Apparently, lots of Americans have heard of the play ‘Our Town’, set at the turn of the 20th century in rural America.
As a Brit, I’d never heard of it, so when my friend from the Women in Theatre (WIT) group called to invite me to an all-woman production of it in Jerusalem, I had no idea what to expect.
The blurb on Wikipedia didn’t really enlighten me, other than to let me know there would be minimal props.
Was that a good thing? A bad thing? Who knows.
So, I get to the Hirsch Theatre in Jerusalem, took my seat and waited for the show to begin. There’s a few things I can tell you about it, without giving the game away: one, is that the acting was really top drawer.
I’ve been seeing Women in Theatre perform the last four years, and they seem to be getting better and better each time.
The second thing to tell you is that I’m starting to feel that maybe there is more value in the performing arts for a frum Jewish person than I previously thought. I know that Rav Kook, z’l, was a big supporter of Jewish artists, but since him, most of our real rabbis haven’t been so keen on the subject, generally.
You can kind of understand that. It’s hard to think of a more corrupting source than Hollywood, it’s hard to think of a more ‘street’ culture than that which is commonly portrayed, sung about and acted in 2018.
And yet for all that, I found ‘Our Town’ moving, and even, meaningful, and definitely, thought provoking.
Watching a play that was written over a hundred years ago kind of underlined how much so many things have changed, but also, how much things have stayed the same. Humans are still humans, after all. People still fall in love and (and least in the frum world…) get married. Wives still worry about their husbands. Parents still fret over their children.
Time still passes.
And yet, how different the pace of life was then. If parents were too busy to relate to their children and enjoy the important parts of their lives, and to really smell the roses back then, in 1904 – then what can we say?
We who are addicted to our phones and screens….we who communicate by snippets of sentences, fragments of recorded conversation, and emojis…what can we say?
As I walked home from the show, along Jerusalem’s night-lit streets, I pondered on how hard it seems to be to really connect to other people today. Earlier in the week, I’d been talking to someone who promotes events of all types for a living, and she’d told me it’s getting harder and harder to entice people to come out and attend anything in person.
The screen has shrunk the whole world down into the palm of our hands, and now even leaving our living rooms sometimes feels as difficult as flying to the moon.
But it’s so good to interact in person. It’s so good to make some effort, to get out of the house, to try something new, learn something new, and support the effort and investment being made by other people.
It boggles the mind, how the ‘Stage Manager’ character in Our Town managed to learn all the lines that she did, and to deliver them so superbly. It boggles the mind, how many days and nights of efforts went in to producing such a professional show. One of my friends does a lot of the stuff backstage, as well as acting in the show, so I know first-hand just how much a labour of love these things are.
So as I walked back to my home, I was pondering on how we can expand ‘my town’ into ‘our town’, and start to relate to people as more than just email addresses or twitter handles again. It’s going to take a lot of effort. A lot of prayer. A lot of courage, to be those people to step out more from behind the screen and to take a step over to another flesh-and-blood person.
But if I took one message away from ‘Our Town’, it’s this: life is precious. Life is short. And the best investment we can make is to put more of our time, effort and love into the people who surround us.
NOTICE: The blog is only restarting at this address temporarily.
I will be migrating this blog over to a new site at: rivkalevy.com