BWW Review: THE BLESSING OF A BROKEN HEART Journeys from Crippling Grief to Hope and Healing
It's difficult for anyone who has not lost a child to violence, especially terrorism, to understand how a parent can possibly move forward after such an unexpected and tragic loss. Sherri Mandell was living in Israel when her 13-year-old son Koby was brutally murdered while exploring a cave when he should have been in school. Her spiritual book detailing her struggle, The Blessing of a Broken Heart, won a National Jewish Book Award and has been translated into three languages and adapted into a stage play by Todd Salovey.
"I opened the book and couldn't stop reading. Sherri's language and her imagery were like a bolt of lightning; in just two paragraphs I was riveted. There are so many parts of our lives - wounds - and so few pieces in the theater aiming directly at healing. This is one of the exceptions," explains Salovey, who directs the Los Angeles premiere of the play at the Braid in Santa Monica, produced by Ronda Spinak, Artistic Director of Jewish Women's Theatre.
A recipient of the Edgerton Foundation New American Play Award, THE BLESSING OF A BROKEN HEART arrives precisely at the time when it is most needed to help heal our communities in the wake of a deluge of local and national tragedies involving innocent children. It is a story about resilience and the power of faith to assist in overcoming whatever confronts your spirit in life. This story about hope, purpose, and recovery recounts the events that changed Sherri Mandell's family forever.
Lisa Robins stars as Sherri, a mother who experiences the loss of her son Koby in a horrific tragedy and is brokenhearted, but miraculously survives thanks to her close-knit community who rallies around her to make sure she does not have to go through this devastating experience alone. As she journeys from crippling grief to hope and healing, our own hearts are opened to her pain as well as her inspiring ability to open her heart to the blessings that surround everyone, no matter what.
Through individualized speech patterns and movements, Robins plays all the characters in the story from her husband and children to many community members who each share their thoughts on how to move on and make life worth living for Sherri, who is the one telling us the story. It is very clear the play and its characters are shared from Robins soul, so much so that you will truly believe this is really her story being shared.
To assist in pulling at your heartstrings, the multimedia presentation includes photos of the real Sherri and her family, newspaper clippings of the tragedy, as well as many scenic photos of the real cave in Israel where her son was murdered. The lighting effects designed by Kristin Swift Hayes greatly assist in communicating the emotional content of each scene. There are several references to birds throughout the play, their ability to fly freely a metaphor for Sherri's struggle to overcome and escape the circumstances of her life.
Sherri Mandell attended the opening weekend of the play and answered questions from the audiences about her book. Besides her career as a writer, Sherri currently blogs at The Times of Israel and is a certified pastoral counselor and co-director of the Koby Mandell Foundation, which runs programs in Israel for bereaved children and families. Truly she has turned her tragedy into a positive force for change in the world, which is all any parent can hope for in their children.
THE BLESSING OF A BROKEN HEART. adapted from Sherri Mandell's award-winning book and directed by Todd Salovey, continues at JWT at The Braid, 2912 Colorado Ave #102 in Santa Monica on Thursdays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm and 7:30pm through March 20, 2016. Tickets are $30 - $35 and can be reserved by calling (800) 838-3006 or online at http://www.jewishwomenstheatre.org.
JWT provides a home for the diverse and eclectic community of artists and creators who comprise L.A.'s Jewish women's community. At its new home in The Braid performance space and art gallery in Santa Monica's Bergamot Arts District, in intimate salons throughout the city, and on tour throughout the State, JWT stages and displays traditional and contemporary works that provide a forum for the development, performance and showcasing of Jewish talent.
Photos by Zachary Andrews