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Lucky 13th Season: New Jewish Theatre celebrates its own Bat Mitzvah

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 16, 2009 - Add one more event to your Bar and Bat Mitzvah circuit this year. New Jewish Theatre (NJT) is turning 13, and the company is appropriately celebrating with a season that explores the concept of tradition and the issues within families.

Although the first show, "Conversations with My Father," which ended Oct. 18, focused on a father-son relationship full of conflict, NJT Artistic Director Kathleen Sitzer  has deemed this season a Bat (female), not Bar (male), Mitzvah.

"Theatre is usually referred to as feminine. You know how they talk about the 'Grand Old Lady'?" Sitzer asked.

Just as a Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebrates a young person leaving childhood, NJT is also growing in maturity, Sitzer said. As one of a few niche theater companies in St. Louis, New Jewish has become a vibrant part of the community, attracting a loyal audience. While NJT's offerings have universal appeal, they are particular meaningful to Jewish theater-goers.

"You're finding an audience that is hungry for that kind of portrayal -- the good, the bad and the ugly -- it's their stories," Sitzer said.

Season Ends With A Homecoming

The season continues with the Dec. 2 arrival of another family drama, "Brooklyn Boy," about a man whose professional success coincides with an unraveling personal life, leading him to return to the traditional values of community and religion. In February, "The People's Violin," profiles an experimental filmmaker who uncovers the secrets of his father, and in April, an adaptation of "Romeo and Juliet" swaps warring Arab and Jewish families in Jerusalem for the Capulets and the Montagues of Shakespeare's Verona.

Wrapping up this 13th season in June, NJT leaves 'em laughing, with Neil Simon's "Laughter on the 23rd Floor," a look back at the golden age of television. Although publicity information still lists Clayton High School Theatre as the venue, Sitzer has just learned they can return to the newly renovated Jewish Community Center theater for their finale. After performing at other theaters for nearly two years, the NJT will come home to more and better audience seating, flexible staging capabilities, and special areas for wardrobe storage and set building -- all up to equity standards.

"It's going to be a wonderful feeling to be back in our permanent space," Sitzer said. "We've been called Wandering Jewish Theatre -- we will wander no more."

Nancy Larson is a freelance writer who, among other things, writes regularly on theater.

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.

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