Back to School | Playwright takes JCHS class and runs with it

Jake Rosenberg didn’t mean to become a playwright; he saw himself directing movies. But when the sophomore began crafting scenes in a beginning playwriting class at Jewish Community High School of the Bay, a new direction came into sharp focus.

The tip-off came with the first assignment: Write a short scene.  “Everyone was struggling, and I was done in five minutes,” said the 17-year-old, who is entering his senior year at the San Francisco school. “It came really, really naturally.” In his broadly comic scene, two brothers argue over who gets their late father’s watch.

As the semester went on, the assignments became more complex, more challenging — and, for Rosenberg, more enjoyable.

Rosenberg’s enviable resume is rapidly growing, with credits on both sides of the pond. San Francisco’s Thunderbird Theatre Co. performed his full-length play “The Scotland Company,” which was a finalist in Young Playwrights Inc., the national contest founded by Stephen Sondheim.

The Kentfield resident’s “The Big Ass Russian Novel” was one of eight short plays read at this year’s Marin Young Playwrights Festival in March, and “Pitch Slap” was a finalist in the Young Playwrights Project at PlayGround, the Bay Area playwriting incubator.

Jake Rosenberg (left) in “Anything Goes” at Jewish Community High School of the Bay

Next summer, it’s off to Scotland for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and likely the National Theatre of London’s young playwrights festival.

On top of all that, Rosenberg is also an accomplished performer: In 2012 he received the San Jose Stage Top Honor Award for best supporting actor as Moonface Martin in the JCHS production of “Anything Goes,” the Cole Porter classic.

“I love to be in musicals,” he said. “It’s super fun, big fun. You get to make crazy faces and run all around the stage.”

His most recent coup: winner of the Producers Club Short Play Contest in New York. “The Big Ass Russian Novel” emerged on top after a three-day run at the Producers Club in Times Square, where it was judged along with four other finalists. Rosenberg’s play was directed by Richard Kline (“Larry” on the old sitcom “Three’s Company”), winner of the L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award for his direction of Noel Coward’s “Present Laughter.” Kline called the teenager’s play “an engaging farce” and Rosenberg said Kline is “really cool. He has a precise understanding of the sight comedy.”

The play sends up all the giants of classic Russian novels. The challenge was to “distill all the heady literature into single lines,” Rosenberg said.“ It’s melodramatic, but on the other hand, it’s perfect for comedy.”

The stars aligned this summer for Rosenberg. “Big Ass” demanded he be in Manhattan for the flurry of constant readings and rehearsals. No problem: Rosenberg was in the city anyway for the NYU Tisch School of the Arts dramatic writing program.

In the fall, he will take JCHS’ first-ever advanced playwriting class. In an interview with Ravsak, the network for Jewish day schools, Rosenberg noted that “without JCHS, I’d probably never have even considered playwriting. The playwriting class I took as a sophomore was not only inspiring and educative and all you’d expect from a literature class, but also really surprising.  …  JCHS helps me with my playwriting every single day.”

In addition to being exceptionally well read for his age, Rosenberg takes full advantage of every resource the school makes available, said teacher Dylan Russell, who is also a playwright, director, Equity actress and JCHS arts department chair.

“I present a wide range of opportunities,” Randall said. “He has seized every one.”

And he possesses a rare gift: Comedy comes to him naturally. That alone could inspire teeth-grinding envy among comedy writers.

But in the past year, Rosenberg has probed to find the character beneath the comedy, Russell said.

“He has such an amazing combination of passion, drive, maturity, and the ability to be articulate in a way that develops character,” she said. “Over the past year I’ve seen a growth spurt resulting in a depth and richness that is glorious to see.” n


Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a freelance writer.