Miraculously, we did find each other. She's tiny--about four feet ten--a strikingly beautiful seventy-year-old with enough energy and drive to launch an independent theatre company when everyone said she couldn't, raise four children, act, direct, produce, and keep going long past midnight. As my friend Bob used to say about this type of petite woman, "a pocket rocket."
So as of tonight I've been here 24 hours and I got to sleep in all morning, and then spent the day hanging out in the well-appointed gym of the Jewish Community Center where the Jewish Ensemble Theatre (JET) is housed. Evelyn Orbach wrangled an executive pass for me, in her pocket rocket way, which meant access to the posh dressing room, with the sauna, schvitz, and what the Russian attendant called the "veelple" (whirlpool).
"Vould you like to use de veelple?"
Yes, I would. I would like to do forty lazy lengths of the Olympic sized pool, which is heated to a perfect temperature, and where I have a lane all to myself, and then enjoy the veelple afterwards, and then slather my body with free moisturizing lotion and spend the rest of the afternoon drinking coffee and reading a year-old "O" Magazine about loving your body as is (where I learn that carrying a little excess weight might actually delay menopause, so maybe I shouldn't be in too big a rush to re-lose these extra ten pounds.)
I change into my good jeans, and the nice black shirt with the fancy embroidery I bought at the Community Thrift Store in San Francisco for nine dollars and low heels and even a little make-up. And then Masankho shows up, looking exhausted but smiling broadly, and we are in West Bloomfield, Michigan, where the economy is seriously depressed because of the death thrashings of the American auto industry, and Saying Kaddish has its first of two staged readings and it goes great! The audience laughs and sighs and makes all those satisfying audience noises in the right places. The cast is very good. The actress playing Oprah looks like a bigger Anna Deavere Smith--same heart-shaped face and intelligent radiant presence.
It's interesting to hear the dialogue spit out passionately with an overlay of mid-Western accent. Somehow, it works very well, grounds the family in the heartland. This Lydia is a red-haired spitfire, very funny, strong presence. I love her. Rahel has a soulful quality, especially in the scene where she fights with God, and pitch-perfect Hebrew.
The scene where the mother and father kiss for the first time as teenagers is especially tender. I don't remember that kiss being so powerful in any of the other readings. Later, the actor who plays the father, tells me he re-lived his first kiss in that scene, a kiss that happened more than fifty years ago when he was a teenage waitor summering in the Catskills.
The second act drags a bit. I can hear places that need editing, and some awkward transitions. The ending is poignant and brings tears to my eyes.
Afterwards, Masankho, Evelyn, and I sit around her kitchen table and drink tea and talk. There's footage on TV about the freeway collapse in Oakland. It looks bad--twisted smoking metal and construction worker guys with masks over their grim faces. I'm afraid of how this may mess up Bay Area commuting, which is already a major hassle, and even hurt the economy back home. It makes me aware of how fragile everything is, our circumstances, luck and smoke.
We sit around Evelyn's kitchen table, in the house with Chagall paintings on the walls, talking about theatre, about writing, diversity, drumming, improvisation, friendship, persistance, and plane schedules. Evelyn has told me about a Federation of Jewish theatres which I should join. I will. My play belongs in that world, with the other verbose, melancholy, questioning, arguing Jewish writers and actors and directors, the overly-intense, overly-sensitive, funny-sad theatre folk. I don't mind the prospect of more editing, another rewrite. I want this play to work as well as it can.