Jewish Women’s Theatre’s (JWT) celebrates today’s multicultural Jews in its new salon show True Colors, that premiered May 4 at The Braid in Santa Monica.
JWT artistic director Ronda Spinak says, “Jewish Women’s Theatre’s new True Colors gallery show and salon performances spotlight the experiences of Jews of Color. Using different media to tell poignant and personal stories, our audiences engages with emotionally moving displays of questioning and feeling like outsiders. The creators of the artworks and stories share their personal insights in some of the most creative ways Jewish Women’s Theatre audiences have ever seen or heard. These are poignant and moving stories of questioning, of feeling like the outsider, of committing to Judaism…quintessential and universal Jewish stories!”
And indeed, that is very true of the exceptional writing and performances by all who played a role in delivering True Colors, a gem—a Tour de force—that is one of the best JWT offerings to date, and a hard act to follow, but I have no doubt they will rise to the challenge and continue to bring more of the same standard to privileged Los Angeles theater patrons.
In True Colors, audiences meet unforgettable characters who tell personal stories about how they see themselves and how others see them. Ironically, while many American Jews can reach consensus about a commitment to social justice for others, they do not always embrace diversity in their own community. Today’s American Jewish community was created by the twists and turns of history. It was nourished by the ethnic, racial and cultural diversity of a myriad of worldwide Jewish identities and experiences. This enlightening show explores the impact of living as Jews of Color when inclusion and equity are not always practiced in the Jewish Community.
In True Colors, audiences hear the story of a daughter of a Jewish mother and a Black/Chinese father and how she was taught to embrace her diversity, and have confidence that the world would embrace it as well. They will learn of a young man of a Jewish and Chinese descent who has to make a painful decision: to call out a racist boss and forfeit a job for which he’s worked his whole life to get, or to stay quiet.
Eric Greene, a writer and civil rights activist of African American, Native American and European descent, who is a consultant and co-producer on True Colors, says, “The show is about resilience, self-respect, and celebrating the many colors and voices in our community. I would like the Jews of Color to know that there are versions of their experience that others have shared and they can feel a little less alone. And I would like the Ashkenazi Jews who come to have a greater understanding of the diversity and beauty and complexity of the Jewish community. To understand that Jews of Color are part of the community and that they can take their rightful place in the community alongside everyone else.” He says, “I think that the Jewish community has forgotten its ethnic diversity; it’s forgotten its own history. The Talmud was written in Iraq and ancient Israel. None of the people who were writing the Talmud looked like Jerry Seinfeld. These would have been brown-skinned Jews.”
“We’ve always been inclusive at JWT, welcoming and embracing every kind of diversity in our audience, our writers, and the actors on our stage,” says JWT’s Producing Director Susan Morgenstern. “All people face challenges and struggles, while striving to find the joy and meaning of our lives. The stories in True Colors, ostensibly about Jews who feel “different,” remind us how very much alike we are. It’s a great privilege to bring these stories to life at JWT.”
All the stories are interesting, thought provoking, and superbly rendered. Many, though painful, are threaded with humor. There is a story about the daughter of a Korean Buddhist mother and a White Jewish father who was challenged by classmates for wearing a Jewish star. “I’m just as Jewish as anyone and I’m gonna show you how Jewish I am,” she declared as a young girl and she fulfilled her declaration, becoming the senior rabbi at Manhattan’s Central Synagogue. On the other hand, a young African-American man loved being the only Jew of Color in his community. It made him feel special and exotic. Invited to a Shabbat dinner for Jews of Color forced him to reconcile the joy of newfound community with the loss of presumed uniqueness.
It was obvious from the get-go that the cast is absolutely in sync, enjoying each other’s stories with empathy.
Jews of Color face new sets of challenges when they leave urban enclaves and settle in “White islands.” A Black Jew’s visit to her synagogue taught her the love and acceptance of Bakersfield, Hanukah style. A Latina Jewish woman learns she doesn’t have to choose between culture or religion. She could be both/and instead of either/or. And a woman who was adopted from a White Jewish mother and African-American father experiences a complex mixture of love and disdain from her White Jewish family. Even at synagogue, fellow congregants could not believe she was Jewish, and often directed her to the kitchen thinking she was one of the help.
One of the most popular features of salon performances at Jewish Women’s Theatre actually takes place after the shows. This is when audiences get a chance to ask questions of the show’s authors, actors or production staff members. It is one thing to see a personal story on stage, but it is even more engaging and educational to be able to ask these artists questions about their motivation or methods.
Opening night featured a reception and art talk with some of the artists prior to the 8pm performance of True Colors. Additional art talks will be held on Monday, May 13 and Tuesday, May 14 at 6:30pm prior to the 7:30pm salon performance. There is no charge for the gallery shows, but tickets are required for the salon shows.
All photography by Jan Burns.
JWT’s The Braid, voted one of the “Best Live Theaters on the Westside” two years in a row by The Argonaut, stages original dramatic performances, contemporary art exhibits, classes, and other events showcasing the diverse community of writers, artists and creators who celebrate Jewish life, one story at a time.
Cast: Kimberly Green, Joshua Silverstein, Brie Eley, Heidi Mendez, and Katherine Washington, who also sang and performed beautifully on violin.
All photography by Jan Burns.
True Colors premiered at The Braid, JWT’s performance and art space on May 4 and will travel to the Westside, the San Fernando Valley, the Fairfax District and the South Bay, with newly added dates, until May 21. Pre-sale tickets are $45, $50 at the door and available: here