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Saturday, February 18, 2017

In the Moment: the Jewish Plays Project at the JCC

Sarah Berry [JPP]
By David Siegel

We in the D.C. theater community are constantly on the prowl for new voices with diverse mindsets and new plays on emerging issues.

There are many ongoing efforts to bring new playwrights and plays to the attention of theater leadership, current patrons, and a new generation of theater-goers. One such effort is the Jewish Plays Project (JPP), which aims to be not merely a comfortable niche program for Jewish audiences, but to present challenging works to a mainstream audience.

The JPP seeks out new plays that are “contemporary and vital,” says David Winitsky, founder and artistic director. “We are interested in plays that are about more than just Jewish people.” JPP aims to develop and put “bold, progressive Jewish conversations on world stages.”

Each year, hundreds of new plays are submitted to the JPP. Ten of them are judged at local venues prior to selection of a national winner. The Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia (JCCNV) recently hosted the initial screening of the 10 new plays for 2017.

A panel of local artists and long-time theater-goers read and discussed the 10 plays and selected three to advance in the national playwriting contest.

On Sunday, Feb. 26, 2 p.m., at the JCCNV, the three selections will each have a 20-minute scene reading. Audience members will have the opportunity to discuss the plays and then cast ballots for the best new Jewish play of 2017.

The three plays and playwrights are:
  • “How to Conquer America: A Mostly True History of Yogurt,” by David Meyers of Los Angeles—A woman uses the play she is in to work through her issues with her deceased father, by way of remembering her greatest triumph as a woman breaking into advertising in the 1970s.
  • “Book of Esther,” by Gina Stevensen of Brooklyn, N.Y.—An Orthodox 17-year-old girl in Brooklyn questions her life and pushes beyond the boundaries.
  • “Sonata for Four Hands,” by Bridget Erin of Denham Springs, La.—A mother and her surrogate daughter walk through memories of their musically inclined childhood to deal with the grief of her son’s passing while serving as military police in Israel.
“Those attending the JCCNV readings will use their cell phones to vote on a winner to become a part of a vibrant national conversation about the future of Jewish theatrical arts,” Winitsky says.

“The three plays, which tackle contemporary issues in Jewish identity, would illicit a response even without the voting process,” says Sarah Berry, director of cultural affairs at the JCCNV. “Everyone, regardless of their previous experience in theater or as an audience member, will leave knowing they were part of the process of voting for the best Jewish play of 2017.”

“Our entire community embraced the Jewish Plays Project in 2016,” says Berry. “We are gladly participating again, knowing that the energy and excitement of hosting the JPP Playwriting Contest brings with it the potential for excellent theater in the future.”

Last year’s national JPP winner, “Redder Blood,” was written by local playwright Helen Pafumi, the artistic director for the Hub Theatre in Fairfax.

Where and when: The Jewish Plays Project is Feb. 26, 2 p.m., at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, 8900 Little River Turnpike, Fairfax. Tickets are $18, $14 for seniors and JCC members, and $10 for people under 30 (plus a service fee). Tickets can be purchased online.

This article is based on a piece that appeared in DC Metro Theater Arts.

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