If You Don’t Weaken, a new play by TC Jewfolk writer Jenna Zark, opens March 28 in a production by Freshwater Theatre. Asked what her play is about, Jenna said it’s about a young woman trying to find a minyan so she can say Kaddish, the mourner’s prayer for her grandfather. But go to Freshwater’s website, and you get this:
Combining a pole dancer, crumbling synagogue, feisty friends, 1930s porn videos, a local Jewish day school, religious awakening…and a ghost, If You Don’t Weaken centers on a young woman’s quest to observe a year-long ritual of mourning for her grandfather.
It all sounds a bit more complicated than just Kaddish. We asked Jenna about that and more.
TC Jewfolk: Sounds like there’s a lot of stuff going on your play that doesn’t normally happen to people when they’re trying to say Kaddish. Why is that?
Jenna Zark: Well, first of all, it’s a comedy, so I needed to mix it up a little. The young woman at the center of the play, Amy, wants to say Kaddish but is not particularly affiliated with any kind of Jewish community. So trying to find a minyan is difficult, to say the least.
TCJ: And the 1930s porn?
JZ: It’s an important part of the story because it illustrates the lengths Amy will go to in order to put a minyan together. But I don’t want to spoil the play so I can’t be too specific about the details.
TCJ: So if Amy’s not religious, why would she want to engage with a ritual that takes so much commitment, religiously?
JZ: I think most of us believe we need to find spirituality or God in sacred spaces, and we need to be a certain kind of person to do that. But most of us aren’t especially sacred people. This play isn’t about who we ought to be. It’s about who we are. And in Amy’s case, her friends (and she herself) are the last people on earth you’d expect to find in a synagogue.
TCJ: But why choose a synagogue? Why not a trip to India or a new boyfriend?
JZ: I created these characters because I want to explore how we stumble onto the things that matter to us. We’re not born as these perfectly spiritual beings, in fact quite the opposite. Yet most people have a need for something other than their daily grinds, something that transcends reality. The play’s director, Ariel Leaf, says she thinks the play shows you how young people find that in a way that isn’t stale.
TCJ: What would you say to someone who wants to learn more about his or her Jewish heritage?
JZ: I’d say, you don’t have to look for it in a formal setting, because the best part of Jewish life, in my opinion, really happens when you’re out and about in the world. You can find it at a dinner with friends on Shabbat or at a sukkah party or going to a Jewish camp. You could visit a synagogue that has a great cantor or go to a kosher restaurant for someone’s birthday party. Or start a Jewish discussion group. What intrigues me most about Jewish life is that you need to do it in a community. It doesn’t really work without one, which is why the minyan is a metaphor for Jewish life in this play.
TCJ: So would you tell people to join a minyan?
JZ: Well… they may want to see the play first.
If You Don’t Weaken runs between March 28 and April 12 at Nimbus Theatre, 1517 Central Avenue NE, Minneapolis, MN 55413, Reservations and info at freshwatertheatre.com. You can also purchase tix at the door or reserve a seat by calling 612-816-8479.
Photo: Ben Layne, courtesy of Freshwater Theatre