Comments from Professor Susan Handelman,
Author and Lecturer in English Literature
and Performance Theory
Something extraordinary happened at the Premiere Performance of "Mikva The Musical." Something entirely new for Jewish women and Jewish life was born into the world.
The material is explosive. The Salon Theatre format also leads to a special intimacy and openness--- of women sharing from a very deep place and allowing themselves to be vulnerable --- both the audience and the actresses. An intimate community was created between the audience and the actresses.
So much depended on tone, on the way it was acted, produced and directed. The performance was a tour- de- force, a delicate walk on a tightrope. Today on many internet forums where young women talk about mikvah, the tone is often angry.
The show displayed the full complexity of emotions, the range of experiences of all kinds of women with gentility, sensitivity, humor, wisdom and love. You related to and conveyed the material in a deeply spiritual way that encompassed all its raw honesty, pain and passion.
Everybody's mask dropped, just as when a woman is in mikvah. The show created a theatrical equivalent: that feeling of being in one's naked skin, stripped down to the most intimate level. It was brilliant to invite audience members to share their reactions and stories after the performance. Those stories from the audience were as heart stopping as those in the show.
Michelle Thaler's performance of her own experiences of what it’s like for a disabled woman in a wheelchair to use mikveh astonished everyone. To see her onstage, the way she acted it, the expression in her face, and feel that rock solid center of her soul moved everyone deeply. Not only what she said, but what she communicated nonverbally with her eyes and her very being; just the way she sat in her wheelchair. And how in the world, did she also make us laugh and be funny with it all? This is spiritual greatness. It was a zechut to watch her.
Malka Abrahams is a Pro. What voice and articulation; what verbal control of every nuance of tone and language in her reading of those monologues, and her way of bringing the words to life with her eyes, winks, and gestures.
Adina Feldman was clearly sent to you by HaShem. She is an extraordinary professional singer, actress, and dancer whose voice and singing elevated all the others with her. It was Broadway level.
Even for those Israelis who weren’t familiar with some of the original songs being parodied, or Anglos unfamiliar with the Israeli songs, the music was a wonderful way of counter-pointing, underscoring, harmonizing the monologues and moving the show along. It moved the audience in different ways, and helped them absorb and integrate all the intense material.
Sarah Landman [who is also a balanit and kalla teacher] did an especially beautiful job with the infertility monologue. Each of those actresses balanced and complemented the others; each was different in tone and style. I could feel the intimacy between them that had been created by working together with this material, like a magnificent string quartet. Yael Valier offered a different kind of energy and style: raw and earthy, complementing Malka's elegant British style, pronunciation and style, sly ironic winks
The timing for this show‘s appearance is so appropriate in terms the current culture and status of women in Judaism, and women in global culture. Maybe there was a reason it took 12 years.
Thank you for your warmth, your love for Torah, your unique abilities to reveal ever deeper lights of Torah, to give expression to the soul of Jewish women, to give them comfort, challenge, hope and humor, to strengthen Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael.
Being at the performance was just what I need for ELUL and what we are attempting spiritually in this month--- a process of tahara and elevation. Just as a woman emerges from the waters of mikva purified and new, so did I feel as I left the performance.
Prof. Susan Handelman
Department of English