By NICHOLAS HAMBURGER, Special to the CCJN
The Jewish Women’s Theatre, a Santa Monica-based theatre group, will perform The Matzo Ball Diaries at Shir Chadash Conservative Synagogue tonight in Metairie.
The show begins at 7:30 p.m., marking the fifth leg of the theater group’s week-long “Southern Tour,” which the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life coordinated.
Founded in 2008, the Jewish Women’s Theatre aims to give “voice to contemporary Jewish stories in America.” The non-profit organization commissions and receives stories from Jewish writers before adapting the narratives to the stage: each performance is a compilation of short pieces centered around a common theme but authored by different writers.
“We are the intersection between story-telling and theater,” Ronda Spinak, the artistic director of the Jewish Women’s Theatre, said in a phone interview with the Crescent City Jewish News last week.
The Jewish Women’s Theatre is also notable for its salon-style productions — the theater does not use sets, props, or costumes. “We don’t need a theater,” Spinak continued. “We can perform in a synagogue, or a home, or an art gallery. Part of what that does is laser-focus people on each story.”
After convening in Atlanta last weekend, the touring group inaugurated their six-state “Southern Tour” with a performance last Sunday at a synagogue in Columbus, Georgia. Before appearing at Shir Chadash in Metairie, the Jewish Women’s Theatre will also have made stops in Tallahassee, Pensacola, and Mobile.
Following Thursday night’s performance in Metairie, they will conclude the trip with final performances in Jackson, Memphis Nashville and Knoxville.
Prior to the tour, the theater offered its host organizations a choice between two of its more successful shows: The Art of Forgiveness and The Matzo Ball Diaries. The Art of Forgiveness, Spinak said, is “slightly more serious” than The Matzo Ball Diaries, which is characterized by its lightness and humor.
According to Spinak, The Matzo Ball Diaries consists of various stories focusing on food or domestic life, including a piece on Persian-Jewish culinary culture; on kreplach, kanoogle, and kannishes; and on chinaware — the last being written by none other than Rabbi Deborah Silver, the spiritual leader of Shir Chadash.
While the “Southern Tour” is the first of its kind for the organization, the Jewish Women’s Theatre has nevertheless traveled extensively in the past, taking individual shows to locations like the 92nd Street Y in New York and the Jewish Community Center in Rochester. The theater also puts on productions across Los Angeles, from South Bay to the Pacific Palisades.
Spinak said her inspiration for founding a theater came while completing her master’s thesis, which focused on Constance Lloyd, the wife of Oscar Wilde. Wilde’s mother was famous for hosting literary salons in her London home — referred to as “at homes” — and it was at one of these gatherings that Lloyd and Wilde had met. Spinak liked the concept of an “at home,” and soon applied it to her nascent theater company.
“ I said that I would create a season of shows in homes, and I would call it ‘At Home Salon Theater,’” she said. “We began to create a subscriber base.” Though the initial company quickly disbanded, the Jewish Women’s Theatre continues to operate with the same model, adapting its performances to a variety of spaces. “We performed in a thrift store in Los Angeles last June,” Spinak notes.
One feature of the theater that hasn’t endured is the exclusive use of stories written by women. “Now it’s mixed,” Spinak said. “In fact, sometimes we have more male voices than female in a show.” In order to reflect this shift, the theater company intends to change its name in the near future to a “more inclusive” moniker.
Tickets to tonight’s event are available through Shir Chadash, which can be reached via telephone at 504-889-1144. For more information, the synagogue can also be contacted by email at email@example.com.