Kayla Lian

Song of childhood: Davita’s Harp

In its final production, Jewish Theatre Collaborative creates a sensitive world-premiere adaptation of Chaim Potok's novel

Almost a hundred years ago, a 14-minute song became one of the most celebrated and performed pieces in American culture. It’s a hybrid of classical, jazz, Jewish, Broadway musical, and blues. Rhapsody in Blue begins with what the outsider hears as the cosmopolitan swagger of a clarinet. It’s the tempo of the weary heading home as the city begins to rise: watching maids folding bed sheets, bakers making their dozen, florists setting out for market, the city dressing and undressing itself. On the inside, Rhapsody in Blue is many worlds coming together in a determined shaking-hands sort of way; but the solo always remains, an echo of a secular cantor. The clarinet in George Gershwin’s song is partly joy at being able to sing of sadness, but the very roots sound out an alienation, along with an appreciation of living together. The song became an anthem of urbanity, a tune recognizable, but little understood. It is perhaps the best example of what characterizes Jewish artists and Jewish art in 20th century America: a conversation with identity, tradition, new roots, community, and the individual.

Kayle Lian and Illya Torres-Garner. Photo: Gary Norman

Kayla Lian and Illya Torres-Garner. Photo: Gary Norman

In its seventh and final season the Jewish Theatre Collaborative, along with its director Sacha Reich and Milagro Theatre, where it performs, have put to stage Chaim Potok’s 1985 novel Davita’s Harp. This world-premiere adaptation, which opened Saturday, invokes the great tradition of Yiddish theater: validating the human experience, drawing out the dynamics of identity, questioning and supporting not just Jewish culture, but the broader framework of American experience. Reich and co-writer Jamie M. Rea worked closely with Adena Potok, Chaim Potok’s wife, to develop the script.

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Through the ‘Twelfth Night,’ clearly

The excitement of Portland Shakespeare Project's 'Twelfth Night' is in its transparency

The Portland Shakespeare Project launched its fourth season with Twelfth Night on Saturday at Artists Repertory Theatre. That’s a simple enough sentence, especially in Shakespeare-besotted Portland. Portland’s acquaintance with Shakespeare is deep enough that I don’t have to append a descriptor to the title—”the rom-com Twelfth Night,” say, if I wanted to be just the tiniest bit cheeky. And maybe a bit wrong.

Not totally wrong: Twelfth Night IS a romantic comedy, no doubt. And it’s other things, too, a lot of other things. But it takes a very clear understanding of the existential predicaments of its characters by the actors to coax an appearance from those wonderful “other things.” Because otherwise the flow of words they generate just rushes on by.

Orion Bradshaw, Allen Nause and Jim Butterfield provide the hijinks in the Shakespeare Project's 'Twelfth Night'/David Kinder

Orion Bradshaw, Allen Nause and Jim Butterfield provide the hijinks in the Shakespeare Project’s ‘Twelfth Night’/David Kinder

So, the REAL lead of this account: Portland Shakespeare Project opened a Twelfth Night on Saturday that is about as transparent and understandable as we can expect of a play from the very early 17th century, when English was written and understood in a very different way. Even a familiar one such as Twelfth Night. And this clarity frees our (we in the audience) imagination to consider and delight in the possibilities of the play, consider alternate readings safely, lose ourselves in a moment, confident that we’ll regain our footing, no matter how spongy the ground beneath us—the language—becomes.

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