April 24, 2022
Sally Wingert directs Six Points Theater production, which runs April 30-May 22
By DORIS RUBENSTEIN
In the days when Vaudeville was hot, before a show hit Broadway it had tryouts in various cities. After polishing the act in the East, the question always arose, “But will it play in Peoria?”
Six Points Theater, formerly the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company (MJTC), is presenting Seth Rozin’s Two Jews Walk Into a War … as its next in-person production. The play has been seen all over the East — in Virginia; Massachusetts; Connecticut; Rochester, New York — but the question remains: Will it play in St. Paul?
Founding Artistic Director Barbara Brooks is so certain that Two Jews will please the Minnesota palate that she put the production in the hands of one of the Twin Cities’ most recognized actors, Sally Wingert. Wingert is about as Midwestern as they come: born in Iowa, raised in St. Paul and the Twin Cities. But does she have what it takes in Yiddishkeit (Jewishness) to be sure it appeals to Six Points’ primary audience of Jews?
Wingert has played Jewish personalities at MJTC several times. She has been so convincing portraying Jewish women that she has won two Ivey Awards: one for her interpretation of Rose, a Holocaust survivor; one for how she definitively captured the character of Jewish heiress and art doyenne Peggy Guggenheim in Woman Before a Glass. And, of course, she took the Twin Cities by storm last summer playing “Doris” to 32 sold-out audiences in the theater’s production of A Pickle. Do these qualify her to direct such a deeply Jewish play as Two Jews?
Sally Wingert (Photos courtesy of Six Points Theater)
“I hope so,” she said. “I’ve always been drawn to Jewish culture. As a born Catholic, the first time I met a Jewish kid I thought, ‘We’re so much alike!’”
Wingert is known primarily as an actor. Her only directing credit to date is with MJTC’s 2017 production of The Whipping Man, a serious historical drama. However, being a relative novice as a director doesn’t faze her at all. “My dad said in 10th grade that I should be a director,” she recalled. “You need different skills for directing. I’m a beginner. But I’ve been directed by some of the best in the world.” Truer words have rarely been spoken.
Our play in question is strongly comedic. Can she do it? Comedy is one of Wingert’s strongest suits.
She said, “Comedy is rhythmic. You can hear the humor through the rhythm of the play. Seth Rozin has written such a Jewish play – the dry humor – that recalls all the great Borscht Belt comics like Myron Cohen and Henny Youngman.”
Reviewers of prior productions have likened the two Jews of the title to Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple. Wingert disagreed somewhat:”They are a couple, but not the Odd Couple; they are a couple at odds.” So what is this play all about, and who are these two Jews?
Six Points Theater describes it this way: “Zeblyan and Ishaq are the last two Jews living in Kabul. While they both want to urgently repopulate their ancient Jewish community, how to do so is something they cannot agree upon. Against a backdrop of explosions and bullets, the two men must reconcile their theological differences and work together. Inspired by true events, this play balances Borscht Belt humor and poignancy in a touching look at cultural continuity.”
Director Wingert has chosen two gifted Twin Cities actors in the lead roles.
Avi Aharoni (Zeblyan) was both playwright and performer in his one-man show My Father’s Son (formerly Operation: Immigration), which premiered at the 2019 Minnesota Fringe Festival and had a new life as part of MJTC’s Zoom season in 2020. His family has its origins in Iran.
Considering that the two Jews are, likewise, Mizrachis, Aharoni can see how he was drawn to the storyline. But, more so, he said, “These disasters for ancient Jewish communities are not limited to Avi Aharoni
Afghanistan and Iran.
This sad story is shared by refugees from Syria and other places in the Middle East.”
Nathan Keepers (Ishaq) performed in the Twin Cities’ storied Theatre de la Jeune Lune when his stage partner was still in grade school. His résumé reads like a directory of America’s most prestigious repertory companies: Berkeley Repertory Theatre, American Repertory Theater, etc., and, of course, Guthrie Theater, Jungle Theater and other top Twin Cities stages. He recently was a reader in Six Points’ New Play Festival’s The Book of Vashti.
Two Jews Walk Into a War … offers local playgoers an opportunity to just laugh out loud.
Two Jews Walk into a War … runs April 30-May 22 at Six Points Theater, Highland Park Community Center, 1978 Ford Pkwy., St. Paul. For information and ticket reservations, go to: sixpointstheater.org or call 651-647-4315.
(American Jewish World, April 2022)