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Friday, June 13, 2008
Plays and Players Theatre, Philadelphia, PA, 8:00 to 10:00 PM
 
Catholic Falstaff and Baptist Prince Hal: The Big Voice: God or Merman?
 
No dramatist intertwined tragedy and comedy as powerfully as Shakespeare, who knew that “All the world's a stage,/And all the men and women merely players:/They have their exits and their entrances;/And one man in his time plays many parts.”  In The Big Voice: God or Merman?—a Musical Comedy in Two Lives—we get the highly entertaining Broadway version of the Bard’s insight applied, namely that the high points of life and the low points, life and death, sit next to each other in the dark, like two people in the same audience. 
 
The autobiographical plot by the multiple award-winning team of composer/lyricist Steve Schalchlin and writer/actor Jim Brochu centers around “Two lost souls who meet, two almost-losers who win” (Variety).  Serious, skinny Schalchlin looks like the unlikely Prince Hal to match big Brochu, who looks and acts like a campy Falstaff.  Both bring out a humanity in most unexpected ways. 
 
Just as the sixteen-year-old Hal was almost killed by an arrow which became lodged in his face, he survived through the benefit of the best possible care, though his face was permanently marked by deep scars, proof of his valor in battle, so Schalchlin was nurtured back to life from the devastating ravages of AIDS by his life-mate Brochu.  Their life, dramatically different as they are—one a young, introverted Baptist from Arkansas versus the overweight, boisterous Brooklyn boy who idolizes Ethel Merman and nurtures a hidden desire to become a priest, if not the Pope—comes together in a production that entertains as the best of Broadway shows but also takes us to the abyss of a Shakespearean tragedy.  The audience at the old Plays and Players Theatre both fought tears at times but, even more often, roared with laughter in a musical that Brochu described as a piece where “If your religion is entertainment, this is the show for you.” 
 
Thisunusual, high-energy musical play opened “'Six' in the City,” the sixth annual Philadelphia Gay and Lesbian Theatre Festival, which runs from June 13 through 28 at multiple venues: The Arden Theatre, Mum Puppettheatre, and Walnut Street Theatre’s Studios 4 & 5.  For details or to order tickets, call 215-922-1122, or visit http://pgltf.org/tickets.htm  For a larger version of the show's poster, click the image at left. 
Sunday, June 9, 2008
WHYY, 150 N. 6th St., Philadelphia, PA, 8:00 to 11:00 PM
 
Supporting National Public Radio and Television with my friends from the Media Theatre: Philadelphia Telethon 2008 
 
Feel invited to tune into WHYY TV for Sunday evening's fundraising telethon with my colleagues from the Media Theatre Board of Directors and friends of the Media Theatre, together with my friends Susan Kelly, Eileen Kammerer from DCCC, and Dr. Mitch Maltenfort of Thomas Jefferson University.  WHYY is a nonprofit corporation that operates TV12 and 91FM, the public broadcasting stations serving southeastern Pennsylvania, Delaware and South Jersey, reaching as far north as Princeton, on which they broadcast my favorite program, National Public Radio (NPR).  It's a vital link in the Delaware valley's cultural landscape and a pillar of the community for 50 years.   Any contributions will directly fund their community outreach programs, as well as their regular roster of intelligent, incisive television programming.  WHYY sets out to make the region a better place, connecting all of their viewers and listeners to the world's richest ideas. 
 
Similarly, the Media Theatre, a not-for-profit Equity company and cultural center in Media, PA, promotes and nurtures the imagination, diversity, and joy unique to music theatre through the production of new and classic works.  The Media Theatre holds that musical theatre is the great American contribution to the field of drama, and therefore presents music theatre to young people as an art form that is relevant to their lives and indigenous to their cultural heritage.  To accomplish this goal, each year the Media Theatre produces a full season of professional, main-stage Broadway musicals, educational programs, and children's shows.  Because of the cultural outreach of both organizations, this evening promises to be a fun event and beneficial for everyone.  To see a larger image of the Media Theatre's interior, click the image at left.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
Interact Theatre, Philadelpia, PA, 2:00 to 6:00 PM
 
Changing the world, one play at a time: Israeli/Palestinian Play Festival at Philadelphia's Interact Theatre
 
Although Philadelphia is separated from Jerusalem by 9313 kilometers (or 5787 miles), in the city of Brotherly Love feelings still run high among Jewish-Americans on Israeli-Palestinian issues.  The Interact Theatre, under Artistic Director Seth Rozin, which aims to “change the world, one play at a time,” presented free staged readings of four plays and a panel discussion as part of the Israeli-Palestinian Theatre Festival, all centered around the world premiere of Larry Loebell’s House, Divided
 
While House, Divided received outstanding reviews and large audiences, many in the Philadelphia Jewish Community seem skeptical vis-à-vis Palestinian-Israeli dialogues.  However, no event brought in more people than the staged reading of My Name is Rachel Corrie, delivered with a wide range of feelings and a powerful sense of humanity by Philadelphia actress Julianna Zinkel.  Corrie , who acknowledged the suffering of Jewish people, also wrote, “The scariest thing for non-Jewish Americans in talking about Palestinian self-determination is the fear of being or sounding anti-Semitic. [. . . .] but I think it’s important to draw a firm distinction between the policies of Israel as a state and Jewish people.” 

Corrie’s story found resonance during the panel discussion, which featured Rosie Greenberg, a young Jewish woman and daughter of a rabbi who went to Israel with Birthright, stayed with an ultra-Orthodox family in Jerusalem for one month, and then lived with a Palestinian family for two months.  As a result of these experiences, she said she felt strengthened in her Jewish heritage; however, like Corrie, she identified with Palestinians and clearly distinguished between Israeli state policies and Jewish people who reach out and search for peaceful solutions. 

The reading and the panel prompted a great deal of discussion among panel members and the audience. To read the full text of my review on the All About Jewish Theatre website, click here.  The montage at left shows the juxtaposition of the Israeli and Palestinian flags (above), with Rachel Corrie (at bottom left in photo) and Julianna Zinkel (at bottom right). Click the photo montage at to see a larger version.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Arden Theatre, Philadelpia, PA, 6:30 to 9:30 PM
 
Attending a wedding and a funeral in Philadelphia's Old City: An innovative production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town at the Arden Theatre
 
Yesterday afternoon, I welcomed theatregoers to the crowded Arden Theatre, handing out programs and informing them that they were about to see a three hour performance, that we would go to Christ Church for a wedding, and that the President of Villanova University was going to be one of our guests today.  And suddenly, Father Donahue, President of Villanova, stood in front of me, ticket in hand, and said, "Yes, he's going to be here tonight."  We both laughed and shortly thereafter, a cast of 29 actors peopled the stage, with two choirs sitting on two adjoining balconies.  
 
Actor, director, and playwright Eric Hissom acted as the Stage Manager, and guided all of us through the entire program, which included asking the audience for questions, which were posed by Father Donahue; Pat Vernon, member of the Arden Sylvan Society; and Jane Pepper, author and President of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, who also acted as a plant.  The two young lovers of Our Town, George (Peterson Townsend) and Emily (Rebecca Blumhagen) enchanted the audience, both at the Arden and at Christ Church, where we all attended the wedding and sang "How Great Thou Art," led by an alcoholic conductor, played subtly and convincingly by Frederick AndersenIf there were a Barrymore Award for hand-and-eye coordination, it would definitely have to go to the person who pushed the sound button every time the actors performed with non-existing props, for example, catching a baseball or mowing the lawn.  And if there were another Barrymore Award for best timing, it would have to go to the actors who opened the windows at Christ Church from the outside, and interrupted the program with good, neighborly humor.
 
I was rather touched not only by the outstanding performance of the cast, especially Greg Wood as the bride's father Mr. Webb, but by his program bio, in which Wood let go of all his many achievements on stage, TV, and film, and instead thanked "the audience of Philadelphia for your ever constant and always generous support of the Arden and for the arts and artists in our town."  I was equally moved and touched by the way that Arden Artistic Director Terry Nolen's program notes reflected Wilder's sentiment: "There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning," as Nolen dedicated the play to those "people of our community who no longer are with us," and to the many children of the actors who have performed at the Arden during the past 20 years.  
 
As most performances are heavily booked, I strongly urge everyone to get tickets as soon as possible and if you can't, then call the box office at 215-922-1122 and offer to usher. 
 
To read the full text of my review, click here.  Click the photo montage at left to see a larger version.  
Sunday, June 1, 2008
Interact Theatre, Philadelpia, PA, 2:00 to 4:30 PM
 
Jewish Titans Clashing in House, Divided: Reviewing Larry Loebell's world premiere at Philadelphia's Interact Theatre
 
My grandfather, a military officer during WWI brought up his sons to believe in militarism as a kind of religion where Germany had to be defended against evil on a permanent basis.  One of his sons, my father, although critical of his father’s life, became a propaganda officer and foreign correspondent in Occupied France during WWII, where he vehemently supported the Third Reich.  My father had nothing but negative things to say about Jewish people whom he clearly did not know, let alone understand. 
 
Two years ago, I found his correspondence with my mother and wrote Metronome Ticking, a docudrama about the Third Reich and the Holocaust.  Sitting inside Philadelphia’s intimate Interact Theatre and witnessing the clashes of Jewish parents and their children in Israel and the United States, I was powerfully reminded of the struggles of ideologies among siblings, among fathers and sons in this world premiere of Larry Loebell’s House, Divided, a play about two brothers and their sons who are divided by faith, yet held loosely together by blood. 
 
I realized very quickly that this play goes way beyond a struggle among people of one ethnic or religious minority; rather, as House, Divided is the youngest successor to the old struggle of Titans that we know from Greek mythology, where the Titanic Elders—a race of powerful deities—ruled during the legendary Golden Age before being overthrown by a race of younger gods, the Olympians, a Greek borrowing from the Ancient Near East, which included (modern) Israel and Palestine.
 
To read the full text of this review, click here.  To view the article on the All About Jewish Theatre website, click here.  Click on the graphic at left to see a larger view.   
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Media Theatre, Media, PA, 8:00 to 10:30 PM
 
Swan Song of six unemployed workers: Introducing the penultimate performance of the dance-filled musical The Full Monty
 
One of the benefits of serving on the Board of Directors of a theatre is that you can attend the rehearsals of upcoming productions, getting to see the development of a show before it hits the stage on opening night.  I did precisely that and saw director Tonda Hannum in action as she took six unlikely male strippers and molded them into shape, so much so that the audience roared with laughter and even ah-ed, oh-ed, and gasped during the most erotic moments of the show.  I have never seen that many women in the audience, several of whom were dancing in the aisles on opening night.  In the early 1980's, Tonda danced with Full Monty choreographer Ramon Galindo in the touring version of Bob Fosse's Tony-Award winning Dancin', which opened on Broadway in 1978 (click Tonda's name to see a TV interview she gave while on tour for Dancin', and click Ramon's name, which features the first of 3 videos of their 1981 rehearsal; click here for a recent photo of Tonda, second from left).  
 
As a member of the Board of Directors at the Media Theatre, I am occasionally asked to welcome and address the audience before the show, in this case, for the last evening performance ofThe Full Monty.  I invited everyone to join us for the co-production of Souvenir at Philadelphia's Wilma Theatre in June, starring Ann Crumb and Larry Daggett, and to send their children to one or more of the upcoming five two-week summer school sessions at Camp Media Theatre, and to check out the website for the auditions for the very popular DelCo Idol show.  I then invited everyone to sit back and get ready to see what most Americans don't usually get to see: "Curtain up for the Full Monty." 
 
The six actors play the roles of unemployed steel workers in Buffalo, NY, who, desperate for cash or a job, try to put on their own male revue.  While rehearsing, four of them try to survive the harangues of their wives and girlfriends, while the other two discover they are gay and fall in love with each other.  The women were led by the lively Georgie (Stacy Moscotti Smith) and the multi-talented Jeanette (Deborah Jean Templin), the funniest piano player I have ever seen on stage.  After many trials and tribulations, the six men put together a show that rocks the audience: Jerry (Timothy Quinlan), Dave (Jayson Elliott), Harold (Larry Daggett), Malcolm (Artie Sievers), Ethan (Matthew Hultgren), Horse (Rick Delancey).  This production brought in many good reviews, including this article from the very supportive News of Delaware County.  After the show, the male and female swans, Music Director Chris Ertelt and the band, friends, and supporters of the Media Theatre sailed to Brodeurs on State Street, a popular local restaurant and bar, for good company and a delicious midnight farewell.  Click the image at left to see a larger version.
Monday, May 19, 2008
Jewish Ensemble Theatre, Detroit, MI
 
Children of Night: Staged reading the role of Adam Czernikov opposite Dr. Janusz Korczak, Warsaw Ghetto, 1942
 
As part of the Playwright's Forum at the annual conference of the Association for Jewish Theatre, Peruvian-born director Leslie Marko (now working in Brazil) asked me to read the role of Adam Czernikov (Czerniaków) for the performance of a scene from Children of Night, by one of the co-founders of the Nephesh Theatre, the Canadian and Israeli playwright Gabriel EmanuelMosaic Theatre's Artistic Director and Manhattanville College Professor Michael Posnick played Dr. Janusz Korczak.  During World War II, Czernikov functioned as the Head of the Judenrat (Jewish Council) in the Warsaw Ghetto and was responsible for the welfare of the Jewish community, but also held accountable to the Nazi overlords who expected the Jewish leadership to carry out their work, including selecting those Jews from the ghetto for deportation to the Treblinka concentration camp.  The scene we performed depicts Czernikov interrupting the Passover Play at the Warsaw ghetto to order the deportation of the 192 children under the care of Dr. Korczak, head of the orphanage. 
 
The play is based on the actual events that occurred on August 6, 1942, when Dr. Korczak, a physician, writer, and educator was forced to gather together the nearly 200 Jewish orphans under his care.  After the German invasion of Poland, Korczak had been offered sanctuary on the “Aryan side” of Warsaw but turned it down repeatedly, saying that he could not abandon his children.  Even when he knew the fate awaiting his charges in Treblinka, he refused offers of sanctuary, and insisted that he would go with them.  The children, dressed in their best clothes, each carrying a blue knapsack and a favorite book or toy, followed Dr. Korczak with quiet dignity to the tram, after which they were transported to Treblinka, an extermination camp in occupied Poland, where they all perished in the gas chambers.  For information on the traveling museum exhibition of "Janusz Korczak and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto," click hereClick the image at left to see a larger version.
Monday, May 19, 2008
Jewish Ensemble Theatre, Detroit, MI
 
Mendelssohn Does Not Live Here Anymore: First performance of a scene from my new play
at the Conference of the Association for Jewish Theatre
 
Last year, the Association for Jewish Theatre (AJT) invited me to present a scene from Metronome Ticking, my docudrama about the Third Reich, which is based on the memoirs of Lily Spitz, the wife of an Austrian Holocaust survivor and the letters of my father, Alf Eger, a German War Correspondent from Occupied France.  It was performed at the Jewish Museum of Vienna as part of the International program for the Theatre Congress in Vienna, Austria. 
 
This year, as part of the Playwright's Forum, produced by Norman Fedder and Diane Gilboa, the AJT is going to present a sample from my latest play, Mendelssohn Does Not Live Here Anymore, with a scene that shows the conflict between a very musical young woman who has just discovered Felix Mendelssohn's music, unaware that it was forbidden to be played during the Third Reich, and her husband, who tries to convince her that Mendelssohn stole the music, and that "what the Jews cannot destroy, they poison."   He even cites Wagner, who hated Mendelssohn's music, and Hitler, who personally had given instructions to have the Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy monument in Leipzig destroyed.  However, the young woman, who wanted to surprise her husband with beautiful welcome music on his furlough, sees beyond the anti-Semitism and the lies, and refuses to give up her love for Mendelssohn's music.  The performance will be directed by Rick Stein, a theatre producer and executive artistic director (until recently, Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach, CA).  The performance will feature Mira Hirsch, the Founder and Artistic Director of Jewish Theatre of the South in Atlanta, GA, as Gritt, and Ralph Meranto, the centerstage director of the Feinbloom Center for the Arts in Rochester, NY, as Alf. 
 
The photo on the left shows Hitler and members of the Richard Wagner family on their way to an opera performance in Bayreuth and a painting of Felix Mendelssohn on the right-hand side.  For a larger view of the montage, click the image.   To see an illustrated flyer for the performance at the Conference for Jewish Theatre and four bios, click here.  To visit the website of the Mendelssohn house in Leipzig, Germany, click here.
Saturday, May 17 to Wednesday, May 21 , 2008
Jewish Ensemble Theatre, West Bloomfield, MI

"In you that journey is": 2008 Conference of the Association for Jewish Theatre

While driving from Philadelphia to Michigan, I found it difficult to imagine a conference that could match last year's spectacular International Theatre Conference in Vienna, Austria.  However, the Association for Jewish Theatre (AJT), with its Executive Director Kayla Gordon in Canada, and with Evelyn Orbach, Artistic Director of the Jewish Ensemble Theatre (JET) and her staff plus numerous volunteers, the conference in the Detroit area presented many engaging workshops, eye-opening performances, challenging seminars, and one enlightening discussion after another. 
 
The 2008 Theatre Conference in the American Midwest brought together some of the best Jewish and pro-Jewish actors, singers, musicians, directors, playwrights, theatre critics, and board members from the heartland, from theatres on both coasts, from Canada down to the South, and from as far as Berlin in Germany, Sao Paulo in Brazil, and Tel Aviv in Israel. 
 
Every morning, some of these conference participants met to hearMichael Posnick present texts by Martin Buber and other philosophers, leading to deep discussions about the spiritual aspect of theatre.   Ellen Schiff’s presentation on how actors and playwrights could draw upon a collective experience or racial memory,” forced me to grapple with issues of race and identity. Her talk challenged me, because whenever I think about the Jungian notion of the collective unconscious, I juxtapose it with the possibility that any so-called racial and cultural identifiers might be little more than social constructs
 
Similarly, JET did not shy away from controversy when presenting one of the conference's most thought-proviking events: their performance of a scene from Women’s Minyan by Naomi Ragen that turned the small stage in Detroit into a classical Greek theatron, a “watching place,” where we witnessed the suffering of one soul after another, thanks to a playwright who took us deep into the heart of Orthodox darkness, showing ten women of all ages who would have made the citizens of Athens weep 2500 years ago—an extraordinary play that succeeded in making audiences cry in theatres as far apart as Jerusalem and Detroit today. 
 
I felt honored to have been invited by Playwright Forum co-chairs Norman Fedder and Diane Gilboa to present a scene from my new play Mendelssohn Does Not Live Here Anymore, performed by Mira Hirsch, the outgoing President of the AJT, and Ralph Meranto, the Centerstage director of the Feinbloom Center for the Arts in Rochester, NY.  With his characteristic wit, New York-based playwright Richard Orloff emceed this event that featured plays by 14 different authors, including Herb Isaacs, Edward Einhorn, and Gabriel Emanuel
 
Next year’s conference will take place in Israel for the first time, organized by Moti Sandak, editor-in-chief of All About Jewish Theatre, and Howard Rypp, co-founder of the Nephesh Theatre.  This non-Jewish writer has always wanted to say goodbye with a famous Jewish farewell.  On the last day in Detroit, and for the first time in my life, I had the opportunity to say in parting to some of the most extraordinary theatre people one could possibly meet: “Till next year in Jerusalem.”  I felt damn good in saying it.  And I felt deeply connected. 
 
Top photo: (L to R) Leslie Marko, Brazil; David Chack, AJT President-elect; Deborah Baer-Mozes, Theatre Ariel, Philadelphia; Norm Fedder, Professor Emeritus, KSU; Michael Feldman, comedian; and AJT President Mira Hirsch.  Middle photo: Women's Minyan.  Bottom photo: playwrights Larry Goodman, Herb Isaacs, and Henrik Eger.  Click any of the images at left to see a larger version.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Tel Aviv, Israel

Honor from Israel: Joining the Board of AAJT, the world's largest Jewish theatre website

Last fall, Moti Sandak, Chief Editor of All About Jewish Theatre, asked me to produce and narrate the first online video about AAJT: The World’s Largest Secular Synagogue and Open University (available here).  I was deeply honored when six months later, he invited me to join the Editorial Board of the website, joining writers, actors, artistic directors, and academics from around the world.  Notable Board Members include academics like Joel Berkowitz, Michael Posnick, and Ellen Schiff; artistic directors like Janet Arnold of the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, the Yiddishspiel Theatre's Shmuel Atzmon, and Nephesh Theatre's Harold Rypp; music director Leon Botstein of the American Symphony Orchestra; writers like Schlomo Bar-Shavit; three-time Tony-Award winning  producer Stewart F. Lane, and Tony and Emmy-Award nominated actress Tovah Feldshuh.  For a full list of the AAJT's Editorial Board Members, click here

Some recent or upcoming projects include a special article on the little-known theatrical works of Theodor Herzl and The Virtual Museum of Jewish Theatre and Performing Arts, which was recently selected as one of the 60 most exciting, upcoming Israeli theatre projects.  AAJT also recently participated in the first Israeli Presidential Conference: Facing Tomorrow, held in Jerusalem as part of Israel's 60th anniversary celebrations, and whose attendees included George W. Bush; Dr. Henry Kissinger; Tony Blair; Mikhail Gorbachev; former Czech President Václav Havel; Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert; former German Minister of Foreign Affairs Joschka Fischer; publishing magnate Rupert Murdoch; Google founder Sergey Brin; Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg; and Nobel Laureate Elie WieselClick the image at left to see a larger version.
Friday and Saturday, April 18 and 19, 2008
Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival, Philadelphia, PA

"A plague o' both your houses": Shakespeare's Pericles and Romeo and Juliet 

Even though Shakespeare gets performed more often in Germany than in England, I invited my German guest Marius Wehner to see his first English language production of the Bard's work at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival (PSF), where Marius and I ushered for both of their productions, directed by the Festival's Artistic Director Carmen Khan.  Although I had not seen Carmen since I worked as a Barrymore Judge many years ago, she greeted me by name, and we sat next to her during Romeo and Juliet.  
 
The rarely performed Pericles, Prince of Tyre, contains the following philosophical quote on life: "Time's the king of men;/He's both their parent, and he is their grave,/and gives them what he will, not what they crave./...The end must be as 'tis."  The stellar cast was led by Damon Bonetti in the title role and two-time Barrymore Award winner Christie Parker, who played the tragic heroine Thaisa.  To read the Philadelphia Inquirer's review by Howard Shapiro, click here, or to read an article comparing the Festival's Pericles with the Lantern Theatre's simultaneously running production of Othello, click here.
 
As one of the world's most widely produced plays, Romeo and Juliet presents a challenge to any Artistic Director who wants to present a fresh, new staging.  The PSF's production achieved this goal in Bonetti's towering performance as Mercutio, who fused mime, dance, facial expressions, gestures, fighting, and voice in an incredibly athletic yet very artistic way.  Romeo was no match for him, as David Raphely started off sounding loud and angry, staying that way throughout the remainder of the night, with little variation even during the tender moments with Juliet.  Thankfully, the production found a balance in the role of Juliet, played by Australian born actress and composer Melissa Dunphy
 
After the show, Marius and I joined the cast of "actors and wenches" at Bonner's, an old pub near the theatre.  Sitting next to Mercutio, Tybalt (Andrew Gorell), many of the cast members, and the fight director J. Alex Cordaro, it felt like sitting with the original Shakespeare Company at London's Boar's Head Tavern, with the nine founding members of The King's Men and the rest of their associates.  Click the image at left to see a larger version.
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Interact Theatre, Philadelphia, PA

Sitting in our own chairs with Bertolt Brecht: Supporting the Interact Theatre

Perhaps the biggest surprise for Marius Wehner came when I showed him the seat dedicated to his mother Hanna Wehner--my best friend in Germany--at the Interact TheatreMy seat sits right next to hers, followed by that of my father Ernst-Alfred Eger, my mother Gritt Eger-Kaufmann, my sister Birgit Eger, my step-dad Hans Kaufmann, my cousin Dr. Belinda Bülle, German playwright Bertolt Brecht, famous for the alienation effect and epic theatre, and the Wuppertaler Bühnen, the largest theatre in my hometown of Wuppertal, Germany, where I was introduced to theatre thanks to the subscription my mother gave me every year from the age of 13, and for which I am grateful to this day. 
 
Some years ago, I donated the money for these nine chairs to support the Interact Theatre, which, in my view, most closely resembles the politically and socially engaged theatre in Germany.  Interact's Barrymore Award winning Artistic Director Seth Rozin has consistently introduced new plays to the Greater Philadelphia Area, concentrating more on the quality of his theatre's mission to "change the world, one play at a time," rather than on profits.  To this day, I still remember several of his productions, and have recommended Interact dramas to many of my friends and students at DCCC. 
 
Click the image at left to see Marius and I behind the Wehner and Eger seats at the Interact Theatre.  Clicking on any of the names above will give you a photograph of the oval medallion affixed to the top of that person's chair at the Interact Theatre.    
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Interact Theatre, Philadelphia, PA

Freezing on a warm day: Frozen at the Interact Theatre

Interact Theatre's latest production, Frozen, a Tony-nominated play by Bryony Lavery, tells the story of the disappearance of a 10-year-old girl, Rhona.  Set in present-day England, the play involves three main characters: a serial killer named Ralph, who kidnaps, rapes, and murders young girls; Rhona’s mother, Nancy; and a New York psychiatrist, Agnetha, who travels to England to study Ralph, hoping to discover what causes some men to commit such crimes.  The script begins in monologues, each person showing his or her side of the story.  As the three lives slowly intersect—and the characters gradually change and become "unfrozen"—each eventually comes to terms with the idea of forgiveness.  Lavery based Frozen on real-life events; her writing of the play borrowed from the works of others, causing some controversy over the use of source materials. 
 
The multiple Barrymore Award winning Mary Martello gave a very mature performance of a deeply conflicted, angry mother who initially is no match for the coldly analytic psychiatrist, played powerfully by Barrymore Award winner Catherine Slusar.  However, in the last scene, the balance of power shifts, as the mother finds a way to let go of her anger, and offers insights that surpass the scientific evidence that no longer provides a solid bedrock for the now challenged psychiatrist.  If the definition of excellence in theatre is a performance that one talks about to all one's friends and still talks about years later, then Jeb Kreager’s extraordinary portrayal definitely qualifies for the highest praise one could bestow on an actor.  He showed a range of human expressions so vast and deep that I sat there frightened at times, utterly convinced that the man on stage was the serial killer.  The scene of the child rapist describing how he lured the little girls into his van and later, how he touched them by placing his hand under the table and slowly moving it toward the psychiatrist's legs were scenes I will never forget, thanks to the masterful direction of Whit MacLaughlin, one of Philadelphia’s most original directors and founder of the innovative New Paradise Laboratories. The lighting design by multiple Barrymore Award winning Jorge Cousineau matched perfectly with the innovative stage design of the 2007 F. Otto Haas Award recipient Matt Saunders
 
The image of the little girl above at left shows five-year-old murder victim Caroline Hogg next to a photograph of convicted serial rapist and killer Robert Black on whom the character of Ralph is based.  Click the photo at bottom left for a larger version of the Interact production shot that shows Catherine Slusar and Jeb Kreager.  
Saturday, March 8, 2008
Wilma Theatre, Philadelphia, PA

From Beckett to Rock and Roll: Conversations with playwright Tom Stoppard at the Wilma Theatre

One of the most famous modern playwrights, Sir Tom Stoppard, came to Philadelphia as a guest of the Wilma TheatreBlanka Ziska, the artistic co-director, presented a “Conversation with Tom Stoppard” to a sold-out audience.  Over the years, the Wilma Theatre produced eight of his plays.  Stoppard’s most recent play, Rock and Roll, currently on Broadway following a record-breaking run in London's West End, will rock the Wilma Theatre during the upcoming season. 

When the audience was invited to ask questions and talk with Tom Stoppard, James Haskins, the Managing Director at the Wilma, gave me a microphone and I shared with Stoppard that I consider his The Invention of Love as one of the best plays in modern theatre, and that it has impacted me so strongly that I still think about it today and often talk about it to friends  years after its performance at the Wilma.  Apparently many others felt the same way as the audience burst into a long applause. 

I then asked Stoppard how he felt about Samuel Beckett’s insistence that his stage directions for Waiting for Godot had to be followed 100%, so much so that he took theatres in Europe and in the US to court over this issue.  Stoppard shared his support for Beckett, and when I asked him how he handles different interpretations of his works, he responded by saying that he has no problem with the different approaches that artistic directors have takenHe added that the Invention of Love has been interpreted in numerous ways in theatres around the world and that he was perfectly all right with itStoppard concluded by saying that he usually only goes to see the first performance of a new play of his but he won’t go out of his way to see productions of the same play at other theatres.  

When someone else asked him whether he would return to the Wilma, Stoppard said that it was a long journey from England, and he would not promise anything, but he might drop in to see one of his plays in the future.  Well, I certainly would like to meet him again and ask him more questions.  Click the photo at left to see a larger version of Stoppard at the Wilma.  
 
 
Thursday, February 28, 2008
DCCC Theatre, Media, PA

Firethorn, Patrick's Testament: A poetic review of Patrick McDaid's last play before his retirement

For Patrick McDaid, Steve Smith, Eartha Holley, the cast and the crew of FIRETHORN at DCCC
 
Thought bullets hit my brain at the theatre last night
when I realized that your FIRETHORN is not just a complex or a difficult play,
but both history and your testament in which you give us culture, destruction,
pain, and, here and there, a touch of hope, the language of the conquered
who want to remain Irish, even though they long ago lost
the language of Eire and now speak the language of those who bit off
part of the green isle, but with a lilt and a vengeance that has made Ireland
the spring of some of the best
of English literature,
 
when you and Steve Smith, our young director and your heir in the lair
down in the Black Box, who relates to those who came before us,
played the rhythms of Cuba and left us alone
in the darkness,
sparing us, right in front of our eyes, none of the details of tying to trees
young men who had collaborated with Battista’s corrupt regime,
blindfolding the last few minutes of their lives, before firing
bullets into their brains, bullets into the bodies of their souls, [ . . . ]
 
Patrick, I shall miss your caring, your willingness to raise
curtains and hope.
 
Slán agus beannacht leat.  Fare thee well and blessings with you,
Patrick.  Slán agus beannacht leat.
 
To read the full text of this review, click here.
Saturday, February 9, 2008
Media Theatre, Media, PA

Oscars at the Media Theatre: Festive Gala 2008

As in previous years, I attended the annual gala of the Media Theatre.  However, this year, the Gala was more festive, more elegant, and attracted more people than ever before, thanks to the hard work of the Gala Committee under Chairperson Dr. Barbara Domingos.  My friend Susan Kelly and I decorated the Crystal Room with flowers that we had provided.  Admiral Joe Sestak, the US Congressman from Pennsylvania's 7th District (which includes Media), gave a welcome speech in which he addressed the importance of the arts in American society and in which he commended the Media Theatre for their contribution--both artistically and economically--to the area.    The entire Media Theatre Board attended with both the new Chair, Tom Hibberd, and the outgoing Chairperson, the Mayor of Media, Robert McMahon.  Part of the evening's entertainment included a most enjoyable performance by Broadway Star Ann Crumb, who grew up in Media and starred this season in the Media's production of Souvenir.  
 
Because so many good things happened that evening, I felt that many people deserved an Oscar for their contributions, and so I wrote the "Oscars at the Media Theatre," a lighthearted take on the very festive and enjoyable evening.  For a full photograph of the Media Theatre Board, click the image at left.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
DCCC Art Gallery, Media, PA

Artistic Hybrids: Exhibition of writer and artist Eartha Holley's new multimedia work

I attended the opening of Prof. Eartha Holley's solo exhibition of his latest art work, which employs a new computer-generated technique for creating paintings.  Inspired by his creativity, I revisited his website and, as before, enjoyed not only his CD The Professor Raps, but his article, "Moved by My Students: Crossing the Cultural Divide," about teaching English in China.  It ends with Eartha describing his students' goodbye letters: "I won't tell you what the letters said, but I will tell you that I was so moved by them, and so overwhelmed by the experience in general that I wept that night in my hotel room.  The following day, I decided to call in sick for the closing ceremony.  I keep those letters to this day."  

But even more extraordinary than the article about his experiences in China is my colleague's novel The Color Play, which I consider one of the most thought-provoking and best written books in contemporary American literature.  The plot presents an African-American student and a white ex-Air Force cadet studying drama at an historically black college, who become friends, each learning from the other's experiences.  The Color Play details the evolution of their friendship from two dramatically different perspectives, each of the young men speaking the language of his own cultural heritage and class.  For a sample of Holley's powerful use of characterization and language, as well as an author's bio, click here.  

I was so impressed by Eartha's novel, that, as a playwright and former Barrymore Judge, I encouraged him to turn The Color Play into precisely that, namely a stage drama, which, to my delight, he did.  I hope it will not only get widely performed, but that he will eventually turn it into a film script as well.     

At left above, you can see a photograph of Prof. Eartha Holley and myself taken at the opening.  Beneath, you can see a sample of Holley's work, although for technical reasons, I have altered the proportions of the image, the full version of which you can see here.  Better still: go and see the exhibition at the DCCC Art Gallery, which runs until March 21, 2008.

Monday, December 3, 2007, 7:30 p.m.
Centennial Hall, Haverford School, 450 Lancaster Ave. Haverford, PA 19041

A blessing to one another: Theodore Bikel honors Adena Potok, a Theatre Ariel concert 

World-renowned singer, actor, and activist Theodore Bikel, accompanied by Tamara Brooks, takes you on a musical journey presenting songs from the stage and screen along with folk music from around the globe.  The concert will raise funds to support Theatre Ariel, Pennsylvania's oldest Jewish professional theatre company, which gives voice to the rich social, cultural, and spiritual heritage of the Jewish people while serving as a bridge between people of all cultures. 

Austrian born Theodor Bikel began his acting career as a teenager in Palestine.  He performed around the world in many films and musicals.  On Broadway he originated the role of Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music (the famous song “Edelweiss” was composed for him) and later played the dialect expert in the film version of My Fair Lady.  Since his first appearance as Tevye in the musical Fiddler on the Roof in 1967, Bikel has performed the role more often than any other actor (2094 times to date).

Bikel produced and sang in many albums of Jewish folk songs and show tunes.  He has worked with many great artists, including Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, and Maya Angelou.  In addition to scores of appearances on film and on the stage, Bikel was a guest star on many popular television shows, including The Twilight Zone, Columbo, Charlie's Angels, Dynasty, Law & Order, and Star Trek: The Next Generation.  For more information, especially about pianist Tamara Brooks, Theatre Ariel, and honoree Adena Potok, including her photograph, click here.  For tickets, call Theatre Ariel at 610-667-9230.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Upper Darby, PA
 
Filming informational video for All About Jewish Theatre (AAJT):
The world's largest Secular Synagogue and Open University
 
Moti Sandak, the editor of All About Jewish Theatre in Tel Aviv, commissioned me to produce a short film about AAJT to be shown at a fundraiser in Chicago and later in other cities as well.  I placed an ad on Craigslist.org for innovative videographers.  Between 20 and 30 filmmakers wrote in, among them Aaron Schumann, whose work stood out the most, based on his samples and the professionalism of his website.    
 
I wrote the film script and selected the many images to appear in the film.  Aaron Schumann then came to my house to film and record my narration, and a few days later presented a draft which you can see here.   I hope to complete the final edit with Aaron early in 2008, and will post that version shortly thereafter.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Tel Aviv, Israel
 
It's Never Too Late to recover Jewish History: A review of Back to the Boulevard
and an effective process for interviewing Jewish communities and transforming their stories into an onstage production
 
A new version of my review of  Back to the Boulevard by Julianne (Bernstein) Theodoropulos was published by the All About Jewish Theatre website (click here).  This docudrama, based on over 600 pages of interviews conducted by Philadelphia students with 56 Jewish Seniors, invites us to travel to the past, to Depression-era Northeast Philadelphia, and meet Jewish “settlers” who turned fields and farms into a thriving community, complete with homes, shops, including kosher stores, and restaurants, all centered around Temple Shalom, a world of much joy and hope, reminiscent of Thornton Wilder’s Our TownPhiladelphia style.
 
You can access my earlier version of the review, written in form of an activating "Open Letter to future researchers, educators, and members of the theatre community willing to unearth Jewish history, and from those documents create good theatre, such as Back to the Boulevard by Julianne (Bernstein) Theodoropulos."
Saturday, Sept. 29, 2007
Prince Music Theatre, Philadelphia, PA
 
A Night in the Old Marketplace: World premiere of a Jewish “Danse Macabre,”
a multi-layered new folk opera based on I.L. Peretz’s Yiddish play Bei Nakht Oyfn Altn Mark (1906)
 
I was commissioned to write a review of the opening night performance of A Night in the Old Marketplace, a new musical by composer Frank London (prolific klezmer and jazz musician and composer), book and lyrics by Glen Berger (author of Underneath the Lintel), and conceptualized and directed by Alexandra Aron.  Starring Steven Rattazzi, Guil Fisher, and the brilliant Ray Wills as the mad wedding jester, who preached revolution and raised his fist against "God or whoever is running this universe."
 
For a full text of my review, available at the All About Jewish Theatre website, click here.
Saturday, September 8, 2007 at 9:00 p.m.
Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El, 1001 Remington Rd (off Lancaster Rd), Wynnewood, PA 19096 

Metronome 45: First performance of the shortened version of the Metronome Ticking Docudrama

This evening saw the first performance of the 45-minute multimedia version of my docudrama Metronome Ticking, which is based on the memoirs of Lily Spitz and on the letters of my father, Ernst-Alfred Eger. Bob Spitz read the role of his mother Lily, and I played the role of Alf.
 
Cantor-to-be Beth Schlossberg highlighted the performance with French, German, Hebrew, and English songs. The performance was part of the Selichot service held that evening, and conducted by Rabbi Neil S. Cooper (standing on left in photo). 150 people attended, including quite a few survivors from Auschwitz and other concentration camps. One of the older audience members at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El encouraged me to let go of my anger and forgive both of my parentsa totally unexpected comment that moved me deeply.  To enlarge the photograph, click on the image at left. 

Thursday, August 23, 2007
Curio Theatre, Philadelphia
 
Recording WWII and modern voices for upcoming performance of Metronome Ticking

In preparation for the premiere of the abridged version of Metronome Ticking, we recorded an authoritative, persuasive, and mesmerizing voice that represented the Zeitgeist during the Third Reich, read like a radio broadcast from the early 1930’s, plus another broadcast during Kristallnacht (Nov. 9, 1938), whipping Germans and Austrians into a frenzy to destroy synagogues and Jewish-identified stores and homes. To encourage discussion about possible similarities of prejudice against people both now and then, we also recorded modern American voices spouting off hateful comments against a wide-range of groups, including anti-Semitic comments like Rev. Bailey's infamous "God Almighty does not hear the prayer of Jews." 

I'm grateful to the three voice-over actors: Jerry Rudasill from UPenn, Rainer Klett, and Jared Reed, co-artistic director of the Curio Theatre, who also served as the sound engineer and who blended into the recordings excerpts of Hitler's speeches and "Sieg Heil!" roars from a Nazi crowd for the Sept. 8 performance of the Holocaust docudrama Metronome Ticking at the Beth-Hillel Beth-El Synagogue.
 
At left, an original Illustration from the Third Reich (reduced in size), showing a family listening to the radio, known as the "Volksempfänger" (the "People's Receiver"), one of Hitler's main tools for reaching millions of people daily. For graphic reasons, we altered and framed the image of the Führer so that one could see it better on this small excerpt.

June 13, 2007
Tel Aviv, Israel
 
Honor from Israel: One of my quotes selected for the homepage of the world's largest webpage for Jewish theatre

I was delighted when Moti Sandak, Director and Chief Editor of All About Jewish Theatre (AAJT), Tel Aviv, Israel, wrote that he had placed my description of his website on the homepage of the AAJT site:

"'Moti Sandak’s comprehensive All About Jewish Theatre website has created an influential, secular synagogue on the Internet, an Open University to which everyone, Jews and non-Jews alike, has free access, both as writers and readers.' Dr. Henrik Eger, Professor of English & Communication, Member of Board of Directors, Theatre Ariel, Philadelphia."


May 6, 2007
Israel Day, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia 
 
Playing Theodore Herzl on Israel Day, 2007, with David Ben-Gurion and Ilan Ramon
 
As part of the festivities celebrating Israel’s 59th anniversary, I grew my beard and dyed it black to play the role of Dr. Theodore Herzl, the 19th century thinker and playwright who is considered the driving force behind modern Zionism. To support the work of the Jewish Federation of Philadelphia and Theatre Ariel, I wrote all four educational handouts for children and teenagers:
 
Theodore Herzl; David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister; and Ilan Ramon, Israel’s only astronaut who perished in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003. Unlike last year's Israel Day, Mrs. Golda Meir, first woman Prime Minister of Israel, unfortunately could not make it to the festivities this year.  To enlarge the photograph, click on the image at left.

April 29, 2007
Polansky Theatre, Philadelphia, PA
 
Interviews with playwright, director, actors, and community members for upcoming review of Back to the Boulevard
 
I attended Theatre Ariel’s production of Back to the Boulevard, and interviewed the playwright Julianne (Bernstein) Theodoropulos, director Aaron Oster, the cast, and audience members for my article: “It’s never too late: An Open Letter to future researchers, educators, and members of the theatre community willing to unearth Jewish history, and from those documents create good theatre." For the latest update of this review, published on the All About Jewish Theatre website, see the October 17 entry. To enlarge the photograph, click on the image at left. 
April 10, 2007
Congregation Beth Israel, Chester Springs, PA
 
First Metronome Ticking presentation for high school students at the Beth Israel Synagogue
 
Bob Spitz and I performed the full version of Metronome Ticking to a standing-room only audience at the Beth Israel Congregation in Chester County. We were grateful to both the synagogue and the English Department of the Downingtown High School System for having worked together and for having opened their annual Holocaust Remembrance Week with our performance. We greatly appreciated the active participation of high school students and the choir of young people at the Beth Israel Congregation and very much enjoyed and valued the interaction between people of all ages and social and religious backgrounds afterwards.

March 28, 2007
Audrey Brodsky Salon at Temple Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park, PA
 
Second performance of Metronome Ticking led to important textual changes
 
After this performance of the first version of Metronome Ticking, some educators from the Downingtown School District and members of the audience recommended that the docudrama would be even stronger if it connected to the prejudices to which today's young people are exposed.
 
As a result of these comments, I rewrote Metronome Ticking and introduced a snake-like voice spewing out deeply ingrained prejudice against Jewish people and other minorities in the early 1930's, and then, more forcefully, during Kristallnacht 1938. I also integrated modern voices of famous contemporary Americans with original quotations that show their devastating prejudice, very similar to that of Nazi Germany, directed against a wide range of groups, including Jewish people. For example, "God does not hear the prayer of Jews" (Rev. Bailey Smith, President of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1980).

March 22, 2007
Jewish Museum, Vienna, Austria 

First overseas performance of Metronome Ticking at the International Jewish Theatre Congress
 
One of the most moving experiences in my life occurred on this day when a sample scene from my docudrama Metronome Ticking was selected as one of the eleven most promising plays by the Association for Jewish Theatre (AJT) and was performed at the Jewish Museum of Vienna by Mira Hirsch, President of the AJT and Artistic Director of the Jewish Theatre of the South, Atlanta, GA, as Lily, and myself as Alf.
 
I felt deeply honored to experience this cathartic play in the presence of many of the leading lights in Jewish theatre from around the world, including our Keynote Speaker, the beloved Theodore Bikel, famous actor, singer, and President of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America.  To enlarge the photograph, click on the image at left.

March 21, 2007
Festsaal Vienna, Austria
 
English-German interpreter for Ukrainian director and American actors
 
I interpreted from German into English for the workshop “Role Analysis through Action,” taught by Moisej Bazijan, former Artistic Director of the Jewish Theatre of Lemberg, Ukraine, now Munich, Germany. Within a short period of time, he taught the participating American actors a kind of “Stanislavsky plus” method—training them to use this technique to generate actions for their characters while performing a scene from Anton Chekhov’s Seagull.
 
Bazijan then introduced the actors to a passage from Zilinski ist tot (Zilinski is dead) by Franz Monone of Germany’s most avant-garde authors. The acting by the young Jewish-American performers, rolling on the floor under a table, head to head, reciting Monwas so persuasive that during those moments I actually thought my American friends had permanently and irrevocably transformed into Beckett characters on speed.

January 31, 2007
Media Theatre, Media, PA 

Thrill Me: Interview with former friends of the late Nathan Leopold, convicted murderer
in the "Crime of the Century"
 
I was invited to conduct a discussion with the audience and the Artistic Director, Jesse Cline, after the performance of Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story, a musical by Stephen Dolginoff. The next day, I continued the interview with Ann and Butch Grossman, former friends of the late Nathan Leopold for my article, which expands the review of this unusual musical by integrating the historical background of the trial, with the information shared with me by the Grossmans: “Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story, A Musical by Playwright-Composer Stephen Dolginoff, or: Personal Experiences With One of the Most Famous Murderers in US History,” which is also available at the All About Jewish Theatre website with some additional photographs.  To enlarge the photograph, click on the image at left. 
January 2007 until today
Various locations in the US and abroad 
 
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