theater I was writing for. As a children’s author who has deliberately tackled complicated concepts in my books, I am a fan of any children’s book or story that does not talk down to its readers (or watchers). I do think children are capable of comprehending much more than they are sometimes given credit for. Thus my picture book about probability, A Very Improbable Story.

Of course, it occurred to me that the themes of the play were perfect for a Theater of Ideas. So I approached Looking Glass Theater, assembled the small cast, and arranged a once a week show during the holiday season.

The cast consisted of UTC61 veteran Peter Brown and Dmitri Friedenberg, a young actor/musician who had played cello for us in Hiroshima, Crucible of Light. As productions go, this seemed one of the simpler, needing only two actors, a couple of swords, a dreidel, a latka…oh yes, and an ark in which to do shadow puppetry. Providing that was the folks at Evolve Company, Tanya Khordoc and Barry Weil, our frequent puppet collaborators. As usual, they came up with something beautiful.

And yet…even the simplest seeming of shows can be a bit complicated. The fight choreography, expertly done by Cory Einbinder, took some time to incorporate. There was a Judah Maccabee costume from Carla Gant. And…did I mention the shadow puppets and ark? I am reminded of how much work it took to create it, now that the Evolve storage has become full and I was confronted with the question, do I want to store it? I do, of course…I hope to do the show again.

I have talked in previous posts about the themes of the play and even the Hanukkah music playlist (yes, having a Hanukkah themed play does inspire posts at this time of year). Hopefully, next post will be about visiting someone else’s production…it’s published through Theater 61 Press and I’m hoping that will inspire some shows that I can actually see, as so many small productions of my work have been done in venues too far for me to get to.

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