BWW Review: SEX, ADDICTION & LOVE in the 21st CENTURY Takes us Inside Humanity's Universal Yearning for Connection
In the Spring of 2007, three women got together at a kitchen table over a pot of coffee and plate of bagels to realize their dream of creating a theatre for Jewish women. In the fall of 2008, Jewish Women's Theatre (JWT) debuted in the backyard of a home in Pacific Palisades with the expressed purpose of giving voice to Jewish women on stage. Until then, no theater company in America had pledged to welcome and encourage contemporary stories by Jewish women and to adapt them theatrically, giving them life in front of a live audience.
But since they had no space nor money to open a theater at that time, these talented, creative women who wanted to share their stories, learned to open a new way of thinking about theatre. By reviving the age-old tradition of salons, during which women hosted culture of the day in their homes (sparing the expense of a theater, sets, costumes, and props), meant the women could fully focus on presenting powerful stories in unexpected and convenient venues in local neighborhoods across Los Angeles, thanks to community members who opened their beautiful homes to host this new hybrid of storytelling Thus was launched JWT's signature groundbreaking program, At-Homes Salon Theatre.
Now in its 12th season, JWT's Salon Theatre of original dramatic shows, each written to a specific theme, displays the diverse and eclectic community of writers, artists, and creators who celebrate Jewish life, one story at a time. These theatrical presentations include stories, poems, comedic monologues, songs, and even art all designed to illuminate various aspects of the theme. Now based at The Braid in Santa Monica, JWT presents performances which are a unifying experience for all audience members, providing great entertainment and unexpected opportunities for self-reflection and connection that strengthen our humanity.
But of course, recent restrictions on live theatre created a new challenge for JWT in presenting Sex, Addiction & Love in the 21st Century, their brand-new salon show originally scheduled to open at The Braid in March. "When we began rehearsing in February, we had no idea that our world would soon turn upside down and there would be no live performances. So we strove to ensure that none of the magic would be lost in our Zoom performances online," shared JWT Producing Director Susan Morgenstern.This was definitely true during the very personal stories shared during Sex, Addiction & Love in the 21st Century, with the Zoom presentation offering very much the same emotional bonding experience as if seeing the salon show with others in someone's home. The completely original show composed of more than a dozen scenes explored the eternal question "What is love, anyway?" While there may not be one correct answer, the heartfelt theme proved that shame goes away the more we talk and communicate the truth of our own experience with each other. As I listened to characters from all walks of life share their touching, quirky and often hilarious personal stories of our universal need for human connection, how we go about finding that one great love or one-night stand differed greatly from person to person; from that first crush that one never quite gets over; the physical and mental sexual awakening of a high school freshman; the proper number of times one should engage together in a single evening; or maybe it's just through holding hands. Can it be captured in sculpture? Is it witnessing the birth of your child or realizing that love dwells in every child? And where does love live? Is it on Tinder or Grindr? Does it have boundaries? Does technology now change its traditional norms?
All the stories in Sex, Addiction & Love in the 21st Century were selected from hundreds of submissions from both new and established authors. They included Joshua Silverstein, who wrote for and starred in last year's JWT production True Colors; David Masello, a frequent commentator on arts and culture and currently the executive editor of Milieu; 96-year-old and JWT favorite Libby Schwartz who shared the story of meeting her first true love at summer camp when she was 7 years old; and writers Farnaz Solomon, Arla Sorkin Manson, Robin Uriel Russin, Eve Lederman, and Molly M. Murray, a first responder on the East Coast who has seen the effect COVID-19 has had on many current-day lovers forced to separate when one is hospitalized. Her photo, as well as others whose work was included in the production, were shared during the Zoom presentation.
The talented cast included Jasmine Curry, Sionne Elise, Michael Gabiano, and Joshua Silverstein, with the production directed by JWT Producing Director Susan Morgenstern and Assistant Director Aysha Wax. Performances took place on Zoom on Saturday, June 27, at 8 p.m. (PDT); Sunday, June 28, at 4:00 p.m. (PDT); and Monday, June 29, at 7:00 p.m. (PDT). For tickets to the final performance on Monday night and to learn more about JWT and their upcoming productions, visit www.jewishwomenstheatre.org. Instructions for Zoom viewing will be provided to all ticket holders via email. And be sure to stay for the Q&A session after each performance with the cast, writers and directors.
Photos courtesy of Jewish Women's Theatre