The Last Two Jews of Kabul

February 27 - March 16, 2002
Thursday - Sunday 8:00pm
Sunday 2:30pm
First Floor Theatre

written by: Josh Greenfeld
directed by: George Ferencz
featuring: Jerry Matz and George Drance
set design: Tom Lee
costume design: Sally Lesser
l ighting design: Jeff Tapper
sound design: Tim Schellenbaum

THE LAST TWO JEWS OF KABUL, a new play by Josh Greenfeld, directed by George Ferencz, is a two character play based upon a true story. After the fall of Kabul in the autumn of 2001, two Jewish men were discovered in a city that was once home to 40,000 Jews. These alleged "last two Jews" were sharing as their living quarters the ruins of a synagogue -- but not speaking to each other. This is a comic premise and the play is, indeed, rich in humor. But it is not without serious and dramatic overtones.

On January 18, 2002, Mark Landler reported in the New York Times that the only two Jews known to remain in Afghanistan both claimed stewardship over Kabul's two ramshackle Jewish temples, lived across a dusty, sun-baked courtyard from each other and shared a tiny kitchen. Yet Zbolon Semantov and Isaak Levi, fervent enemies, were too busy fighting a private war to take notice that with the fall of the Taliban, they had escaped the long shadow of fundamentalist Muslim movement, which regarded Judaism as the root of much of the world's evil.

This and other news accounts inspired Greenfeld's play, which fictionalizes the situation into a tale in which the two men's personalities are in constant conflict and neither seems to be quite truthful about his identity or background. Their motives for staying in Kabul during the last days of the Taliban are a mystery that each attempts to solve about the other. The volatile transition following the arrival of the Americans and the Northern Alliance provides a stark, dangerous background for their contest of wits and wills. The play frolics with the suspicions and stubbornness of these two supposedly devout men, offering a novel perspective on the temperaments that underlie the Israeli-Muslim conflict (and maybe, just maybe, pointing a way toward reconciliation).

With this play, author Josh Greenfeld returns to theater writing after a career as a journalist, critic, novelist, and screenwriter. Mr. Greenfeld was nominated for an Academy Award for the screenplay of "Harry and Tonto," the film for which Art Carney won the Oscar for the Best Actor. Greenfeld also wrote the screenplays for "Oh God! Book Two" starring George Burns and "Lovey: Circle of Child Part II" starring Jane Alexander. His play, "Clandestine on the Morning Line," after premiering at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., was produced Off-Broadway starring Rosetta LeNoir and James Earl Jones. His "I Have a Dream" starring Billy Dee Williams, after opening at Ford's Theatre in Washington and touring the country, also settled down for a run on Broadway. He is author of the novels "O for a Master of Magic," "The Return of Mr. Hollywood" and "What Happened Was This". But perhaps Mr. Greenfeld is best known for his prize winning "A Child Called Noah" trilogy about his brain damaged son ("A Child Called Noah", "A Place for Noah" and "A Client Called Noah").

Greenfeld's awards and nominations include an Academy Award Nomination for Best Screenplay and Writers Guild Screen Writing Achievement Nomination ("Harry and Tonto"), a Harold U. Ribalow Award Nomination for Best English Book of Fiction on a Jewish Theme ("The Return of Mr. Hollywood"), three Christopher Asards ("Harry and Tonto," "Lovey: Circle of Children Part II" and "A Place for Noah") and a Ford Foundation Theatre Grant ("Clandestine on the Morning Line"). He has had a Japan Foundation Visiting Artist Fellowship and Guggenheim Fellowship. He has written over 400 reviews and articles in The New York Times, Time, Life, Newsweek, New York, Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Village Voice, Commonweal and others.

Director George Ferencz is well-known for his productions at La MaMa including a distinguished production of Sam Shepard's "Tooth of Crime," a trilogy of Shepard's jazz plays with Obie-winning music by Max Roach, and Mac Wellman's "Harm's Way." He is now curator of a play readings series at La MaMa which presents concert readings of new scripts written for experimental theater at La MaMa's Galleria, an art gallery at 6 East First Street. His last La MaMa production was "Three Valises" by Stan Kaplan (2000). He is a resident director of La MaMa.

The play will be acted by Jerry Matz and George Drance. Mr. Matz's Broadway credits include "Roza," "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Ghetto" and his films include "The Chosen," "A Price Above Rubies" and Revolution 9." He co-starred in Frank Gilroy's film "The Gig" and has been featured on TV's "Law and Order," "Kate & Allie" and a few NY soaps. Off-Broadway, he has appeared in "Shmulnik's Waltz" by Alan Knee, "The Mysteries and What's So Funny" by David Gordon, "Jewish Stories Paris Brussels" at Ubu Rep, "The Rise of David Levinsky" at American Jewish Theater, and three productions at New Federal Theater, "The Last Danceman," "A Day Out of Time" and "Everyday Visitor." His last O-B appearance was "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" at Classical Theater of Harlem. Regionally, he has appeared at Center Stage (Baltimore), Cleveland Playhouse, The Wilma (Philadelphia), Virginia Museum Theater, Helen Hayes Performing Arts (Nyack), George Street Playhouse and Goodspeed Opera House.

George Drance has appeared in Andrei Serban's "Cymbeline" in Central Park and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" with the Shakespeare Project. With La MaMa's Great Jones Repertory, he has appeared in all three plays of "Fragments of a Greek Trilogy" directed by Andrei Serban with music by Elizabeth Swados. He has toured throughout Europe and Asia with the Great Jones Rep and represented La MaMa at the Teatrul Tineretului in Romania with Niky Wolcz's production of Ionesco's "The Lesson," winning first prize. Regionally, he has appeared with the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Boston's New Repertory Theatre, the Huntington Theatre Company and the American Repertory Theater. He has been a regular performer with ImprovBoston and the U.S. Improv Theatre League, and was one of seven actors representing the United States in the World Cup of Improv in Montreal. In 2000, he collaborated with Elizabeth Swados on an adaptation of Calderon's "Life is a Dream." Drance was artistic director of Theatre YETU in Kenya and interim artistic director of Teatro la Fragua in Honduras. He received his BA in theater from Marquette, his MFA in acting from Columbia, and is currently an artist-in-residence at Fordham's theater department.

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