2016-03-10 / Around Town

Purim Parody is Over the Rainbow

By James Merolla


Rabbi Jagolinzer (right) and other cast members from the temple give the script a quick once over as The Landing Party from last year's play "Star Drek," based on "Star Trek." Rabbi Jagolinzer (right) and other cast members from the temple give the script a quick once over as The Landing Party from last year's play "Star Drek," based on "Star Trek." Lisa Kotlen has a lion costume on her couch, green shower curtains draped over her furniture, and the Land of Oz sitting in her bedroom.

Kotlen is Temple Shalom’s vice president and chair of the education committee, as well as script editor, director, producer, casting agent, set creator, costume maker, and prop-gatherer for her temple’s uproarious Purim Shpiel parody of the Book of Esther.

The annual improvisational show – held one night after just one rehearsal – takes a familiar world and channels it through one of the most remarkable short chapters of the Old Testament to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim.

Last year, the play was “Star Drek,” based on “Star Trek.” This year, it’s “Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oy Vey!” based on, well, you can guess.

“You have no idea what ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ as described by the tenets of the Book of Esther, is all about,” said Kotlen. “Purim is a Jewish Mardi Gras. It’s a time when we are supposed to make merry. It’s a time of pure joy. We have a lot of fun. It’s my favorite Jewish holiday and we never forget the poor.”

This year’s skit holds more meaning than usual. In early February, subfreezing temperatures nearly destroyed Temple Shalom.

“The temple suffered a devastating flood,” said Rabbi Marc S. Jagolinzer. “The pipes froze and when it started to warm up they burst. When I walked in on the 18th, I was knee-deep in water.”

Jagolinzer said the building is unusable for now. He is in the process of arranging alternate venues for programs and worship. “We will get insurance [money],” he added, “but we know we are going to have a shortfall. Purim is a joyous holiday and we need to do some fundraising and some fun-raising.”

Enter United Congregational Church, just down the yellow brick Valley Road (three blocks from Temple Shalom) and Pastor Joe Tripp. “We’ve had a partnership with them for 14 years,” said Jagolinzer. “It’s a very close relationship. They come to the temple, and we go to the church. There has been an outpouring of community support and we are most appreciative for the sensitivity, the graciousness, and generosity of so many.”

“I love the Rev. Tripp,” said Kotlen. “He offered the church. I gave him a part. He’s the Lion, because he said, ‘I’ll take the part, but only if I get top billing.’”

Jagolinzer is the Tin Man and longtime Roger Williams University Theater Professor Jeffrey Martin, who played Captain James T. Mordechai, commander of the U.S.S. Yentaprise last year, plays the Scarecrow.

“Lisa’s scripts are very clever, loaded with the worst jokes and puns imaginable,” said Martin. “They are even a little transgressive. [Purim] celebrates survival after existential peril. Playing instantly recognizable characters gives a performer an easy base for exaggeration and improvisation. And it’s a mitzvah: a good deed.”

There’s only one rehearsal, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We’re not doing the whole ‘Wizard of Oz.’ But if we do more than one rehearsal, it won’t be funny,” explained Kotlen. “It’s supposed to be silly. It’s supposed to be ridiculous. If they read from the script, they aren’t nervous. You can let loose.”

Kotlen said Purim parody celebrations go as far back as the 14th century. They got a little too vulgar, she added, to the point where the Rabbinic community banned them for awhile.

“Most Rhode Island Jews think that Purim is a children’s holiday. But it’s really a great adult holiday,” said Kotlen. “During this sad and devastating time in Temple Shalom’s history, we need to laugh; we need to come together as a community.”

TO GO

“Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oy Vey!” WHEN: Sunday, March 20 at 7 p.m. WHERE: United Congregational Church, 524 Valley Road, Middletown TICKETS: $10 adults, $7 children (12 and under). In advance or at the door. MORE INFO: templeshalomri.org or 401-846-9002

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