It only took 25 years, but Deborah Baer Mozes will finally get to see her favorite play take the stage as part of her Theatre Ariel’s Salon Ariel series, which allows the audience to experience Jewish theater through intimate settings and conversations about the play with the actors.
The season’s first salon opens with the regional premiere of the award-winning Israeli play, Apples from the Desert.
The play, by Savyon Liebrecht, will be performed on Oct. 24, 25, 31 and Nov. 1. It is the story of a young Orthodox girl who secretly explores the secular world and becomes friends with a young man from a Negev kibbutz.
Mozes, the artistic founding director of Theatre Ariel, said Apples from the Desert is one of her favorite short stories, and she is thrilled to open the series with an Israeli play, something the theater hasn’t done in several years. Many years ago, she said, Liebrecht did a dramatic reading of the play at Theatre Ariel, and they have performed the play as a short story and dramatic reading a handful of times since then.
“I think it’s a fascinating play because it looks at a lot of issues in contemporary Israel through the family drama,” she said. “For me, it’s very exciting to come back and re-inhabit the lives of these characters, but now in the form of a play as opposed to a dramatic reading.”
Apples from the Desert has been produced in several countries all over the world, including Germany, Turkey, Sweden, Poland, Romania, Austria, the Philippines and the United States. It was also made into an Israeli film in 2014.
The other salons will debut in December, February and May, showing two Jewish plays and closing the series with a set of short plays — one minute, 10 minutes and 18 minutes long, respectively — representing significant numbers in the Jewish tradition.
Mozes said she looks for plays with rich content to engage her audience, and an integral part of the salon experience is to provide attendees with “the kind of substance that when the curtain comes down, people are going to want to talk about it.”
“It’s not entertainment for just the pure sake of entertainment — there is something to have a conversation about,” she added.
Most of the performances are acted in the style of dramatic readings, almost concert-style. There is no background or scenery, so the actors perform from concert stands in a small,
intimate setting in people’s homes. It’s all about the actors and the words, nothing else, which allows the audiences’ imaginations to wander and explore.
“People love the bare-boned aspect, that they really get to hear the script, and experience the script in a personal way,” she said. “The roots of theater are in
storytelling, and so in many ways the salon experience allows people to go back to those roots.”
She added that some people even forget the actors are standing and performing right next to them because they are so engaged with the story and the characters.
Mozes said a key aspect of the Salon Ariel series that sets the theater apart from others is the post-show dialogue. This year, she’s taking a slightly different approach and discussing what makes a play a Jewish play.
“I’m looking at the lens of what is Jewish theater from a slightly different angle so I can engage my audience in a conversation about what is a Jewish play and what is Jewish theater,” she said.
And as for those post-show conversations, Mozes said they are a real crowd pleaser. Between the audience, actors and playwrights, she said they all agree on the same thing.
“My audiences are people who aren’t just people who like to go to the theater but people who are really interested in talking about what they see,” she said. They crave that intellectual stimulation, making it a distinctive way to experience theater.
After 25 years, Mozes still emphasizes the significance of experiencing theater this way. When she first started in this industry, she said there were many Jewish theaters all across the country. Philadelphia also became an important city for Yiddish theater at one point, but that hasn’t been the case for almost a century.
“Here we are with one of the largest Jewish communities in the U.S. — and we didn’t have a Jewish theater!” she exclaimed.
She saw the need for Jewish theater because the stories that are within your own culture are usually more important stories to be performed on the stage, at least from an artist’s point of view.
And for Mozes, she certainly found her story.
“Judaism was becoming an increasingly important part of my life,” she said. “I actually at one point even toyed with becoming a rabbi, and realized I already had a bimah, and that bimah was the theater.”