February 7, 2023
Coming-of-age stories have always been a favorite of writers wanting to explore a turning point in their characters’ lives. Playwright Lindsay Joelle’s buddy comedy Trayf does that and more.
The latest production of Highland Park-based Six Points Theater, Trayf tells of two Orthodox Jewish teenagers who navigate the secular world of New York City in a truck. The teens are members of an Hasidic sect, and they are on a mission to ignite the souls of Jews whose faith is not as ardent as their own.
Zalmy and Shmuel, played by Soren Thayne Miller (left) and Charlie Peterson, high-five in a scene from Six Points Theater’s production of "Trayf." The buddy comedy opens on February 18 at the Highland Park Community Center. Photo by Brad Stauffer
Directed by Jennie Ward, Trayf will open on February 18 in the theater of the Highland Park Community Center, 1978 Ford Pkwy. The production stars Saint Paul Academy senior Soren Thayne Miller as Zalmy and Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists junior Charlie Peterson as Shmuel.
Bringing light and joy to the world
Zalmy and Shmuel are following in the tradition of the Chabad-Lubavitch sect, riding in trucks dubbed “mitzvah tanks” throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan and engaging passersby in discussions about Judaism. The teens are intent on outreach and not necessarily conversion, according to Ward, a Highland Park resident.
‘Trayf’ is a comedy about friendship, faith and conflict. It deals sensitively with male friendships. That is what attracted director Jennie Ward to the play.
“They have a clear mission to ignite souls in the world,” she said. “So if you have a positive interaction with them, that’s a mitzvah, an act of bringing greater light and joy to the world.” However, their friendship and love of Judaism is tested when a curious outsider draws Zalmy into the forbidden pleasures of New York City.
On the cusp of adulthood
The two teenagers are at the point in their lives where formal schooling is about to end, Ward said, and they begin to sense what their future lives might be like. “They’re slipping away from each other and from what they thought their futures might hold,” she said. “It’s a universal kind of slipping away, one that any pair of childhood friends might feel as they step into adulthood.”
Trayf is a comedy about friendship, faith and conflict, according to Ward. It deals sensitively with male friendships. That is rare in American culture, she said, and it is what attracted her to the play.
One teen struggles with his identity
Miller, 18, has been performing on stage since he was 8. The role of Zalmy felt honest to him, he said, and it represents one of the first times he has been able to play a character who is the same age as himself.
“I personally related to a lot of things Zalmy goes through,” Miller said. He said he appreciated Zalmy’s constant questioning and struggle to learn who he is and what he stands for. The word “trayf” means forbidden things, and Zalmy struggles with the Orthodox Jewish tenets not to listen to secular music nor to watch musical theater.
The other seems to know who he is
Peterson, 17, is enrolled in the theater track at the Conservatory for Performing Artists. He has performed in many plays at school, but this will be his first time on a professional stage. The Macalester-Groveland resident said he also identifies with his character.
“I think Shmuel just knows who he is, and I think that’s a rare thing to find in teenagers especially,” Peterson said. “I think it’s just a lovable and passionate role to play.” Shmuel, he said, “is confident in himself, in who he wants to be and in who he enjoys being around. I think that’s a powerful thing to portray and play.”
In Trayf’s other roles, Paul LaNave plays Jonathan, a potential Catholic convert who learns his deceased father was of Jewish descent, and Marci Lucht, who plays Jonathan’s Jewish girlfriend Leah.
Trayf will be performed at 1 p.m. Tuesdays, at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, at
8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 1 and 7 p.m. on Sundays through March 12. Additional shows are scheduled at 5 p.m. Sunday, February 26, and at 1 p.m. Tuesdays, February 21 and
Masks must be worn by the audience on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays. They are optional on Thursdays and Saturdays. Socially distanced seating will be available at 7 p.m. Sunday, February 19, and at 1 p.m. Tuesday, February 21.
Tickets are priced from $25-$40 with discounts for groups and during the rush for students, artists and theater-goers. For reservations, visit sixpointstheater.org or call 651-647-4315.
— Frank Jossi