Pregnancy rocks a middle-aged woman's world in Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company show

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STAGE & ARTS

 Kim Kivens in the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company’s “What I Thought I Knew.” photo by sarah whiting.

Kim Kivens in the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company’s “What I Thought I Knew.” photo by sarah whiting.

AUGUST 20, 2018 — 9:49PM - by Rohan Preston

Actor Kim Kivens does not hold up a picture of an aborted late-term fetus in “What I Thought I Knew,” a solo show that opened Saturday at Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company. Playing a medical clinic employee, she describes what happens to the fetus in low-key, clinical terms.

It’s chilling. At Saturday’s opening, some audience members winced and recoiled.

But even as those details pass, there’s hardly any escape from the harrowing larger story that is coolly unspooled over the 100 minutes of Alice Eve Cohen’s autobiographical one-act play. Performed with immediacy, power and occasional humor by Kivens, and staged with effective simplicity by Jennie Ward, “What I Thought I Knew” takes us on a gripping ride even as it raises moral and practical questions.

Cohen, a New York-based writer and theater teacher who adapted this show from a best-selling memoir, had been told all her life that she was infertile. So she adopted a child, even as she keeps up a regimen that includes hormone treatments.

Now, at 44, she has an unexplained growth in her abdomen. Her doctors think it may be a tumor, something related to menopause. After a battery of tests, she finds out she is six months’ pregnant.

All sorts of questions arise.Cohen has had no prenatal care. Ultrasounds reveal a fetus with a number of complications. Cohen considers her options, from abortion to adoption to keeping the child. She often seems alone in her deliberations, though she has a partner — amusician who’s 10 years younger and always on the road — as well as her daughter, who is now 8.

There’s not much of a set on the stage of the Highland Park Community Center, where MJTC’s shows are performed. There’s a chalkboard on which the narrator writes chapter headings, and a floor lamp that represents Cohen’s 8-year-old.

Kivens starts the show by wheeling in an expandable table that contains a picnic basket, which has some sustenance for her. Then she takes us into the story, playing all the characters with their accents, gestures and idiosyncrasies.

A one-person play is one of the most daunting challenges an actor can take on. There is no scene partner to give the performer a cue or to serve as a crutch. The actor has to generate all the emotions herself. And she has to master reams of text, or at least flub her lines with honesty.

But the risks are worth it when you have a skilled performer like Kivens, who has performed some fetching characters at Children’s Theatre. She holds us spellbound, even if we grimace here and there. Understated and with assurance, she takes us inside the emotions that rock a confident woman whose assumptions about herself and her world are totally upended.

“What I Thought I Knew” is a very specific story. But there’s insight for any of us who might be blindsided by unexpected news.

What I Thought I Knew
Who: By Alice Eve Cohen. Directed by Jennie Ward for Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company.
Where: Highland Park Community Center, 1978 Ford Parkway, St. Paul.
When: 1 p.m. Tue. & Sun., 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Thu., 8 p.m. Sat. Ends Aug. 30
Tickets: $23-$38. 651-647-4315 or mnjewishtheatre.org.

Theater review: 'Natasha and the Coat' crackles with sexual tension

Friday, April 27, 2018 by Jay Gabler in Arts & Leisure

 
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 Avi Aharoni as Yossi and Miriam Schwartz as Natasha. Image courtesy Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company.

Avi Aharoni as Yossi and Miriam Schwartz as Natasha. Image courtesy Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company.

When you're walking into a St. Paul community center holding a ticket printed with what sounds like the name of a picture book for beginning readers, you're probably not expecting to see the most genuinely erotic show of the season. Natasha and the Coat will surprise you, though, just as the eponymous fashionista surprises Yossi when she walks into his family's dry cleaners.

The Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company, on their home stage in the Highland Park Community Center, are presenting the world premiere of Deborah Stein's play about a halting romance between two young adults in Brooklyn circa 2005. While parts of her story are a stretch, Stein succeeds at holding a captivating tension around the slow-burning relationship between an unlikely couple.

Yossi (Avi Aharoni) and his family are Hasidic Jews, focused on serving fellow members of their conservative community. Natasha (Miriam Schwartz) takes an internship at a high-end vintage shop down the street, and rents an upstairs room from Yossi's family. When she accidentally spills coffee on an expensive fur coat, she becomes a regular customer as well: She's forced to get dozens of items cleaned on her own dime after shop owner Felicity (Kim Kivens) realizes Natasha lied about what happened to the coat.

The business with Felicity, a cartoonishly bad boss whose blackmail scheme relies on the weirdly extended fiction of Natasha rejuvenating the coats solely with her skin's "youthful oils," is the show's glaring weak spot. Fortunately, Stein and director Miriam Monasch fare far better with their other characters. That includes Muriel Bonertz and Charles Numrich as Yossi's parents, written and portrayed with a nuance and integrity that goes far beyond the simplistic disapproving-elder archetype it would have been easy to fall into.

The play's beating heart, and pulsing loins, come from the languorous flirtation that develops during exchanges the young pair share over the shop counter. The theater's small size allows both actors to keep the volume low and their movements slow as they creep along a deliciously slippery slope. Yossi isn't even supposed to be alone with Natasha, so when they get close, electricity crackles without the two even having to touch.

Both actors are exceptional. Aharoni is true to his sheltered character, but finds a confident good humor that makes us believe Natasha's attraction is genuine. That creates a space for Schwartz to deliver an incredibly compelling performance that's all the more impressive because hers is not a showy role: watch how she finds variety and depth in even the most routine line readings. The subtlety of the duo's interactions lends this production a fascination that could easily crumble away in a less nuanced staging.

Allusions to generation and gentrification help establish the setting, but Stein's decision to virtually ignore any personal relationships beyond those we see on stage (an omission that's particularly noticeable because of the urban setting, with constant references to community and society writ large) makes this fundamentally a hothouse drama about an achingly forbidden liaison.

Fittingly staged at an athletic facility, you might need a cold shower afterwards.

IF YOU GO: Natasha and the Coat
Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company
Through May 13

SOURCE MATERIAL: http://www.citypages.com/arts/theater-review-natasha-and-the-coat-crackles-with-sexual-tension/480959111

Boy-meets-girl gets a sweet twist in Minnesota Jewish Theatre premiere

 
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REVIEW: Hasid meets girl in the charming new play "Natasha and the Coat."
By LISA BROCK Special to the Star Tribune
APRIL 24, 2018 — 9:41AM

 Provided Kim Kivens as Felicity and Miriam Schwartz as her intern, Natasha, in  Natasha and the Coat  by Deborah Stein, April 21-May 13 at Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company. 

Provided Kim Kivens as Felicity and Miriam Schwartz as her intern, Natasha, in Natasha and the Coat by Deborah Stein, April 21-May 13 at Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company. 

“Sometimes the very old tales are the very most true ones,” elderly Jewish dry-cleaner Mordy confides to the audience at the beginning of “Natasha and the Coat.”

It’s an apt introduction for that oldest of stories — boy meets girl — in a show getting its world premiere at Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company through May 13. Playwright Deborah Stein takes a pair of mismatched lovers and sets them smack dab in the middle of the Hasidic Jewish community of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Natasha (Miriam Schwartz) is new to the neighborhood, having just graduated from college and landed a coveted internship with a vintage clothing
wholesaler. Yossi (Avi Aharoni) has spent his entire life there, working in his family’s dry-cleaning business. With his traditional black suit, side curls and ritual fringes, he seems to come not just from a different world from Natasha but a different century.

When Natasha spills coffee on a valuable coat, she asks Yossi to clean it before her boss can find out. His job transforms the garment, leading her to bring him more and more work. The two forge an unlikely romance, while Yossi’s parents look on with disapproval and Natasha’s boss grows increasingly suspicious.

Stein’s strong characterizations and humorous dialogue overcome some unlikely plot devices, while director Miriam Monasch and a capable cast lend warmth to this sweetly funny tale. Michael Hoover’s set ably accommodates scenes that shift regularly between the dry-cleaning shop and the clothing “atelier.”

Liz Josheff Busa’s props and Lisa Conley’s costumes add color, context and some stunning vintage dresses to the mix. Much of the play’s energy derives from the study in contrasts between Natasha and Yossi. Schwartz embodies the brash confidence and flighty, nervous energy of a young woman giddily poised to jump into the adventure of adulthood. Yossi, on the other hand, wavers between worlds. Aharoni beautifully conveys this tension in a scene in which Yossi trades his suit for jeans and a T-shirt, admiring himself in a mirror with shy wonder.

The other three cast members offer solid support. Kim Kivens is delightfully nasty as Natasha’s steelyeyed and egotistical boss, positively quivering with disdain and ever ready with an acid remark or a cold stare. Muriel Bonertz is equally intimidating as Yossi’s mother, a woman determined to stand as a bulwark against change, while Charles Numrich’s Mordy provides a softening influence as Yossi’s father, firm in his faith but tormented by his son’s dilemma.

Overall, this production’s strong acting and warmhearted charm open up an unfamiliar world while providing a unique twist on a very old story. 

Natasha and the Coat
Who: By Deborah Stein. Directed by Miriam Monasch. Produced by Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company.
Where: Highland Park Community Center, 1978 Ford Pkwy., St. Paul.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Thu., 8 p.m. Sat., 1 p.m. Sun. Ends May 13.
Tickets: $23-$38. 651-647-4315 or mnjewishtheatre.org

Lisa Brock is a Twin Cities critic.

Original Source: http://www.startribune.com/boy-meets-girl-gets-a-sweet-twist-in-minnesota-jewish-theatrepremiere/
480686711/

See this before it’s gone: 'Collected Stories' at Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company

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By Pamela Espeland | 03/13/18

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Maggie Bearmon Pistner, left, and Ashley Rose Montondo in a scene from “Collected Stories.” Photo by Sarah Whiting.

Donald Margulies’ play is 22 years old, but it could have been written yesterday. The questions it raises – about authenticity, identity, cultural appropriation, and if it’s ever OK for one person to steal another’s story – are ones we’re asking today, with more heat.

In “Collected Stories,” now at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company, Maggie Bearmon Pistner and Ashley Rose Montondo turn in strong, layered performances as Ruth Steiner, a successful Jewish author, and Lisa Morrison, her klutzy but gifted protégé. Our first clue that Lisa sees Ruth as more than a mentor comes when Lisa says, “You were lucky. You had all that rich, wonderful Jewish stuff to draw on. … What do I have? WASP culture. Which is no culture at all.” To which Ruth replies, in one of many acid zingers, “Oh, really? Tell that to Cheever and Updike.”

Ruth’s stories are more interesting to Lisa than her own. Why not use them? And don’t bother running that idea by Ruth. After all, Ruth is always saying, “Don’t tell me about it, write it. … Telling takes away the need to write. It relieves the pressure.”  

The play is all conversation between the two women. Over time, their relationship shifts. Lisa becomes Ruth’s assistant; they are teacher-student, employer-employee, mother-daughter, friends, rivals. In what she assumes is a conf­­­­­­­­­­­idential moment, Ruth shares the story of her long-ago affair with poet Delmore Schwartz (a real person; we occasionally hear his voice and some of his poetry). Then Lisa bases her first novel on Ruth’s life.

The setting is Ruth’s sixth-floor Greenwich Village apartment. Filling it with books, art, a messy writer’s desk and comfortable chairs, scenic designer Michael Hoover makes it so inviting you don’t mind spending the evening there. It’s also thoroughly convincing. In the play’s first few moments, as Ruth struggles to open a sticky window, she leans out the opening and some audience members gasp. We’re already believing she’s high above the ground.

See this if 1) you enjoy plays about writers/artists, 2) you like smart, talky plays, 3) you want to explore the topic of appropriation, 4) you’ve wondered about Montondo. She made the news in 2013 when she stepped into the lead role of Elizabeth Bennet in “Pride and Prejudice” at the Guthrie, after Erin Krakow backed out for a TV series the day before rehearsals were set to begin.

Four performances remain: Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 8 and Sunday at 1. FMI and tickets ($23-38); 651-647-4315.

SOURCE MATERIAL: https://www.minnpost.com/artscape/2018/03/see-it-s-gone-collected-stories-minnesota-jewish-theatre-company