As curtain falls on TJT, we feel the loss

The phrase “end of an era” is often bandied about too casually, too cavalierly. However, when it comes to the demise of the Jewish Theatre (formerly A Traveling Jewish Theatre), we can accurately call it the end of an era.

The venerable San Francisco theater company closes its doors for good with a final performance, “34 Years in One Night,” which will take place at its Florida Street facility on May 14.

We are deeply sorry to see TJT go.

Over its 31⁄2 decades, TJT created bold, highly original Jewish works for the stage, many of them written in-house by the company’s founders and their artistic heirs.

We look back fondly on such memorable productions as “The Last Yiddish Poet,” “See Under: Love,” “Blood Relative” and the occasional repertory work, above all TJT’s unforgettable 2007 staging of “Death of a Salesman.”

This was never safe theater. Founders Corey Fischer, Naomi Newman and Albert Greenberg, along with artistic director Aaron Davidman, had no interest in tepid pleasantries or banal ethnic kitsch. From the start, TJT mined the essence of Jewish culture, faith and history to tell compelling stories.

Sometimes, utilizing puppets, masks and music, those stories unfolded dreamlike or childlike. Other times they brought us uncomfortably close to hard truths we’d rather have kept at a distance. But TJT always made the audience think or laugh or cry. Sometimes all three.

Like many nonprofits in recent years, especially those in the arts, TJT struggled to stay afloat in a poor economy. With donations down, it grew increasingly difficult for the theater to sustain itself. Finally, the board had no choice but to shut TJT down.

In recent months we have witnessed the closing of the Contra Costa JCC, and a pronounced downsizing of the Holocaust Center of Northern California, institutions once believed too important to fail.

And now TJT. It shows that some Jewish institutions, even ones seemingly invulnerable, can face insurmountable financial challenges. Not all survive.

But there’s something especially painful about losing the one exclusively Jewish theater in the Bay Area. True, Jewish stories will continue to be told on other stages, but TJT was our stage, and we will miss it.

It’s been said before on this page and elsewhere, but it bears repeating: If we want our Jewish agencies and institutions to survive, we must financially support them.

Farewell to the Jewish Theatre. Thanks for the memories. You done good.