Surprises along the way

American writer-actor Sarah Brown’s solo show is just one of the varied offerings coming up at Jaffa’s Theatronetto Festival this month.

Sarah Brown 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Sarah Brown 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If you’re going to put on a one-person show about identity, Bloodshed, Miracles, Deliverance, Good Food! is as good a name as any. The show is basically about an American Jewish woman riding on a camel in a Jordanian desert looking for the road to hell. There is also a modicum of romantic intrigue, as the woman develops something of a fixation on a mysterious tour guide.
The solo production will be performed at the Theatronetto Festival by American writer-actor Sarah Brown, and directed by David Kaye, who is currently spending a semester at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Like Brown, he is a Fulbright Scholar.
Someone in the organizing team obviously knows how to add up because, for the festival’s 21st edition, there are exactly 21 productions in the festival program. The agenda includes premieres for adults and for children, one-person plays from abroad and one-person guest productions.
As each year, six of the shows for adults will compete for the Nissim Azikri Best Production award, including Klumnikit (“Nothing Woman”) performed by Tal Levy and directed by Rotem Keinan; Nehmodet (“Cutie”) starring Yael Toker and directed by Itzik Weingarten, and Tze’adim (“Steps”) acted by Roni Grunstein and directed by Yadin Goldman.
Meanwhile, four of the items on the children’s bill will vie for Best Production in their category, including Samir Veyonatan by Daniella Carmi, performed by Yogev Yeffet and directed by Sivan Handelsman, and Mouse Soup, based on the award-winning book of that name written by late American children’s book author Arnold Lobel, and performed and directed by Alon Goren.
The list of six guest productions covers extensive topical terrain and includes the opening slot of the festival, with Hamarkid (“The Dance Instructor”) by Yoav Bartel, Mishpat Pollard (“The Pollard Trial”) by the Cameri Theater and performed by Rami Baruch, and a production of My First Sony, 15 years after the play was first performed and nine years after the highly successful TV series based on the book by Benny Barbash.
The Theatronetto program also features five imports, including The Seven Samurai by American actor David Gaines, a riotous mime-based lampoon of the eponymous Japanese cinematic masterpiece; Mouche, a dark love story by South African performer Timothy Redpath, and the evocatively titled Bloodshed, Miracles, Deliverance, Good Food! Brown, who currently earns part of her bread teaching acting at the University of Memphis, appears to be doing some identity searching during her yearlong sojourn at the University of Haifa, teaching solo performance, commedia and improvisation. Her cultural-religious identity has plenty of facets to it.
Her surname notwithstanding, the 40-something actress hails from a Jewish family, originally called Bronstein. She spent the first years of her life in southern California before the family relocated to Texas.
“My mother was a director and she got a job there, so we moved,” the actress explains simply, adding that her mother was born a Baptist, converted and subsequently immersed herself in Judaism.
“Her great-grandmother was Jewish, so there is a strong link to Judaism there too,” says Brown.
But Brown isn’t in Israel simply to impart some of her thespian experience and skills to budding local actors. She has a strong, and partly tragic, bond with this country.
“My older brother Jim was here on a kibbutz in 1971 and he was on a trip, climbing up Masada when he suddenly experienced heart problems.”
The initial cardiac difficulties disappeared, but Jim developed leg pains and was subsequently diagnosed with terminal bone cancer. He died at the age of 21.
Like many American Jews, Brown was brought up with a strong sense of allegiance to Israel and the idealism that evolved here.
“My parents showed me the map, how small Israel is and how all the enemy countries surround it, and how the Israelis have cultivated the desert – sort of the Zionist dream thing. Israel was always important to my family.”
Now that Brown has finally made it here herself, she has the opportunity to reconcile some of that formative parental education, and the ambiance of the liberal Jewish community amid which she grew up in Sacramento Valley, with the real thing here in the Promised Land.
It was when her family moved to Houston, when Brown was in her last year of high school, that all of that took on a new perspective.
“I wasn’t surrounded by Jews in Houston. Suddenly, I was ‘the other,’ and people found my Jewishness kind of interesting. I had to get out of California to realize I was ‘the other.’” That change in context has spawned some artistic endeavor.
“I wrote a lot of comedy monologues out that. One was about a teacher named Miss Bishop, who was just the sweetest bigot. She came from such an ignorant place that you didn’t know whether you loved her or hated her. But you couldn’t hate her because she didn’t mean anything. That was my first comedy monologue.”
Brown also wrote a play called The Serf of Tidworth, which is based on a text which Shakespeare might have written had his work not been censored by Queen Elizabeth.
“It’s about an ingenious serf who invents a remarkable flying machine based on the sketches of Leonardo da Vinci’s imagined Ornithopter,” she explains.
The actress has has also written a couple of Jewish plays.
Testimony of Selma Goldberg is about a Kindertransport refugee from Berlin who goes back in time in her mind to kill Hitler, and The Abby Waxman Show is based on a larger-than-life character who Brown describes as “a zany, sweet, lost-yetfound Orthodox Jewish woman living in New York by herself.
“I could portray lots of things through The Abby Waxman Show, because that wasn’t about me. It was about this real Orthodox Jewish woman.”
But Bloodshed, Miracles, Deliverance, Good Food! is a far more personal work and, importantly, was created here.
“Coming to Israel, seeing how beautiful it is, and the more complex sides challenged me in many ways,” says Brown. “It placed a question mark over whether I am really Jewish if, for example, I don’t keep one of the 613 commandments.”
There is more personal tragedy that bonds Brown to this part of the world, and which found its way into the new production.
“My other brother, Tony, died in a car accident about a year and a half ago. When I went through his things, I found his bar mitzva prayer shawl, and I had no idea that was so important to him. He was supposed to come with me to Israel on this trip and I brought the prayer shawl here with me.
“That’s also in the play, but I don’t want people to think the play is about me. I have made up different things, but it just made sense that this woman grapples with certain things to make sense of her journey.”
The emotive baggage notwithstanding, Bloodshed, Miracles, Deliverance, Good Food! is not a death-anddoom production; far from it.
“There’s comedy and reggae and other music in the play,” says Brown. “I think people will get a kick out of it, and there are a few surprises along the way.”
Bloodshed, Miracles, Deliverance, Good Food! will be performed on April 23, at 8 p.m. at the Hasimta Theater in Jaffa. The Theatronetto Festival takes place in Old Jaffa between April 21 and 23. To order tickets, call (09) 894-5957.