Putting a theater season together isn’t an easy job. Doing it while trying to stick to a mission just adds to the challenge. Barbara Brooks has been successfully navigating this as Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company starts its 23rd season on Aug. 19. It’s the country’s longest-running independent Jewish theater organization.
“Almost everything we do is original or a world premiere,” said Brooks, the artistic director of the St. Paul-based MJTC. “But all the work has a storyline that deals with Jewish culture or history.”
The opening show of the 2017-18 season is Via Dolorosa, which runs from Aug. 19-27. The show, which stars Robert Dorfman, explores playwright, screenwriter and director David Hare’s decision to travel to Israel to explore the then-50-year-old state and write about it. His conversations with politicians, artists, settlers, and historians in Israel and Palestine provocatively reveals the ideas, hopes, and dreams of those living amidst the Israeli-Arab conflict. The show is directed by Raye Birk in his Twin Cities directorial debut.
“It’s a very provocative show,” Brooks said. “I’m not sure everyone will be thrilled with some of the perspectives. It looks at different viewpoints that Jewish people have about what’s important.”
Dorfman, who appeared last season with MJTC as Lenny in We Are The Levinsons, relocated from New York. Brooks said that by Dorfman working with MJTC, he has become more engaged with his Jewishness.
“I’m proud that he’s working here and doing this play,” she said.
The second play in the season Church and State by Jason Odell Williams, where a Republican Senator up for re-election has a change of thoughts concerning God and the second amendment. Brooks had seen the script a few years ago, but the timing was right was to run the show now.
“Sometimes I’ll get a script and sit on it because it doesn’t feel right,” I felt this show was relevant now in the current political and social climate.”
The holiday show this season is Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, by Shari Aronson and adapted from the book by Eric Kimmel.
“Every December we do a holiday show,” Brooks said. “We bring in lots of school groups, we have had college students from Missouri come before. “We’re a destination. We’re the only company in the region that does what we do.”
The final two shows in the season are Collected Stories by Donald Margulies and the world-premiere of Natasha and the Coat. Margulies’ show is a drama with a young writer and her mentor that explores the question: can someone of one culture tell the story of another? Natasha and the Coat by Deborah Stein, dives into the relationship between a New York City fashion intern a 20-something Hasidic Jew, and how they make an impact on each other.
“Natasha really fits with us,” Brooks said. “Everything can’t look at the same issues. The shows this year all look at different parts of Jewish culture.”