Comedy is being performed live through August 30 at outdoor venues across the Twin Cities

By Frank Jossi

Private yards and other outdoor spaces will serve as stages during the 25th anniversary season of the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company. Dubbed “Theater Six Feet Apart,” the four-play package opened on August 15 with a two-week run of 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother by Kate Moira Ryan and Judy Gold. The comedy will be presented in the backyards of local homes, on a Harriet Island stage, at Wolfe Park Amphitheater in Saint Louis Park and on the field outside the Talmud Torah of Saint Paul.

COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the Minnesota Jewish Theater, which has been based at the Highland Park Community Center for most of its 25-year history. Last season ended early because of the pandemic, and founder and artistic director Barbara Brooks felt compelled to continue with live performances as soon as possible. “I guess I’m forever the optimist,” she said. “I thought I’d take these challenges and create opportunities. I wasn’t going to not do a season.”

In 2014 the Jewish Theater produced the play Rose in several private Twin Cities homes. Patrons told Brooks they enjoyed the domestic setting, and that gave the company confidence that the backyard venues could work. The backyards and larger outdoor venues provide enough space for social distancing, Brooks said. Theater-goers will be required to wear masks, and audience traffic will be dispersed to avoid any choke points.

   
Kim Kivens (left) and Laura Stearns rehearse their roles as daughter and mother in "25 Questions for a Jewish Mother." The first production in the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company’s 25th anniversary season is playing now through August 30 at outdoor venues across the Twin Cities. Photo by Brad Stauffer

“It’s of the utmost importance to us that everyone is safe, both the audience and the actors,” Brooks said.

25 Questions for a Jewish Mother explores the love and angst of the children of Jewish mothers. Based on five years of interviews with mothers and children, the play stars Kim Kivens and Laura Stearns and is directed by Highland Park resident Jennie Ward.

“25 Questions” addresses the cultural stereotypes of Jewish mothers, how those stereotypes came about and whether or not they fit the reality of “having and being a Jewish mother,” Ward said. “The reality is more rich and varied than you might have imagined. And it’s really funny.”

 

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According to Ward, the rehearsals were difficult. “There’s nothing in life that isn’t challenging now,” she said. “Going to the grocery store is challenging.” However, she added, theater professionals are “pretty resourceful and flexible.”

Rehearsals for 25 Questions began remotely on a digital platform before moving outdoors. For the actual performances, the actors will be the only people not wearing masks, but they will have hand-held microphones to avoid spreading any aerosols, according to Ward, and will be situated at least 20 feet from any audience members.

25 Questions addresses the cultural stereotypes of Jewish mothers, how those stereotypes came about and whether or not they fit the reality of “having and being a Jewish mother,” Ward said. “The reality is more rich and varied than you might have imagined. And it’s really funny.”

Next up for the Minnesota Jewish Theater is Operation: Immigration, a drama that will be presented online from October 17-25. Written and performed by Avi Aharoni, the play tells of a young Minnesotan’s search for the truth of his late father’s immigration and assimilation into American society. A hit at the 2019 Minnesota Fringe Festival, Operation: Immigration has been expanded and updated for this production.

The third show of the season is Musical Revue featuring the songs of such Jewish American composers as Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Bob Dylan. Developed by Brooks and Kevin Dutcher and directed by Dutcher, the original production will be presented online from February 13-21.

The theater’s final production of the season, The People’s Violin, will be performed from April 25-May 15 at a venue yet to be determined. Written by Charles Varon, the play tells of a filmmaker, the son of a famous Jewish writer, and his quest for the truth about his family and the mysterious violin that emerges as a touchstone for the family’s history.

For information on show times and venues or to purchase individual or season tickets, visit mnjewishtheatre.org or call 651-
647-4315.

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