Jewish themes at Fringe Festival

 

With more than 130 shows — everything from puppet theater to one-woman confessionals, burlesque to hip-hop, comedies, musicals, dramas, improvisation, poetry and, yes, even mime — the eighth annual Capital Fringe Festival, July 11-28, offers something for virtually anyone, from theater appropriate for young audiences to the bawdiest of adult comedy and burlesque, heavy-duty drama and historically based musical theater. This annual takeover of nearly 20 performing spaces in downtown Washington, D.C., brings 738 performances to adventurous theatergoers and newcomers alike.

Each year, this self-produced festival, which returns 60 percent of box office earnings to the artists themselves, surprises, delights, frustrates, provokes and entertains with its wildly eclectic assortment of performances. Each year, too, among the self-selected presenting artists are invariably a cadre of Jewishly themed works. This year is no exception.

From the emerging theater company Field Trip Theatre comes playwright Liz Maestri’s Fallbeil, a drama that spans a half a century and tells the story of two young women faced with mortality — one confronting Nazi Germany, the other faced with the ongoing Middle East conflict.

Drawing from the Hebrew Bible, playwright and Bureau of Labor Statistics bureaucrat Jason Ford retells the story of Jonah and the whale in his Jonah Dove. He sees it as a story of guilt and a dysfunctional family updated to 21st-century Washington. “As we go through life, whether or not we’re believers,” said Ford, who attends Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, while his wife belongs to Ohr Kodesh in Chevy Chase, “we all feel the pull of our conscious.” For him that makes Jonah Dove relevant today. Ford adds that the play has its humorous side, too, and describes it as perfect for anyone who feels guilt or has problems with their relatives.

Among this year’s Fringe, 32 of the shows are by solo performers, including Lee J. Kaplan’s Bully, which was inspired by re-reading his sixth-grade journal entries. The piece puts him in a boxing ring to fight for his life and stand up to the bullies of his past.

Jerusalem-born and-raised storyteller Noa Baum brings her lively, warm and inspiring Impossible to Translate But I’ll Try —True-Life Israeli Stories to this year’s Fringe. Called the “Middle Eastern Garrison Keillor,” Baum talks about growing up in a beautiful but contested place, a place where everyone has an opinion about everything and about how life there is so much like its national fruit, the sabra, prickly on the outside, sweet within.

Laura Zam’s solo show, Married Sex, is a journey of self-discovery that begins with her understanding of the child sexual abuse she experienced as a 4-year-old growing up in a middle-class Brooklyn neighborhood. The District-based playwright and performer, who previously explored her mother’s experience during the Holocaust in Collaterally Damaged, said, “I became really fascinated by trauma and by trauma healing and by misconceptions I feel about what is healing, especially in terms of sexual violence.” In Married Sex, the audience travels with Zam in a journey to uncover the nature and reason for her sexual dysfunction. Along the way, she and viewers meet an insane hypnotist, a jet-setting mistress, a cynical sex therapist, a horny rabbi and a whole assortment of oddball characters.

Actor Pat O’Brien plays a reclusive librarian who uncovers a book 123 years overdue that leads him on a quest to discover the quintessential wandering Jew archetype in Glen Berger’s popular Underneath the Lintel. The comic but topical Black Jew Dialogues deals bluntly and boldly with racial stereotypes both groups carry about themselves and one another. Written and performed by Larry J. Tish and Ron Jones, it’s a rollicking and provocative dive into the chitlin and chopped liver circuit.

And, finally, while there might not be much Jewish material in 1814! The War of 1812 Rock Opera, at its creative core are two nice Jewish boys — Dave Israel, a Goddard space communications engineer (and former punk rocker), and David Dudley, a magazine editor. The piece, featuring a five-piece band, three dancers, an ensemble of singers and more, retells the story of the original British invasion, the War of 1812, as a 1970s rock and roll spectacle. For Israel, who lived for a time near Fort McHenry, the home, of course, of “The Star Spangled Banner,” said that each year he would have a party to celebrate the events leading up to the writing of the national anthem.

“I must say,” he added, “the annual telling of the story is kind of like the annual Passover seder. One of my goals was that people should know the story.” That his medium is a rock musical rather than a history tome, well, that’s beside the point.

The Capital Fringe Festival runs July 11-28, in 19 venues throughout the District. Single tickets are $17 plus a one-time purchase of a Fringe button (cost of the button is $5 till midnight on July 11; $7 after July 11). Multi-show passes range from $30 to $300. Tickets can be bought online at CapitalFringe.org or by phone at 866-811-4111 or at the Fort Fringe box office: 607 New York Ave., N.W., in the District. For a full schedule of the shows mentioned above, visit www.CapitalFringe.org.