Can a play be too short?
Not according to many theater goers. A good writer can say a lot in 10 minutes, and for its second production, the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades’ community theater group Palisades Players is presenting a collection of comedic and dramatic shorts to prove the point. Drawn mostly from “Voices from Ariel: Ten Minute Plays Reflecting the Jewish Experience,” the show will premiere in the JCC Eric Brown Theater on Saturday, April 2, at 8:45 pm, and it will play again on Sunday, April 3, at 6 pm.
Originally commissioned by Theater Ariel, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit organization that specializes in Jewish works, the one-act plays deal with relationships, conversion, memory, and identity, using humor to explore these issues. The experienced playwrights, including Michael Elkin and Julianne Bernstein, have had their work produced on regional stages and in New York. Deborah Roberts, performing arts director at the JCC, wrote an additional play called “Boxed In,” specifically for the teens and children who take acting classes at the JCC. She wanted something that her young actors could participate in, she said, and the cast for the play about youngsters who encounter a refugee boy running from the police range from teenagers to younger children.
At an early rehearsal of “A Festival of 10 Minute Plays,” as the show is called, director Deborah Dine led actors Julian Millstein of Teaneck and Sarah Feinmark of Haworth through “Interview with a Scapegoat,” a funny riff on the cultural collision of the biblical animal and the modern media. Ms. Dine, who lives in Glen Ridge, teaches teen comedy and drama as well as advanced scene study at the Tenafly JCC to people she described as “semi and fully professional.” Ms. Feinmark has many credits in local productions, and Mr. Millstein studied at the Academy of Dramatic Arts before he pursued a business career.
Her adult actors can commit pages of dialogue to memory just as easily as the younger ones can, Ms. Dine said. “They astound me.” Her students have a mix of experience; some are former professionals while others now are working actors. “People are auditioning out here [in New Jersey] and it’s just as competitive as New York,” she said. “It’s really interesting to me to discover that — and it’s exciting.”
Mr. Millstein played a critical role in launching the company, working with Ms. Roberts to produce their first successful production, “Broadway: A Jewish Experience.” “I am very happy with what we have going,” Mr. Millstein said, adding that “Voices from Ariel” will tell them whether straight plays are as appealing to their audience as musicals. Thanks to an anonymous benefactor’s matching grant, the Palisades Players are secure for the time being, according to Mr. Millstein.
“I think they’re doing a wonderful thing,” Ms. Dine said of Palisades Players, noting that this was her first experience with community theater. “They are using the professional actors as well as training new actors. There’s a lot to be learned from people who are just beginning. They don’t have any bad habits.”
Ms. Dine has been acting and teaching for 40 years, so when she passes on advice to her actors, she explained, “it’s really Sandy Meisner giving you that nugget.” (Sanford Meisner was a famous acting teacher.) New actors benefit from a long tradition of acting coaches and teachers as they learn their craft from more experienced performers. “It’s exciting to see I remember what it’s like to really want to be an actor and not know how to start,” Ms. Dine said.
The show includes the following plays:
“‘Til Death Do Us Plots,” by Julianne Bernstein, zeroes in on the arguments of a newly divorced couple over their double coffin; “Boxed In,” by Deborah Roberts, is about a group of young people deciding what to do about a runaway refugee; “Interview with a Scapegoat,” by Louis Greenstein, imagines the ancient biblical scapegoat’s encounter with an ambitious reporter; “Single Jewish Female,” by Julianne Bernstein, tackles the weird world of online dating ; “The Ger” (The Convert), by Leslie B. Gold and Louis Greenstein, explores the emotional issues confronted by a new convert and her mother; “Class Act,” by Michael Elkin, is a comic monologue by an older woman who is addicted to self-improvement classes; “In Spite of Everything,” by Hindi Brooks, spends time in a Tel Aviv apartment with a mother and daughter during an Iraqi Scud attack; “Smoke,” by Louis Greenstein, examines the nature of memory and how certain objects, such as cigars, help preserve it; “Where’s Your Stuff?” by Daniel Brenner, follows a soon-to-be father who has grown distant from Judaism as he encounters the ghost of his talkative and hungry former cantor.