Questions of faith

‘The Tenth Man’ explores the demons in all of us, and the saving power of Judaism.

January 18, 2012 21:05
3 minute read.
The Tenth Man

The Tenth Man 311. (photo credit: Courtesy of Rafi Poch)

Lulu Feldhamer Dubin says it’s not easy playing the role of Evelyn Foreman, the 18-yearold catatonic schizophrenic in Paddy Chayefsky’s 1959 play The Tenth Man, opening Thursday night.

“It’s not a very easy role to relate to,” says the 24-year-old actress, who made aliya from Brooklyn, New York a year and a half ago. Feldhamer Dubin probably also has never been part of a Jewish exorcism, but that mystical ritual makes up the play’s climactic scene.

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Directed by Rafi Poch, program coordinator at the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, and Jeremy Saltan, The Tenth Man is set in a small synagogue in Mineola, Long Island, so small that poor Bleyer the shamess, or sexton, (Kalman Walker) struggles daily to find enough men to complete the morning minyan.

Then one endearing member, David Foreman (Neil Turetsky), turns up to morning prayers with his granddaughter Evelyn, who has been in and out of mental institutions, convinced the young woman isn’t ill, but rather possessed by a dybbuk, a wandering evil soul. An unusual mission to organize an exorcism falls to the synagogue’s daily devotees, a handful of sharp-witted, eastern European elderly men, filled with Yiddishkeit and stories from the old countries (Avraham Schlisel, Marvin Meital, Joel Kangisser and Gerald Berman).

As the men make plans to exorcise Evelyn’s dybbuk, they joke about their good-for-nothing daughters-in-law (“May my daughter-in-law live to be 120, and may she have to live all those years in her daughter-in-law’s house”), discuss the current generation’s lack of Jewish literacy and commitment, and consider their personal theologies.

Plenty of amusing jokes are made along the way. In one conversation among three of the men discussing their burial plots, one says to the others, remarking on where his in-laws are buried, “I wouldn’t be caught dead in Cedar Lawn, let alone be buried there.”

The cast of 13, some veterans of community theater and others newcomers, express a range of religious perspectives, each undergoing his personal struggle with faith, including the synagogue’s new rabbi (Shai Litt), who is searching for spiritual meaning and belonging in the community.

A conversation about the relevancy of faith between Hirschman the Kabbalist (Zusha Mantinband), who is seeking forgiveness from his deceased father, and an atheist, a young lawyer the shamas pulls off the street to join the minyan, becomes central; the Kabbalist accuses the depressed Arthur (Mory Buckman) of being possessed, like his generation of Jews, by a dybbuk of his own, one that prevents him from believing in anything, including love.

A romantic interplay between Evelyn and Arthur occurs against the backdrop of a discussion about the decline of Orthodoxy and rise of Jews who don’t believe in or accept Judaism, says Poch, who for the first time has teamed up with the 26-yearold Jerusalem English Speaking Theater (JEST) to produce the play. Rachel Keene, chairwoman of the JEST board, says the voluntary organization is funded solely by ticket sales.

Poch’s shows previously showed at Young Judea’s Merkaz Hamagshimim, where he was the artistic director of the community center’s Center Stage Theater, but the space was closed over financial woes last year.

“The play comes out as very touching and I think the audience is going to be moved emotionally in that respect,” Poch says. “It gives you some food for thought but it sort of leaves you with the idea that there is something to believe in.”

Poch will also show The Tenth Man at the Stage One festival, a celebration of community English theater on Jewish topics held at Jerusalem’s Beit Avichai cultural center in April. Feldhamer Dubin played a couple of young women off a Jewish dating web site in the comedy Jewtopia at last year’s festival. Poch, the artistic director of Stage One, says the event was founded in part to show more Jewish-themed shows in Jerusalem.

“It’s Israel – we should be having lots of theater about Jewish content,” he says.

The Tenth Man will show at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel’s hotel auditorium Thursday night at 8 p.m., January 24 at 6 p.m., January 25 at 8 p.m. and January 26 at 8 p.m. To order tickets, call JEST at (02) 642-0908 or Bimot at (02) 623- 7000. Tickets are also available online at Tickets cost NIS 80. There is a 10 percent discount for groups of 10 people or more.

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