The Jewish Theatre Collaborative will be debuting its stage adaptation of Meir Shalev’s novel A Pigeon & A Boy on March 22. The JTC is a theater company which, by adapting Jewish narratives for the stage, tackles complex cultural issues.
A Pigeon & A Boy chronicles the lives of two lovers at different periods in time, shifting between the Israeli War of Independence in 1948 and modern times. The JTC’s adaptation marks the first time the novel has been adapted for the stage.
Sacha Reich, founder of the Jewish Theatre Collaborative, adapted the novel with Doren Elias, a local actor and co-owner of the Traveling Lantern Theatre Company.
Reich said they chose to adapt the novel after the company put on a performance called Taster’s Choice at the Fertile Grounds Festival last year. The company adapted excerpts from three novels dealing with Jewish life and culture. Afterward, audience members were encouraged to provide feedback.
“We had the audience writing about what they were responding to and what they liked between each performance,” Reich said. “We pored over them.”
Reich said the audience reactions to A Pigeon & A Boy were particularly positive. The play was chosen to be adapted in its entirety shortly after the festival.
Reich said the adaptation has been designed to stand on its own. No knowledge of the book is required to enjoy the play, though audience members familiar with the book may note differences in the plot.
Reich said one reality of adaptation is that certain characters and plot points had to be cut. Reich estimated that the novel stands at 200,000 words. The adaptation sits at about 19,000 words.
“The characters, the stories, the themes of the novel are really very powerful,” Reich said. “We’ve just distilled them for the play.”
Reich said she hopes to use the communal aspect of theater to gather as a community and start conversations.
“In Jewish culture, stories have always been the center,” Reich said. “You wrestle with a story to understand who you are and the world you’re in. That’s lost its centrality, but stories haven’t lost their power.”
The play’s debut will mark the culmination of several months of events organized by the JTC. The events, divided into acts, served to explore the themes of the novel and the history and culture in which it is steeped.
A Pigeon & A Boy is being co-sponsored by several organizations within Portland State, including the Harold Schnitzer Family Program in Judaic Studies, the School of Theatre & Film and the Middle East Studies Center.
“[Reich] approached the three departments at PSU,” said Elisheva Cohen, outreach coordinator for the MESC. “She encouraged us to read the book to see if we were interested in co-sponsoring.”
Cohen said the MESC had partnered with the JTC before in a project called Cafe Baghdad, a theater performance that combined poetry and memoirs to describe what Jewish life was like in Baghdad in 1928.
Cohen said the MESC has largely been helping publicize the play by creating and dispersing promotional material.
“These productions about life in Israel, and taking sort of a historical and cultural approach, fit into the goals of our outreach program,” Cohen said. “It’s a different approach to understanding life in Israel.”
Lorraine Bahr, an adjunct professor in the School of Theatre & Film, will be playing Raya, the mother of the main character. Bahr said that her understanding of the cultural and political history of the Jewish people, particularly in Israel, had only been vague before getting involved with the play.
“The geopolitical birth of Israel, the struggle for a homeland, all of these are dense with complexities,” Bahr said. “The roots of the ongoing troubles are deep and ancient.”
Bahr first became involved with the JTC during the Fertile Grounds Festival, when she participated in stage readings of excerpts from novels.
Bahr, who is also an experienced playwright, said engaging in the adaptation process has been fascinating. Bahr said that adapting a novel for the stage is unusual, as novels are far more likely to get adapted for film. The two processes are very different.
“Narration must be woven into active dialogue,” Bahr said. “This creates an intriguing story-telling style.”
Additional information about A Pigeon & A Boy and the Jewish Theatre Collaborative can be found at jewishtheatrecollaborative.org.