While in high school in Leonia, New Jersey, Cary Gitter won a young playwright’s contest, then got to watch his show on a stage, performed by professional actors.
The experience inspired him to become a playwright. It still motivates Gitter, now 34, to write. And on Dec. 11 at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood, he got to live that experience for the first time since the pandemic began.
A team of actors performed Gitter’s romantic comedy “The Sabbath Girl” as part of Theatre Ariel’s new season. Theatre Ariel is a Main Line nonprofit that puts on intimate productions of Jewish-themed plays, usually in people’s living rooms.
But this season is playing out in public locations due to the pandemic and a desire to maintain distance, according to Founding Director Deborah Baer Mozes. Virtual performances are also part of the 2021-22 schedule.
Gitter’s play drew an audience of 30-50 people for its first Philadelphia-area appearance. The playwright himself was one of them. He came in from Ann Arbor, Michigan, for the show and, after it ended, he joined the actors at the front of the room for a Q&A.
“I was pleased,” Gitter said. “The actors did a great job.”
Audience members, most of them seniors, were pleased, too. Laughter was frequent throughout the 80-minute show, which featured an Orthodox Jewish man and an Italian woman, both in their early 30s, falling in love.
“The play was well-written,” said Marilyn Fogel of Bala Cynwyd. “It sounded real.”
Gitter first wrote the play in the summer of 2017. He was inspired by his Jewish heritage on his father’s side and his Italian heritage on his mother’s side. Artistically, he wanted to create a story that took place in New York City.
“Like the movies I love, ‘Crossing Delancey’ and Nora Ephron films,” he said. “Both funny but also heartfelt and romantic. It’s rarer on stage than in film.”
The playwright pitched the script to the Penguin Rep Theatre in Stony Point, New York, and got it produced there in the summer of 2019. By February 2020, it was debuting off-Broadway.
After a month-long run in which “The Sabbath Girl” sold out a 100-seat house, the pandemic hit and New York locked down. Gitter and his wife, who were dividing their time between New York and Ann Arbor, moved to Michigan full time, and the playwright started focusing on non-stage projects.
During the pandemic, he adapted a play into a film script, started novelizing “The Sabbath Girl” and got into television writing. But he still loves the experience that convinced him to try writing professionally in the first place.
And on Dec. 11, he got to enjoy it again.
“It feels great to have a play have a further life and different theaters pick it up,” Gitter said.