The importance of identity takes center stage at Six Points Theater. The former Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company changed its name last summer to reflect its commitment to stories from a Jewish perspective that promote understanding among all people. And in its upcoming production, The People’s Violin, opening Saturday, October 23, Six Points tells a story about personal identity and finding one’s truth in the context of culture and family.

“The six points represent the Star of David, the Jewish star,” said Barbara Brooks, founder and still artistic director of the 27-year-old theater. “We also have six values at the core of our organization—integrity, artistic excellence, trust, innovation, fiscal responsibility and tikkun olam, or working to repair the world. We believe the new name remains true to our mission while acknowledging our evolution as an organization and our dreams for the future.”
 
The People’s Violin was penned in the early 2000s by San Francisco playwright and actor Charlie Varon. It tells the story of filmmaker Sol Shank, who is making a documentary about his father, a successful Jewish author and therapist for Holocaust survivors. The unexpected appearance of a violin leads to the discovery of an unknown family history.
 
JC Cutler
J.C. Cutler as Sol Shank in The People’s Violin. Photo by Sarah Whiting

“I’ve read a few other Charlie Varon pieces,” Brooks said, “but this is my favorite. It’s very well written and the story mysteriously unravels, so it’s very engrossing.”

In the original production, Varon played all 20 of the characters. Other theaters have chosen to have several actors play multiple roles. “We made some adjustments because of COVID,” Brooks said. “Originally planned for five actors, I wanted to make the move to live performance as safe as possible, so we’ll only have three actors on stage. I don’t want to give too much away, but the production incorporates video.”

“My character goes through a real soul journey as he discovers much about himself,” Cutler said. “What does it mean to be a son, a father, an artist, a husband, a narcissist, and how does the creation of something of artistic value help in these discoveries?”

The People’s Violin is directed by Warren C. Bowles, whose 50-year career in theater has included stints with Mixed Blood, Park Square, the Guthrie and Ten Thousand Things theaters. Bowles said he was attracted by the play for how it explores that “we sometimes know only a fraction of the history of those closest to us and who it is that defines our own identity or truth.

“There are an extremely large number of characters in the show,” Bowles said. “When Varon first performed the piece, the audience quickly learned and accepted the convention that one person was playing multiple roles. Though our audience should soon accept this convention as well, it may take a moment for them to be clear that an actor is playing a different character than she or he was playing five minutes earlier. But COVID protocol demands that we keep the actors, audience and technicians safe. Some stagings that were available to us two years ago are just not appropriate now.”

A journey of discovery

Veteran actor J.C. Cutler is making his debut at Six Points as Sol Shank. Audiences may recognize Cutler from his 35 years performing with the Guthrie, Jungle, Cricket, Park Square, Illusion, Mixed Blood, History and Children’s theaters. The cast also includes Kim Kivens in the roles of Nirit and Nicole, and David Coral, Tony Larkin and Patty Mathews in multiple roles.

Cutler was attracted to the play because of its complexity. “On the one hand, it’s an investigation of the life of Sol’s father,” he said. “But in the process, my character goes through a real soul journey as he discovers much about himself. What does it mean to be a son, a father, an artist, a husband, a narcissist, and how does the creation of something of artistic value help in these discoveries? I think the story speaks to the challenges of today—in life, in families and in the world.”

The People’s Violin will be performed at 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 p.m. Sundays and 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays through November 14 in the auditorium of the Highland Park Community Center, 1978 Ford Pkwy. Additional shows are scheduled at 7 p.m. Sunday, October 24, and at 1 p.m. Tuesday October 26.

Strict COVID protocols will be in place. No more than 55 seats will be sold for each performance. Masks are mandatory for the audience, and so is proof of COVID vaccination. All actors and crew, whether on stage or backstage, will also be vaccinated.

Tickets are priced from $15-$38. For reservations, call 651-647-4315.

— Anne Murphy

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