Alicia Suskin Ostriker’s stunning collection of commentaries on Torah, The Nakedness of the Fathers (Rutgers, 1994,) has provided both a conceptual framework and a model of boldness for our approach to the material. We found the two passages below especially illuminating.
“Child of compassion, child of wrath. Moses is Egyptian, he is Hebrew, he is both/neither, he is insider/outsider. he is compressed/torn. Child of the mothers in the worlds of the fathers. He is the locus of gain/loss, he is where another division begins. Between the God of the universe and the God of a tribe, between inclusion and exclusion, between the imperative of liberty and the imperative of law, explodes Moses. What we know about him is exactly nothing, exactly everything, he is a fierce mystery.”
“If God wishes to push through Heaven’s membrane, from being beyond time to being within time, if God wants himself to move in the arrowlike temporal dimension, away from being Elohim, Transcendent Heavenly Being(s), or El Shaddai, Almighty God of the Breast-Hill-Mountain, or El Olam, Everlasting, if God chooses to cruise the unknown, if God desires to be named I will become that I will become, then a nation is required to receive his covenant. To embody his undeclared purposes. If a nation then a leader. If a leader, then cruelty; which in any case people understand. But also a promise.”
After twenty-two years of acting, writing and teaching with ATJT, I’ve finally moved into the director’s chair. For years I’ve resisted that role, never feeling I had sufficient zitzfleish—the willingness to sit still for long periods of time—to pull it off. But last year, Aaron Davidman, our new “Associate Artist,” asked me to direct a collaborative project based on the story of Moses.
Somehow, this request from a dedicated young theatre-maker cut through all my resistance, and I found myself saying yes. We decided to invite Eric Rhys Miller—who had been working with the company through its educational touring program—and violinist Daniel Hoffman—leader of Davka and the San Francisco Klezmer Experience, two of the Bay Area’s hottest Jewish music groups—to join the collaboration.
Last July, we launched, full-tilt, into a re-visioning of the story of Moses, questioning all the “conventional wisdom” that has encumbered the material for centuries. We soon realized that the story of Moses and the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage marks a huge change in human consciousness, for better or worse. The most basic assumptions of the “modern” word-view—the existence of “history,” national identity, individual choice and the uniqueness of individual experience—are all embedded in this narrative. We began to dig into a variety of biblical translations and commentaries, discovering a wealth of surprising and revelatory images.
Aaron and Eric are both highly trained physical actors who are completely at home in ATJT’s transformational, image-based approach to theatre. Daniel’s music is naturally theatrical and acts as a third “voice” in the piece.
Working with these three talented and committed young artists—who are all just about the age I was when Albert, Naomi and I founded ATJT—has been a wonderfully inspiring experience. I hope you’ll find their work as powerful, refreshing and full of humor as I have. In many unforeseen ways, these three young men have been teaching me how to direct. I can’t imagine a more satisfying initiation into theatrical elderhood.
Is there in this land a stone that was never thrown/
and never built and never overturned/
and never uncovered and never discovered/
and never screamed from a wall and never discarded by the builders/
and never closed on top of a grave/
and never lay under lovers/
and never turned into a cornerstone?
Yehuda Amichai 1924-2000
This post was written by AkilahC on October 1, 2000