A student performs during 'Not Your Grandmother's Seder' at Hillel on April 14. Courtesy Paige Spangenthal

‘Not Your Grandmother’s Seder’ blends Jewish themes with contemporary theater

On the first page of the program for “Not Your Grandmother’s Seder,” a Passover-inspired cabaret night that took place on Saturday, is a quote from Milton Berle: “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”

The show, hosted by Tufts Hillel and directed and produced by sophomores Amanda Freedman and Isabel Silverston, incorporated songs and scenes from contemporary theater as a way to comment on Passover and Judaism. Each of the 12 acts connected to aspects of the Passover Seder and its themes, such as redemption, faith and hope.

“This show was created to provide students with an alternative and inclusive performance opportunity,” Silverston and Freedman wrote in a director’s letter in the program. “No matter what religion or faith you believe in, we hope you can find something that speaks to you in this production.” 

The program also explained that a binder entitled “Theater Troupe” found in the office of Rabbi Jordan Braunig was the main inspiration behind “Not Your Grandmother’s Seder.” The binder is a remnant of the Tufts Hillel Theater Troupe, a performance outlet for students interested in Jewish theater that ran from 2000 to 2005.

“Here sat a binder filled with the opportunity to revive something from the past and create something new,” wrote the directors.

The show opened with “Light Of The World,” a song from Stephen Schwartz’s musical, “Godspell” (1971), which demonstrated that the show would truly transcend barriers of faith. The performers, several of whom were in Torn Ticket II’s production of the musical last semester, took the stage decked out in all black to perform the song. “Light Of The World” represented the Kaddesh, a blessing over the first cup of wine during Passover.

Other musical performances in the cabaret included “Someday” from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1996), which stood for the bitterness of slavery, and “Corner of the Sky” from “Pippin” (1972), which represented Moses’ struggle to liberate his people from slavery. A rendition of “Freedom” from “The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown” (2007), featuring the powerful voices of sophomore Katrina Coffman and junior Zoe Miller, represented the Barech, the portion of the Seder in which God is thanked for the Passover meal.

Junior Stephanie Evans performed “Far From the Home I Love” from “Fiddler on the Roof” (1964) with a range of emotion that demonstrated the bittersweetness of leaving home to start a new chapter of life. This was intended to echo the part of the Seder known as the Korech, in which a sandwich of sweet charoset and bitter herb is eaten to represent the coexistence of pain and happiness in life.

The theatrical performances of the night included two scenes from James Sherman’s “Beau Jest” (1991). This play deals with a Jewish woman named Sarah (first-year Emily Barshay) who hires an actor named Bob (sophomore Max Klaver) to pretend to be her Jewish doctor boyfriend at a family dinner party in order to please her parents. In the first scene, Sarah’s actual boyfriend, who is comically named Chris Kringle (sophomore Jake Gilbert), meets Bob. The awkward tension between Gilbert and Klaver’s characters was hilariously executed.

Act III from Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple” (1965) was also performed. The scene showcased a fight between two incompatible roommates, Felix (first-year Jonah Greene) and Oscar (first-year Zach Rosenfeld). According to the program, this was meant to represent the portion of the Seder in which a blessing is recited over matzah. This theme was demonstrated at a point in the scene when Oscar scattered pieces of Felix’s matzah on the floor in frustration, earning big laughs from the audience.

“Not Your Grandmother’s Seder” concluded with “The Song of Purple Summer” from “Spring Awakening” (2006), which represented Nirtzah, the final prayer of the Seder. The voices of the song’s ensemble blended together perfectly, symbolizing the combination of artistic and religious themes that the night embodied.

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