By Alanna Berman
Each spring, San Diegans look forward to the abundance of artforms brought to stages across the county for four weeks during the Lipinsky Family San Diego Jewish Arts Festival. This year, the festival’s 19th, is no different, with original plays, music and comedy shows, art, a world premiere film about Jews and baseball, the 11th annual Klezmer Summit, and discussions on faith and politics taking over stages from Vista to Chula Vista. The festival kicked off in May (including a series of free, or almost free, events in North County, sponsored by the Leichtag Family Foundation), but it ends with a bang this month, leaving June with no shortage of artistic Jewish heritage. Long-time artistic director for the San Diego Repertory Theatre Todd Salovey continues to reign over the festival as both its artistic director and a playwright.
“The festival isn’t just about our shows,” he says. “It’s about what happens later — the conversations and connections we make through the art.”
Those conversations are happening, and the festival grows each year.
“I am thankful to be a part of such a great project, where world premieres and original works are presented with such great response,” Salovey says. “People feel this festival has a lot of energy and diversity to it, and it’s exciting to be a part of.”
Let’s take a look at what’s coming up this month for the remainder of the festival.
The Return of Teatro Punto y Coma
In partnership with the Ken Jewish Community, Teatro Punto y Coma will return for its seventh festival appearance with “El Primero” (originally “The Line”), the group’s premiere production, by Israel Horovitz, 21 years after its first performance. Featuring the original cast and some of the original crewmembers, this presentation will be entirely in Spanish, as it was the first time around.
Focused on a group of people vying for the first spot in a line, the play’s minimal theatrical elements are what Pepe Stepensky, the play’s Emmy Award-winning director, calls “old school theater,” reminescent, perhaps, of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” Changes in tone or scene are indicated with lighting and music rather than dramatic backgrounds or sets.
“You never know what these people are waiting for, because it’s not important. What is important is to be the first one in line, using any kind of strategy or elements available. It’s a very smart play…The focus is on the acting, so [the story is told] through acting and lighting, and that’s it.”
Stepensky had come to San Diego just a few years prior to the time of the original production but was well versed in theater and directing from work he had done in his native Mexico. Nothing has changed about the play or the production, and even the original engineer and Stepensky’s first assistant director have returned for this festival production.
A presentation for the whole family, “El Primero” will offer insight into the lives of each of its audience members, Stepensky says.
“Everybody will understand ‘El Primero’ in different ways,” he explains. “Each of the five characters will reflect in each [of the audience members]. You will find your friends here, too, and one of the characters will be you.”
Performances will be Saturday, June 2, at 9 p.m.; Sunday, June 3, at 2 p.m.; and Tuesday, June 5, at 8 p.m. at the Lyceum Space in Horton Plaza. Tickets are $20 per person.
Klezmer and Politics
Festival favorite and local musician Yale Strom is back again with his band, Hot Pstromi, and a new collaboration of musicians, called Common Chords, for the 11th annual Klezmer Summit.
“What’s different this year than in past years is that the act itself, Common Chords, has never played at the festival, and [we will be able to present] Sufi, Muslim, klezmer, bhangra and rock music together, all while stressing how these various cultures — Islamic, Jewish and even Hindu — share some common musical backgrounds,” Strom says.
Hot Pstromi will begin the evening with traditional klezmer and Yiddish melodies before Common Chords (led by Salman Ahmad, United Nations goodwill ambassador to Southeast Asia) and Strom take the stage. Other members of Common Chords are tabla virtuoso Samir Chatterjee, Strom’s wife and vocalist Elizabeth Schwartz, percussionist Sunny Jain, bassist Mark Dresser, accordion player Lou Fanucchi and Cliff Sprague, on tenor saxophone and flute.
Playing as a group since 2007, Common Chords aims to start a dialogue between groups of different political, cultural and religious backgrounds based on shared experiences through music. Each member will be on hand prior to the concert for a conversation with audience members entitled “Common Music in Colliding Cultures,” setting the stage for the evening’s musical events.
“In today’s world, there is quite a bit of acrimony between Jews and Muslims, particularly in the Middle East,” Strom says. “This is just a small effort to bring people together, make them closer and make them think, and to open up the dialogue between Muslims and Jews, between Muslims and Hindus, who have had their difficulties over the last century, to say, ‘Look at what we share in common,’ and ‘How can we get beyond this and work out our differences in a more peaceful way, outside of the gun?’”
The 11th Annual Klezmer Summit will be Monday, June 4, at 7:30 p.m. Pre-show discussion with the artists is at 6:30 p.m. Both discussion and performance will be at the Lyceum Space in Horton Plaza. Tickets are $18 per person and include free kosher knishes.
Blessings… and San Diego’s Women of Valor
Salovey’s own work has made it into the festival once again, this time with an original play based on a book of the same title, as well as a recurring work honoring prominent Jewish women in San Diego.
“Over the last four or five years,” Salovey says, “I have come to see what a great opportunity the festival is to develop work that I am personally very interested in artistically. Jewish thought and Jewish spirituality are always at the heart of everything I create. When I can be part of the festival, not just as a producer, but also as an artist, it allows me to share with the community what most touches my heart.”
The script for “The Blessing of a Broken Heart,” for example, was written after Salovey read Sheri Mandell’s book chronicling her journey making aliyah from Maryland and losing her son to a terror attack once in Israel. Mostly, it’s about overcoming loss and turning tragedy into inspiration.
“The story is interesting and powerful on several levels,” Salovey says. “For example, while [Mandell’s] heart was broken, in some ways she was able to create a new heart, and in that heart, she was able to help other people and to find a deeper meaning to the events of her life. Ultimately, the piece is about the process of healing.”
A free discussion about Israel today with StandWithUs shaliach Lee-El Lewinson will take place after the play.
Two days later, Salovey will present “Women of Valor,” which has become a festival favorite for showcasing the lives of prominent local Jewish women through music, images and storytelling. While many of the past honorees are well known for their work in the community, “Valor” focuses on the unseen or unknown stories from their past and their insight for future generations.
“What we have done over the years with ‘Women of Valor’ is create a list of questions that we ask women. … Some of the answers are very profound and some of them are very funny, and we love to do a section of a play that is just listening to the advice in sequence.”
Another important element of the show is the mentoring that occurs between Salovey and his co-writers: his daughter, Leah Salovey, Ali Viterbi and Rebecca Myers, all young women who have been involved with the project since its inception.
“I feel that the festival, in 10 years, will produce the plays that [Leah Salovey, Viterbi and Myers] will write, so it’s really an honor to coach them in this journey,” Salovey says.
Edith Eva Eger, Claire Ellman, Anna Galicot, Julia Stone and Karen Flexer Friedenberg have all be interviewed for this year’s work, and their stories will be intertwined with one another for the performance.
“The Blessing of a Broken Heart” will be at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach Tuesday, June 5, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $18.
Women of Valor will be Thursday, June 7, at 7:30 p.m. at the Lyceum Space in Horton Plaza. Tickets are $18.
For more information about the 19th Annual Lipinsky Family San Diego Jewish Arts Fest, visit www.sdrep.org or call the box office at the San Diego Repertory Theatre at (619) 544-1000. For information on “The Blessing of a Broken Heart,” call the North Coast Rep directly at (858) 481-1055 or visit www.northcoastrep.org.
‘Tradition’ Comes to Moonlight
Tevye and the rest of “Fiddler on the Roof”’s classic characters make Vista their home next month
The Tony-award winning musical “Fiddler on the Roof” will come to Moonlight Amphitheatre next month as part of its summer season. Don’t miss your chance to see the story of dairyman Tevye’s attempts to keep tradition alive among within his family and in his shtetl at this outdoor venue. The famous score includes “Tradition,” “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” and “If I Were a Rich Man.”
For this production, David Ellenstein, artistic director of North Coast Repertory Theatre, will play Tevye.
Directed by Kathy Brombacher and choreographed by Carlos Mendoza, with musical direction and conducting by Elan McMahan, the show is slated to run July 25-Aug. 11. Performances will be at 8 p.m.
Special pricing is available for seniors, students, military and family lawn seating. Call for availability at (760) 724-2110. For more information, go to www.moonlightstage.com.
Moonlight Amphitheatre is located at 1200 Vale Terrace Drive in Vista.