Connect with us


For theatergoers at Broadway’s recent spate of Jewish shows, attendance is a form of witness



(JTA) — Jewish stories have had top billing on Broadway this season — and Jewish audiences have been flocking to the theater.

Audiences have lined up to see Tom Stoppard’s “Leopoldstadt,” the multigenerational saga of a Jewish family in Vienna, and the devastating consequences of the Holocaust upon its ranks. They have packed the house for “Parade,” a musical retelling of the infamous antisemitic show trial and subsequent lynching of Leo Frank in Marietta, Georgia, in 1915. And just off Broadway, “The Wanderers” (which closed April 2) invited us into the slowly disintegrating marriage of two secular Jews born to mothers who dramatically left the Satmar sect of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, a show replete with intergenerational trauma and a pervasive sense of ennui. 

None of these shows offers a particularly lighthearted evening at the theater. So why have they proven so popular? Critics have penned countless reviews of the three plays, analyzing the quality of the productions, the scripts, scores, performances of principal actors, set and design. But for our new book exploring what audiences learn about Judaism from Jewish cultural arts, my colleague Sharon Avni and I have been interviewing audience members after seeing “Leopoldstadt,” “Parade” and “The Wanderers.” We are interested in turning the spotlight away from the stage and onto the seats: What do audiences make of all this? What do they learn?

Take “Leopoldstadt,” for example, a drama so full of characters that when it left London for its Broadway run the production team added a family tree to the Playbill so that theatergoers could follow along. “Leopoldstadt” offers its audience a whistle-stop introduction to modern European Jewish history. In somewhat pedantic fashion, the family debates issues of the day that include Zionism, art, philosophy, intermarriage and, in a searing final scene, the memory of the Holocaust. 

For some of the theatergoers that we interviewed, “Leopoldstadt” was powerful precisely because it packed so much Jewish history into its two-hour run time. It offered a basic literacy course in European Judaism, one they thought everyone needed to learn. Others, however, thought that this primer of Jewish history was really written for novice audiences — perhaps non-Jews, or assimilated Jews with half-remembered Jewish heritage, like Stoppard himself. “I don’t know who this play is for,” one interviewee told us. “But it’s not me. I know all this already.”  

Brandon Uranowitz, left, who plays a Holocaust survivor, confronts Arty Froushan as a young writer discovering his Jewish roots, in the Broadway production of Tom Stoppard’s “Leopoldstadt.” (Joan Marcus)

Other interviewees thought the power of “Leopoldstadt” lay not in its history lessons, but in its ability to use the past to illuminate contemporary realities. I spoke at length with a woman who had been struggling with antisemitism at work. Some of her colleagues had been sharing social media posts filled with lazy caricatures of Jews as avaricious capitalists. Upon seeing “Leopoldstadt,” she realized that these vile messages mirrored Nazi rhetoric in the 1930s, convincing her that antisemitism in contemporary America had reached just as dangerous a threshold as beheld European Jews on the eve of the Shoah.

We heard similar sentiments about the prescience of history to alert us to the specter of antisemitism today from audiences who saw “Parade.” Recalling a scene where the cast members wave Confederate flags during the titular parade celebrating Confederate Memorial Day, Jewish audiences recalled feeling especially attuned to Jewish precarity when the theater burst into applause at the end of the musical number. “Why were we clapping Confederate flags?” one of our interviewees said. “I’ve lived in the South, and as a Jew I know that when you see Confederate flags it is not a safe space for us.” 

“Parade” dramatizes the popular frenzy that surrounded the trial of Leo Frank, a Yankee as well as a Jew, who was scapegoated for the murder of a young Southern girl. Jewish audience members that we interviewed told us that the play powerfully illustrated how crowds could be manipulated into demonizing minorities, comparing the situation in early 20th century Marietta to the alt-right of today, and the rise of antisemitism in contemporary America.

What we ultimately discovered, however, was that audience perceptions of the Jewish themes and characters in these productions were as varied as audiences themselves. Inevitably, they tell us more about the individual than the performance. Yet the fact that American Jews have flocked to these three shows — a secular pilgrimage of sorts — also illustrates the power and the peril of public Jewish storytelling. For audience members at “Leopoldstadt” and “Parade,” especially, attending these performances was not merely an entertaining evening at the theater. It was a form of witnessing. There was very little to be surprised by in these plays, after all. The inevitable happens: The Holocaust destroys Jewish life in Europe, Leo Frank is convicted and lynched. Jewish audiences know to expect this. They know there will be no happy ending. In the secular cultural equivalent to saying Kaddish for the dead, Jewish audiences perform their respect to Jewish memory by showing up, and by paying hundreds of dollars for the good seats.

The peril of these performances, however, is that audiences learn little about antisemitism in reality. The victims of the Nazis and the Southern Jews of Marietta would tell us that they could never have predicted what was to happen. Yet in “Parade” and “Leopoldstadt” audiences are asked to grapple with the naivete of characters who believe that everything will be all right, even as audiences themselves know that it will not. By learning Jewish history on Broadway, audiences are paradoxically able to distance themselves from it, simply by knowing too much.  

In the final scene of “Leopoldstadt,” Leo, the character loosely based on Stoppard himself, is berated by a long-lost relative for his ignorance of his family’s story. “You live as if without history,” the relative tells Leo. “As if you throw no shadow behind you.” Audiences, at that moment, are invited to pat themselves on the back for coming to see the show, and for choosing to acknowledge the shadows of their own Jewish histories. The cold hard reality, however, is that a shadow can only ever be a fuzzy outline of the truth.

The post For theatergoers at Broadway’s recent spate of Jewish shows, attendance is a form of witness appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *





Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

Continue Reading

Local News

Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

Continue Reading


Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Continue Reading

Copyright © 2017 - 2023 Jewish Post & News