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The Golem at Your Seder?

March 29, 2012 By:
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Golem" star Griffin Stanton-Ameisen in the EgoPo Classic Theatre production. Photo by R.A. Friedman

Now this is one big matzah ball hanging out there.

The Golem is the monster mash of all monster tales, a mythological Jewish figure centuries old -- with actual origins extending some 2,000 years -- whose mud makeup was only missing a cucumber or two to qualify him as progenitor of the modern-day spa master.

Built as a protector of the Jewish people against blood libel accusations by a renegade rabbi (by one account), he is now being reconstructed in a world premiere by EgoPo Classic Theatre (www.egopo.org), starting March 29 and running to April 15 at the Prince Music Theater in Center City.

It's all part of the company's season-long Festival of Jewish Theater, with this cast-created production directed by Brenna Geffers.

A Golem in Center City? Why not? He's a world traveler, having been sighted in Prague, Vilna -- even Chelm.

Bitter herb? The Golem probably won't be attending the production but will be part of the company's events, with informal seders held before productions on April 6 and 7, coinciding with the beginning of Passover when the two nights of seders are observed.

So, what's more appropriate than to ask Lane Savadove, the company's artistic director, the Four Questions -- revised -- about his special Golem engagement and its seder stagings?

Why is this Golem different from all other Golems?

Most other Golems choose just one of the versions from history. EgoPo's Golem is a fusion of the entire history of Golem myths going back more than 500 years. Our theatrical version deals with the cultural, spiritual and artistic history of Jewish life in Europe. It is told by a group of Philadelphia's top actors and uses a host of theatrical forms from klezmer to Czech puppetry to live action. Our story is a deep investigation into the uneasy relationship between Judaism and power.

The icon of The Golem dates back centuries. He has been a monster, a protector, a servant; is he especially needed to protect Jews in the new millennium?

Judaism continues to be under threat throughout the world --the recent events in France show that Jews who choose to follow their traditional religion, no matter how private, can still become victims of hatred. Judaism is still mysterious to much of the world, even in America, and while this is still true, we need to continue to protect ourselves by opening and sharing our lives with others. Understanding and knowledge is the enemy of hatred.

At the same time, many Jews also have elements of power they did not possess in the 1500s in Eastern Europe: economically, militarily, and in terms of rights and citizenship. The Golem is also a story of how to wield our power as Jews, when we have it, with great care and circumspection. The Golem stories say that the misuse of our power is as detrimental to our race as the hatred of others.

How extensive will the seder performances be? A fully-staged seder or abbreviated, and why choose to do it?

They are an opportunity for Jewish audiences to have an unforgettable Passover that includes seeing The Golem directly after dinner. By tying together the two events, we are contextualizing the blood libel.

We are remembering that the Golem was created to protect the Jews during Passover. We are also tying together ancient Jewish stories with more modern Jewish myths. The seders are also a chance for non-Jewish audience members to receive a warm introduction to the Jewish culture, community and spirituality. We believe that by tying theater in to real audience participatory experiences, we give theater a new breath of life.

What will audiences learn from this experience?

We think our audiences will take a lot from this experience but have narrowed it down to three aspects:

One, the complexity, diversity and richness of Jewish culture and literature. For both Jews and non-Jews, this may be their first experience of Yiddish and Jewish stories and the amazing worlds they create.

Two, a chance for Jews and non-Jews to have a shared experience around Passover -- for there to be greater knowledge of Judaism, and thus greater understanding, and eventually a reduction of fear and violence. The same goal of the Golem myth. The idea of sharing culture is extremely important to us and we believe is beneficial to our Philadelphia community.

And finally, three, to have a great night at the theater that is entertaining and memorable, as well as a new way to celebrate Passover.

 

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