Sacha Reich

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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‘A Pigeon and a Boy’ talkback notes

A biblical pigeon hunt and a pro/con character assessment (with spoilers!) for JTC's current play.

Some plays make me laugh. Some make me cry. But the Jewish Theatre Collaborative‘s A Pigeon and a Boy is the first to send me thumbing through the Old Testament for pigeon references.

The play is a “first” in many ways: a world premiere stage adaptation of Meir Shalev’s novel of the same name, adapted in-house by director Sacha Reich and Doren Elias. It’s the culmination of the JTC’s “Page2Stage” season, an immersive book club experience that started last fall with staged readings of the first chapter and continued last month with a series of “footnote” excerpts from Israeli authors.

Nick Ferrucci, Chantal DeGroat, and Sam Dinkowitz briefly portray a group of British tourists, searching the sky for every sort of bird but the titular pigeon. credit: Friderike Heuer

Nick Ferrucci, Chantal DeGroat, and Sam Dinkowitz briefly portray a group of British tourists, searching the sky for every sort of bird but the titular pigeon. credit: Friderike Heuer

As a Johnny-come-lately who’s not (yet) read the novel, I can’t say how well the play serves the original text…but the experience of watching it is undeniably novel-esque. Characters are connected by especially deep familial, romantic, and ideological ties. Specters from the past breathe down the necks of people in the present; sins of fathers are conspicuously visited upon their children; archetypes and icons abound. The story spans a broad scope of time, with two generations elapsing in as many hours—but time can also stand still. At key moments, the actors freeze-frame, narrating flashes of realization. Twice—at the beginning and near the end—a pigeon rises and hangs in the air, book-ending the plot between furtive twin wingbeats like angels flanking the arc of the covenant. The novel begat this play, but parts of the Bible obviously begat the novel. And that’s what sent me on my scriptural pigeon-hunt.

Bob Hicks, having marked the play’s creative development more closely than I, wrote an excellent review last week for ArtsWatch. If you have yet to see the play, or to read Shalev’s text, by all means head straight to Bob’s review. But if you’re already familiar with the story and crave more biblical and social context, read on. SPOILER ALERT: The following analysis, inspired by opening weekend’s Sunday talkback, unveils surprises from the plot.

“We’d simply like to start the conversation,” explained Reich as she perched on the edge of the stage alongside Kenneth Gordon after the epic play had run its course. “What struck you? What do you wonder about?”

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