I thoroughly enjoyed the world premiere of Jesus the Jew: As Told by His Brother James. The play is the seventeenth work produced by Forum Productions. The one-man show by playwright William Spatz is very well-written and in my opinion contains some of the answers of the most important issues facing our society today with regards to antisemitism and the violence propagated against Christians and or Jewish Christians in this country and others around the world.
Actor, Steven Strafford plays a modern-day professor of religious history who has just found out his brother John has been tortured and killed in an attack in Syria. He then travels back and forth in time to portray James, the brother of Jesus, one of the mainstays of his research. Strafford's performance is compelling and rich.
Jeremy, as James thanks the audience for coming whether they are Jews, Christians or Jewish Christians. This designation is very important especially in the political climate currently where all three groups are regularly singled out in some countries and sentenced to death by beheading if they do not renounce their Christian and/or Jewish ties.
This play is of particular interest to me because I am a Jewish Christian or Messianic Jew. That is a person who is Jewish by birth who continues to believe that Jesus was Jewish and was the Messiah sent to save the Jewish people and later the non-Jews from the belief that we are just helpless animal-like human beings in bodies which have no actual active spiritual life that continues after death of the human body. We also believe that God is a loving forgiving being that abhors killing of humans and animals, indeed cruelty to women and all living things.
I was given a very complete three-year education in Jewish history and religious practices before completing my bat mitzvah and the only mention of Jesus, if any that I recall, was that Jesus was to be looked at as a Rabbi gone mad - a religious traitor to the Jewish people whose new ideas threatened to destroy Judaism rather than elevate it to new levels of generosity and higher spiritual intelligence. I have often wondered how the separation of Jesus' Jewish birth and the statement he made regarding incarnating in a human body specifically for the Jewish people turned into an entirely new religion called Christianity – a religion that proceeded to make a scapegoat of the Jews when Roman occupation and laws actually caused the killing of Jesus. I've also wondered how Christians and especially Catholics who - on the one hand - give great honor to Mary, Jesus' mother, seem to have completely forgotten the fact that Mary the Mother of God was a JEWISH woman named Miriam. And how can modern Christians continue to refer with reverence to the Gospels written by Jesus' disciples as inspired by God without recalling that ALL the disciples of Jesus were JEWISH?
James’ finally answers this question in the last hours of his life in the play when he is about to be put to death (after 30 years of leading Jewish Christians) for not renouncing his brother's and his own Jewish faith.
The apostle Paul is well known among feminists for his damning letters stating that women should have no place in the new Church and should be subject to all the discrimination that Jesus himself stressed many times should end by interacting with women, healing them and insisting that they receive the same education his male apostles were receiving. During this council, the apostle Paul effectively overthrew James’ leadership by declaring a new law that if a Jewish person believed in Jesus they must stop all Jewish religious practices and laws or be sentenced to death.
Jeremy as James also made it clear that Mary was from a wealthy family and financially supported Jesus and, by extension, financially supported many of the apostles that followed Jesus. Mary Magdalene was NOT by any stretch of the sexist imagination a "prostitute" as many since have claimed.
James states that Jesus and Mary were indeed married per the Jewish tradition and although it was not brought up in this play, their marriage gives some credence to the theory that Mary Magdalene, Jesus' legal wife, gave birth to a daughter after his death, directly continuing the spiritually royal bloodline of Jesus himself. It’s been said that she and her daughter were escorted to safety by her father and sailed to France to raise her daughter.
There is some humor in the play when James says, “Lots of Jewish mothers think their sons can walk on water, but in this case…”
The production team includes: Milo Blue (scenic design), Hailey Rakowiecki (costume design), David Trudeau (lighting design), Alex Kleiner (sound design), Ron Rude (production manager) and Sarah Knoke (stage manager). This team does a great job decorating the set with objects of art from both modern and ancient times. The interesting props keep one’s eyes busy looking at the beautiful colorful aspects of that historic period while keeping the audience firmly in the present with offstage interruptions by reporters seeking interviews with him and friends or family who are trying to help Jeremy stay calm and sane in the face of the news that his brother has been tortured first then killed.
Jesus The Jew delivers the most important message of our time, that the division of Jews from Christians and the division of Jesus from his own Jewish followers and people came from a political move - a political document written to serve the Romans and the ambitions of one aggressive sect of new Christians/Jews led by the apostle Paul.
My only complaint about the well-written and well-documented play is that it does not delve deep enough into the horrors and centuries of suffering that this rift initiated by the apostle Paul caused. Actually using the word “horror” is inadequate to describe the current situation for both Christians and Jewish Christians - the Holocaust or recent be-headings of Christians and Jewish Christians around the world and the suffering of women subject to the new rules of Bible thumping-Jew hating Christians who have been forced to follow their husband’s commands even under extreme abuse.
James even acknowledges that as he gives his last sermon before he is put to death that there may not be any Jewish Christians left to hear his final pleas for a meaningful, literal and political reunion of the Jewish and Christian people. That strongly resonated with me because I am the ONLY Jewish Christian that I have ever met (other than my mother who had a similar late life realization) who sees Jesus as a Jewish Rabbi and miracle maker of the highest order, the human incarnation of God on earth.
I highly recommend this compelling, well-paced and delicately handled theater piece for anyone who is interested in a more realistic view of daily life during Jesus' time, or is seeking similar comfort that Jewish Christians still actually exist.
Jesus the Jew: As Told by his Brother James is being performed at Greenhouse Theater Center through March 26th. For more information on this show, click here.
Due to popular demand, Greenhouse Theater Center is pleased to present the return of Cathy Schenkelberg’s hit one-woman show SQUEEZE MY CANS, directed by Shirley Anderson, playing February 16 – March 12, 2017 at The Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago. Schenkelberg’s evocative and humorous account of life as a Scientologist returns for a full run following a limited engagement last summer during the Greenhouse’s popular Solo Celebration! Series. Tickets for SQUEEZE MY CANS are currently available at greenhousetheater.org, in person at the box office or by calling (773) 404-7336. The press opening is Thursday, February 16 at 7:30 pm.
Have you ever wondered if Bozo was a suppressive person? Have you ever considered what it might be like to audition to be Tom Cruise’s girlfriend? What would you do if the carrot of spiritual freedom was dangled in front of you, waiting to be seized? Writer/performer Cathy Schenkelberg decided to chase it and what she found was Scientology: America’s foremost intergalactic theology. After years of studying and searching, she found herself blowing alien life forms off her body, farther than ever from who she had hoped to be. Now, she returns to share that story in this no-holds-barred cautionary tale of how she survived the pseudoscience.
SQUEEZE MY CANS returns to Chicago following sold-out runs in 2016 at Outdoor Voices festival and Sacred Fools Theater/Hollywood Fringe Festival in Los Angeles and Dunes Summer Theatre in Michigan City, Indiana.
"Our audiences were profoundly affected by Cathy's humorous and shocking retelling of her brave journey through Scientology when we hosted her as part of the Solo Celebration! Series," comments Greenhouse Artistic Director Jacob Harvey. "Cathy manages to turn her nearly 20-year experience with America's most prominent alien religion into a fearless, hilarious and heartbreaking performance. We are proud to have her back as she continues to tell her story of survival and the power of perseverance."
The production team for SQUEEZE MY CANS includes: Brandon Baruch (lighting design), Victorio (Toy) Deiorio (sound and projection design) and Ron Rude (production manager)
Title: SQUEEZE MY CANS
Written and performed by: Cathy Schenkelberg
Directed by: Shirley Anderson
Location The Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago
Dates: Press Performance: Thursday, February 16 at 7:30 pm
Regular run: Friday, February 17 – Sunday, March 12, 2017
Curtain times: Thursdays and Friday at 7:30 pm; Saturdays at 7:30 pm & 10 pm; Sundays at 2 pm
Tickets: $25. Students $20.
Tickets are currently available at greenhousetheater.org, in person at the box office or by calling (773) 404-7336.
About The Artists
Cathy Schenkelberg (Performer/Playwright) is a Nebraska native and Chicago/LA-based actress, singer and voiceover talent who has voiced campaigns for clients such as Sears, Kohl’s, Applebee’s and SC Johnson. Early on in Chicago, she’s had roles in Jacque Brel, Working, Little Shop of Horrors, Noises Off and Moms the Word, to name a few. Cathy was also Chrissy in the Midwest Tour of Hair and Pepper the Clown on WGN’s Bozo Show. She has worked as a dancer/singer at clubs and cruise ships - even impersonating Dolly Parton, Madonna and Marilyn Monroe (all at the same time). In her recent return to the stage, she had the good fortune to play Madame Thenardier in Les Miz, Violet, Zuzu and Ma Hatch in It’s A Wonderful Life, Sue Ellen in Honky Tonk Angels and the Mother in A Christmas Story at Sierra Repertory Theatre in Sonora CA as well as Veronica in God of Carnage at American Stage in St Pete FL. But it has been her spoken-word pieces at such venues as Write Club LA, Spark off Rose, Rant N’ Rave and Louder then a Mom, where her one woman show, Squeeze My Cans, was conceived. Visit www.squeezemycans.com for more information.
Shirley Anderson (Director) is a Northwestern alum who spent the ‘90s in Chicago, adapting, producing and performing a solo adaptation of Dorothy Parker's short story Big Blonde at the Red Lion Pub, then in jazz clubs, colleges and theaters in Chicago, Edinburgh and Los Angeles. Anderson has written and performed as a solo performer ever since in Chicago and Los Angeles. In 1993, Anderson collaborated with Molly McNett on Sculpture in Vitro: Growing Up Female in the Age of Liposuction at Live Bait Theater after premiering the work in cooperation with Lookingglass Theatre and before touring the show to high schools and colleges. She has collaborated with Lookingglass Theatre Company, Plasticene and Studio 108 in Chicago and Sacred Fools, Theater Movement Bazaar, Zoo District, Son of Semele and Theater of NOTE in Los Angeles, where she currently lives and directs business operations for Blum & Poe art gallery.
About the Greenhouse Theater Center
The Greenhouse Theater Center is a nonprofit performance venue located at 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Our complex offers two newly remodeled 190-seat main stage spaces, two 60-seat studio theaters, an in-house rehearsal room and Chicago’s only dedicated used theatre book store.
Our mission at the Greenhouse is first and foremost to grow local theatre. We strive to cultivate a fertile environment for local artists, from individual renters to our bevy of resident companies, to develop and produce their work. In 2014 alone, The Greenhouse Theater Center provided space for almost 1,000 ticketed performances, serving more than 54,000 patrons. Among these events were at least 30 productions by our resident companies, including the celebrated American Blues Theater and Remy Bumppo Theatre Company. Through our Trellis Program, we offer the community affordable access to our work by housing Chicago’s only dedicated used theatre bookstore, located on the second floor of our complex, as well as offering a free reading series each Tuesday night where local artists workshop their latest scripts. Additionally, we also continue to play an active role in cultivating and nurturing our community through continued partnerships with the League of Chicago Theaters and local Chambers of Commerce.
As of 2016, the Greenhouse Theater Center embraced the true spirit of growth and launched its producing entity. With the announcement of our eight month long Solo Celebration! Series, helmed by Artistic Director Jacob Harvey, we will produce 12 solo plays from June 2016 to February 2017. Through this inaugural effort, we hope to expand the solo play cannon while also cultivating a larger conversation about the possibilities of the one-person play.
With new ideas always incubating, the Greenhouse Theater Center is flourishing. Come grow with us!
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