Curtain rises on Jewish readers theater

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Think you know everything about “Fiddler on the Roof”? Maybe so, but ever heard of “Tevya and His Daughters,” the play that helped inspire the story of “Fiddler”?

Theatre Chevruta, a brand-new Jewish readers’ theater based at the Addison-Penzak JCC in Los Gatos, will soon bring the lesser-known play to light.

Doug Brook

The theater, spearheaded by JCC program director Rabbi James Greene and local thespian Doug Brook, is launching its premiere season next weekend with “Tevya and His Daughters,” a play that ran off-Broadway in the 1950s.

The theater will present staged readings of plays with Jewish themes, grouped around a different concept each season. First up is “A Taste of Yiddish Theater,” with “Tevya” as the kick-off.

“We wouldn’t have much of Broadway as we know it without Yiddish theater,” explained Brook, an actor, director and playwright who has studied Jewish text and moonlights as a Jewish educator. “One of our goals is to do shows that aren’t quite in the mainstream, but have real cultural and social worth.”

“Tevya” will be presented with a cast of 10 at 8 p.m. Dec. 7 and 2 p.m. Dec. 8 at the JCC, with an audience “talkback” after the matinee. The play by Arnold Perl is based on Sholom Aleichem’s original stories and was chosen in part to help commemorate next year’s 50th anniversary of “Fiddler on the Roof,” Brook said.

He cautioned that future shows might not be as familiar to audiences, and that some might be considered controversial — such as the March 2014 production of “God of Vengeance” by Sholem Asch. The entire original cast was arrested after the Yiddish play’s Broadway opening in 1923. All the better to inspire discussion, said Brook.

“Theatre is an exploration of culture, entertainment and ideas, shared by the audience and performers,” explains the theater’s mission statement. “Chevruta is an exploration of the Talmud, shared by two people. Theatre Chevruta lets audiences and performers explore important, entertaining, and often unfamiliar offerings of Jewish theatre.”

As for the benefits of doing staged readings — fully cast, fully rehearsed performances in which actors have scripts in hand and wear no costumes — Brook said a reading allows participants and audiences to “focus on the text.”

“Staged readings are often used for new works, and that’s in part because it allows you to really delve into the words and the acting without the spectacle of costumes, etc.,” he said. “It’s intimate.”

In addition to being an instructor at congregations Sinai in San Jose and Beth David in Saratoga, Brook serves as vice president of the international Association for Jewish Theatre. He also writes a humor column for Southern Jewish Life magazine.

Brook said he plans to make the readings as interactive as possible, with themed artwork and educational materials at the theater’s entrance with information about Jewish playwrights, the history of Jews in theater and more.

“People can come and just be entertained [by the reading], but if they want education, there’s going to be something more for them as well,” he said.

“Tevya and His Daughters,” 8 p.m. Dec. 7 and 2 p.m. Dec. 8 at the Addison-Penzak JCC, 14855 Oka Road, Los Gatos. Tickets $10-$15.

Emma Silvers

Emma Silvers is a former J. staff writer.