Arts & Culture

Play hosts blissful wedding of comedy, history

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, November 16, 2012

“The Golem … or Get These Nazis Out Of My Wedding,” Production Workshop’s new play, revolves around a wedding. Rivka and Mendel are in love and about to be married. They are the perfect young couple, but there is one problem – they are Jews living in late-1930s Prague.
After the passing of the Nuremberg Laws, a set of anti-Semitic regulations enforced by the Nazi Party, marriage between Jews is outlawed throughout Western Europe. Because of the statute, Rivka and Mendel must hold their wedding underground, in the basement of the community library. “I know that we’re all feeling a little bit anxious about security,” says Rabbi Horowitz (Marty Strauss ’16) as the guests enter, “but we’ve chosen our location well – I think the odds are pretty low that our German friends will come knocking.”
No sooner have the words been spoken than a knock at the door is heard. Nazi Officer Rudolph (David Lee Dallas ’13) bursts into the wedding and declares, “if there are two things I don’t like, one is historical fabrication, and the other is mischievous Jews!”
While the 25-minute play is lighthearted, the subject matter is not. “I wanted to create this positive celebration of Jewish culture, but I also didn’t want to shortchange the actual experience,” writer and director Phoebe Nir ’14 said.
 Nir said she wanted to emphasize that remembering the Holocaust does not have to be a source of guilt for our generation. “If you actually want to ‘never forget,’ your strategy can’t just be to roll out a bunch of statistics,” she said.
In “The Golem,” the audience members are guests of the wedding and act as typical wedding guests do ­- they must sit through the speeches, sing folk songs and schmooze with the father of the bride.
The aim of incorporating the audience was to “create as warm and as positive an atmosphere as possible,” Nir said, adding that many interactive theater performances border on voyeurism, causing audience members to feel “squeamish” instead of actively involved in the production.
Viewers are immersed in the experience of the wedding, but participation is designed to supplement – as opposed to impact – the scripted narrative. Audience members dance, sing and break challah with the actors but are not asked to contribute dialogue or advance the plot.
The costumes and set design reflect Nir’s desire to “legitimately infuse the space with dignity,” creating a believable atmosphere that feels like an actual wedding.
The outfits of the bride, groom and bridal party would not seem out of place in an Orthodox Jewish ceremony, while Officers Rudolph and Gandalph Hitler (Evan Silver ’16) are dressed in traditional Nazi uniform.
The Golem (Brian Semel ’16) is the play’s most fantastical and supernatural character. Dressed in gold tights, with a bright Jewish star painted across his chest, the Golem, which is the Hebrew word for “shapeless mass,” is summoned to “defend and protect” the Jews. He is equipped with knowledge of Tai Chi and Judo and shoots thunderbolts out of his eyes.
Semel moves seamlessly between roles, playing both the Golem and Papa Loe, Rivka’s father. He is both engaging and original in his role as the father and portrays the rigid, monosyllabic Golem so deftly that the audience must pause to realize the same actor plays both parts. Becca Wolinsky ’14 also gives an impressive performance as Bubbe, the grandmother of the bride who has harbored a secret love for the Golem since she was young.
“The Golem” transforms an instance of persecution into an opportunity to espouse love. Perhaps the most affecting scene in the play is the one in which Mendel, the groom, offers Gandalph a riddle.
“What can bind a man more strongly than chains, but weighs less than a feather; can move a mountain without lifting a pebble and can live forever without food or water?” Mendel asks a stupefied Gandalph. The answer, of course, is love.
The play, Nir said, is ultimately “about love and overcoming darkness through community, selflessness, and, I think, also celebration in the face of adversity.” Through its participation, the audience cannot help but be a part of that joyful celebration.
 “The Golem” is playing Nov. 16, 17 and 18 at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. and Nov. 19 at 8 p.m. at Production Workshop.