Truth, immigration, love
In any given week, numerous email pitches come my way, but here’s one from last week I couldn’t resist:
Hello! I’m a St. Louis native, Solomon Schechter graduate and B’nai Amoona member. I’m based in Los Angeles, but I’m currently in STL to star in the regional premiere of the Tony-award winning play “Indecent,” which opens June 20th at the Grandel—a role I got in part because of my ability to perform in Yiddish. This show revolves around a controversial 1907 play by Sholem Asch and the artists who risked their lives to perform it. This will be my professional debut in my hometown!
The email came from Zoe Farmingdale, an actress/director/choreographer/writer/musician who, as it turns out, also teaches Hebrew and tutors b’nai mitzvah students when she’s not working at her other previous vocations. Farmingdale, who did not want to disclose her age, grew up in Olivette, where she declared her intent to be on stage when she was 5 years old. She attended Camp of the Arts at the J and remembers being in a New Jewish Theatre production before it was called the New Jewish Theatre.
During high school at Ladue, Farmingdale acted and sang in numerous plays, and majored in theater in college. After, she moved to New York to pursue her chosen career and to teach Hebrew to help supplement her income between gigs.
“I didn’t know if I remembered enough from Schechter to teach or tutor Hebrew but after I moved to New York a principal friend encouraged me,” said Farmingdale, who now lives in Los Angeles but continues to travel to New York, where she directed and choreographed the 2018 Off-Broadway run of “Wicked Frozen,” a parody musical she also wrote.
“I’ve been a Jewish educator ever since,” she added. “Mostly now I love doing bar and bat mitzvah prep. I teach Hebrew at Temple Israel of Hollywood (Calif.) but I also private tutor through synagogues and independently, often via Skype.”
Farmingdale says she has always had a penchant for learning languages. Two of her best are Hebrew and German, which she points out are the basis of Yiddish, the language at the center of “Indecent,” written by Pulitzer-winning playwright Paula Vogel.
“Indecent” tells the story of Asch’s controversial 1907 play, “The God of Vengeance.” After achieving great success throughout Europe in Yiddish, the play was translated into English for its Broadway debut in 1923, at a time when waves of immigrants were changing the face of America. But the revolutionary love story at the center of the play – featuring the first lesbian kiss on a Broadway stage — proved too scandalous, and the cast was arrested and charged with obscenity. Vogel resurrects the background of Asch’s provocative drama to explore the paths of the courageous artists who jeopardized their careers to perform the play while confronting the the Nazi onslaught.
“Indecent” drew rave reviews when it premiered on Broadway in 2017, including this one from Newsday’s Linda Winer who asked, “Has there ever been anything quite like ‘Indecent,’ a play that touches — I mean deeply touches — so much rich emotion about history and the theater, anti-Semitism, homophobia, censorship, world wars, red-baiting and, oh, yes, joyful human passion?”
Farmingdale said she was “blown away” when she first saw the show in 2017. Not long after, when she learned that Max and Louie Productions would be staging the play in St. Louis, she sent in a video audition, received a callback and flew here to be seen in person. Now she is one of seven actors, each of whom plays multiple roles (there are also three musicians), featured in the production. Farmingdale says one of the best parts of the experience is that she gets to sing in Yiddish.
“I’ve wanted to come back to St. Louis to perform for so long,” Farmingdale said. “My mom will get to see me, I am inviting hometown friends and I even hope my high school theater teacher will be there. It’s really one of the most amazing roles I’ve ever gotten to play.”
Concert to commemorate
The Chabad Centers of the Greater St. Louis area are hosting “Songs of the Inspired Soul,” a live Hasidic concert and multimedia event on Wednesday, June 19 at the .ZACK, 3224 Locust Street. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. and the program will begin at 7.
Combining film with a live musical performance by a string quartet, “Songs of the Inspired Soul” tells of the Hasidic melodies taught by the Chabad Rebbe Menachem M. Schneerson. The event will commemorate the 25th anniversary of his passing.
Though he is known more for his written and spoken published works, Schneerson also left a musical legacy of Hassidic melodies. He taught these melodies to his followers on Simchat Torah, well after midnight, after many hours of the Hakafot, the spirited dancing with the Torah.
“It’s the memory of this surreal setting that I wanted to capture,” says Bentzi Avtzon, who produced the concert, which has drawn large audiences in over 35 cities across the country. “When the Rebbe taught these melodies, he would accompany each of them with a story and a message.”
Adds Rabbi Yosef Landa, Regional Director of Chabad of Greater St. Louis: “(The Rebbe) would often say that a sentiment, no matter how lofty and spiritual, is not significant, unless it translates into a practical message that can be applied to change an individual and the world for the better.”
Six of these melodies will be performed in arrangements by Israel Edelson and St. Louis’ Zafirah String Quartet. Each will be introduced by a short narrated film, produced by Yuvla Media.
The St. Louis event is hosted by Chabad of Greater St. Louis, Chabad on Campus, Chabad of Chesterfield and Chabad of the Central West End. Tickets are $18 and sponsorships, which include four tickets, are available for $250.
Surveying the property
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