Word play

Like the legendary Broadway stars of the 1930s, Corey Fischer and Naomi Newman have lit up the local stage for more than a quarter-century.

Among the co-founders of Traveling Jewish Theatre, the two not only pioneered one of San Francisco’s most revered theater ensembles, they’ve also starred, separately and together, in scores of TJT productions over the years.

It’s been a while since both performed in tandem, but with Traveling Jewish Theatre now celebrating its 25th anniversary, Fischer and Newman are back on the boards again. They co-star in a new production, “Windows & Mirrors,” which opens next week.

They’re not the only ones pairing up for the play. “Windows & Mirrors” marks a new collaboration between TJT and another beloved Bay Area institution, Word for Word.

Founded in 1993, Word for Word performs classic and contemporary works of short fiction in their entirety, preserving every comma, period and quotation mark of the author’s original text. Actors recite both dialogue and narrative.

For “Windows & Mirrors,” the two companies selected four short stories by three Jewish writers to be performed, as advertised, word for word.

They include “Wants” and “Conversations with My Father,” both by Grace Paley, “Spring Rain” by Bernard Malamud and “Finkelstein’s Fingers” by contemporary German Jewish writer Maxim Biller.

Undeniable masterworks all, but why these four?

Says Fischer: “Because it was the 25th anniversary season, we wanted to do a project in which Naomi and I could act in, since we haven’t acted together in a while. We also wanted works by Jewish writers with Jewish content, and finally, we wanted stories that would lend themselves to a life on stage.”

The first act consists of the Paley and Malamud stories. Though neither deals head-on with screamingly obvious Jewish plot points, Jewish audiences will get the message nonetheless.

“Paley and Malamud are the great modern Jewish story writers,” notes Newman. “These stories are connected in that all take place in New York City, and all have a clear Jewish voice in the cadence of the writing, as well as the sensibilities, attitudes and references of the characters. They’re very familiar.”

The avant-garde Biller story makes up Act II, and though the author’s name may not ring a bell, Newman hopes this co-production will change that.

“In the German cultural scene, he’s considered a real enfant terrible, a provocateur,” she says. “It’s a challenging story that examines attitudes of post-modern people toward the Holocaust.”

Because of the surprise ending, neither Newman nor Fischer wants to say much more about “Finklestein’s Fingers” other than, “Get your tickets now!”

Both actors think TJT fans will appreciate the cross-generational quality of “Windows & Mirrors.” Two young actors, Karine Koret and Michael Smith, co-star with veterans Fischer and Newman.

“Karine has been in a number of projects with us,” says Fischer. “She was in our very first training program six years ago. Michael is a very talented young actor with a wonderful flair for this kind of work.”

Co-directing the play are two Word for Word mainstays, artistic co-director JoAnne Winter and Z Space artistic director David Dower.

“I always enjoy collaborative work,” says Newman. “I admire [Word for Word], partly because I’m a lover of literature and because they developed a very original style in bringing their work to the stage.”

Adds Fischer: “The magic of language has always been part of our theater, and basic to Jewish culture. So much of Jewish culture and religious practice is wrapped up with the word, with the sound of language.”

As for reaching TJT’s 25th anniversary milestone, both Fischer and Newman agree: It’s a miracle.

“We actually built something that can be passed on,” says an exultant Fischer, “and in doing so, TJT will keep changing. This is not a rigid institution but a constantly evolving enterprise.”

“When we first started, we didn’t think we were going to be a company,” adds Newman. “It went beyond my wildest dreams.”

“Windows & Mirrors: Stories by Paley, Malamud and Biller” will be performed 8 p.m., Thursdays-Saturdays, and 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays, Oct. 12-Nov. 2, Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida, S.F.; Nov. 6-9 at the Julia Morgan Theater, 2640 College Ave., Berkeley. $20-$30 adults; $18-$24 students/seniors.

Information: (415) 285-8080.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.