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Review: For Goodness' Sake World Premiere by Jewish Women's Theatre Examines Personal Choices and the Morality Behind our Decisions

Review: For Goodness' Sake World Premiere by Jewish Women's Theatre Examines Personal Choices and the Morality Behind our Decisions

Jewish Women's Theatre based at The Braid in Santa Monica has been voted one of the "Best Live Theatres on the Westside" three years in a row by readers of The Argonaut. The group presents American Jewish stories, art, and other programming that highlights Jewish contributions to contemporary life. For Goodness' Sake ends the 13th season of JWT's' salon series, now being presented online rather than in homes around the city as in previous seasons. The play was created by The NEXT @ The Braid Emerging Artists Fellowship program, a career-training strategy that annually selects a new cohort of aspiring theater professionals to explore how to create meaningful shows from young-adult perspectives, under the guidance and mentorship of JWT's experienced staff.

Beginning last December, NEXT fellows spent their first two meetings discussing the year's focus, based on what was going on in their lives. "The collaborative process to decide our theme is always such an exciting time in the NEXT Fellowship," says Daphna Shull, a NEXT alumna from the program's first year who now serves as JWT's administrative associate and the literary manager of this year's show. "This year, the conversation gravitated around personal choices and the morality behind our decisions - the good, bad, right, wrong, and everything gray that lies in-between. The literary submissions that we received from our announcement were fascinating. The range and depth of stories made us realize how much this theme truly sparked something in people," Shull says.

NEXT fellow, writer, and director David Chiu adds, "That phrase is also a reminder that Jewish tradition teaches every single one of us to constantly examine our actions, judging if they are truly done for the sake of goodness."

The challenging task of choosing between right and wrong can lead not only to sleepless nights, it can also lead to great theater, as the NEXT generation of Jewish theater professionals discovered when creating For Goodness' Sake. The show's title sums up the idea of examining the unexpected places where moral compasses can lead individuals to ethical dilemmas and intriguing resolutions, more challenging now than ever during this time of the Coronavirus lockdown and political unrest.

Review: For Goodness' Sake World Premiere by Jewish Women's Theatre Examines Personal Choices and the Morality Behind our Decisions Running just a little over an hour, For Goodness' Sake features AJ Meijer, Rosie Moss, Jasmine Curry, and Lauren Aboulafia who portray all the various characters as they read and/or sing a total of 13 scenes encompassing personal tales of challenges to overcome, which, in the end, allow us to grow and change for the better. The writers telling their honest remembrances include Sophie Greenbaum, Shirl Kelemer, Lena Rudnick, Aysha Wax, Pattie Baker, Farah Rashdan, David Chiu, Allison Fradkin, Michael Himelstein, Romy Roshan, Ruth Yasharpour, and Lauren Aboulafia, with each story ending with a photo of the real characters involved.

Produced by Andrew Fromer from material adapted and curated by Daphna Shull, Leenie Baker and Izzy Salant, and directed by David Chiu and Sophie Greenbaum For Goodness' Sake often moved me to tears or laughter, as well as flooded my memory with familiar Yiddish expressions I often heard my grandparents using in everyday conversations. This was especially true during the second scene, "Truants" written by Shirl Kelemer and performed by AJ Meijer as a social worker assigned to a school in West Hollywood where eight Russian Jewish boys constantly missed school or were disruptive to the point of distraction when they did attend. As the story was told, we met Anya, a "stout Bubbie in a babushka" who sat in Plummer Park supervising the kids while they were not in school. As a Jewish grandchild of such an immigrant, it was easy for me to understand her dedication to the welfare of her relatives and their children. It's the wonderful way in which I was raised, although the plot twist which encompassed Chernobyl fallout certainly brought the story into a much more modern setting.

Another story which pulled me into it emotionally was "Super Scar" written and performed by Lauren Aboulafia about her own harrowing experience giving birth to her son "Baby Abie" at age 36. Told with gut-wrenching honesty, she shared how the stress of giving birth to a premature baby via Caesarian section ultimately made her realize, thanks to his months of NICU struggles and her super scar, a true sense of gratitude for all the goodness in her life as well as making her realize her true inner warrior self. That journey from feeling as if she was "never enough" certainly will ring true for any woman lucky enough to be in the online audience.

Jewish themes figure prominently in "Holy Ground" written by David Chiu and performed by AJ Meijer, about how a cynic's visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem during a Birthright Israel trip had a totally unexpected impact. Thanks to Meijer's emotionally riveting performance, I was taken back to my visit there, remembering the amazing and overwhelming spirituality I experienced touching the wall's stones.

"Big Jugs" written by Pattie Baker and performed by Jasmine Curry is a touching story about an agribusiness specialist training for the Peace Corps who realizes it's easier to carry big jugs of water up hills than to handle the devastation of the Coronavirus here at home. Review: For Goodness' Sake World Premiere by Jewish Women's Theatre Examines Personal Choices and the Morality Behind our Decisions Ultimately, it brought home the message that no task it too great when you believe in yourself and are willing to take that first impossible step to a seemingly insurmountable goal.

And in between several scenes, Rosie Moss sang, accompanied herself on guitar, and sang a duet with AJ Meijer during "The 3 Part Journey of Eve Eating the Apple" from "Desire" through "I Ate the Apple"/"I'm Gettin' Good at Being Bad" to "Grow" which summarized the positive message and ended the performance.

Andrew Fromer, another NEXT alum who is now JWT's assistant artistic director who produced the show, shares "We hope patrons get a feeling of acceptance or assurance that it's ok to not know the right answers or see a clear path to take. The main theme of For Goodness' Sake touches on expectations - how we put expectations on ourselves, how society puts them on us, and how we are always supposed to do what's 'good.' But who sets the definition of 'good'? Hopefully, through our show, audiences will feel empowered to be in control of what is good for them. That what you feel is good in your heart might just be the only thing that really matters."

For Goodness' Sake premiered on Zoom July 19 at 11 a.m. and runs for three additional dates, July 23 at 7 p.m., July 25 at 8 p.m., and July 27 at 7 p.m. (all times Pacific). Tickets starting at $18 are available through JWT's website, www.jewishwomenstheatre.org.

The NEXT @ The Braid Emerging Artist Fellowship and their production of For Goodness' Sake are made possible in part by the generous support of Gail Solo, of the Erwin Rautenberg Foundation, City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture, City of Santa Monica, and the Y & S Nazarian Initiative, a program of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Cover art by Channa Schachet-Briskin

Production photos courtesy of Andrew Fromer



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