A Preview of Theatre Ariel’s 2023-’24 Season (Hint: The Living Room Shows Are Back)

Theatre Ariel Artistic Director Jesse Bernstein talks to the audience at a salon show last season. (Photo by Emilie Krause)

The theme for Theatre Ariel’s 33rd season is “Lost & Found,” according to press materials. As Artistic Director Jesse Bernstein explained in a promotional video, the 2023-’24 shows are about losing your sense of identity and finding it again.

It’s an experience that Theatre Ariel has gone through itself since the start of COVID in March 2020.

Before the pandemic, the theater company was known for its intimate performances/gatherings in Main Line living rooms. But COVID forced the organization to pivot to Zoom for the end of its 2019-’20 season and for its 2020-’21 schedule.

By 2021-’22 and 2022-‘23, the shows were back in person. But they had to be in bigger settings such as Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood.

Through this experience, Bernstein learned that Theatre Ariel could host shows with bigger crowds of between 50 and 60 people. But he also kept hearing from fans who wanted living room shows to return.

So in 2023-’24, the theater company will do both: larger settings for three of the four performances of each play. Living rooms for the first Sunday show.

The first play of the new season, “The Substance of Fire” by Jon Robin Baitz, premieres on Oct. 14 at Har Zion Temple. Single tickets cost $36. Season passes are $180. There are also flex passes that offer two tickets for $69, three for $99 and four for $129.

Partner/host organizations this year also include Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El, the Kaiserman JCC and the Old City Jewish Arts Center. Private residences hosting shows will be shared with ticket buyers 48 hours before the event.

“We’re able to accommodate people more on nights they want to come, and we get opportunities to bring in audiences that maybe have never encountered us before,” Bernstein said of the bigger locations.

But the living room shows are still fun, according to the artistic director.

“It’s less coming full circle than reintroducing something that was a core part of who we are and that we want to maintain as a core part of who we are,” he said.

Here’s a look at the first three shows on Theatre Ariel’s 2023-‘24 schedule. Bernstein is still looking for the fourth one.

“The Substance of Fire” by Jon Robin Baitz

Oct. 14 (8 p.m. at Har Zion), 15 (7 p.m. at private residence), 21 (8 p.m. at Kaiserman JCC), 22 (2 p.m. at The Fairmont)

Bernstein describes this play as “a Jewish ‘Succession,’” after the recently completed HBO drama about a media mogul’s power struggle with his children. In “The Substance of Fire,” a Holocaust survivor-turned-publishing executive gets into a similar conflict with his children.

“It’s about the cost of making something of yourself at the expense of how you treat your family and what happens when that is taken away from you,” Bernstein said.

“The Gett: One Woman’s Creation Myth” by Liba Vaynberg

Nov. 11 (8 p.m. at TBA), Nov. 12 (7 p.m. at private residence), Nov. 18 (8 p.m. at Old City Jewish Arts Center), Nov. 19 (1 p.m. at FolkShul)

Theatre Ariel actors perform in one of the organization’s shows. (Photo by Aaron Oster)

A Jewish woman named Ida has her gett, or her Jewish divorce document, and is ready to move on. But “she still longs for her ex,” reads the description on theatreariel.org. It also might be the first day of the world and Ida may be getting seduced by a false god.

“It’s lyrical and funny and strange and heartbreaking,” Bernstein said. “When I finished reading it, I had this ache in my gut that took me a while to shake.”

“What’s Wrong with This Picture?” by Donald Margulies

March 9 (8 p.m. at TBA), March 10 (7 p.m. at private residence), March 16 (8 p.m. at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El), March 17 (2 p.m. at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El)

A father and son are “done sitting shiva” for their wife/mother, according to theatreariel.org. The father refuses to move on. But then maybe he doesn’t have to. And perhaps that’s not a good thing.

“I thought it was a good piece for late winter. Something to make people laugh that’s also bittersweet,” Bernstein said. “A shiva gets interrupted in the oddest of ways. It’s a black comedy.”

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