Note: “Bread of Affliction” is being judged this week for the American College Theatre Festival. It’s playing this Saturday, 7:30-8:15 p.m., in the JFSB Little Theater (Room B192) at Brigham Young University. Doors open at 7:00 p.m. and admission is free. They need a good audience, so if you live in the area, consider taking this excellent opportunity to see the play.
The BYU Experimental Theatre Company was invited to write a play for the Society of Jewish-American and Holocaust Literature, which held its national symposium in Salt Lake City in September. “Bread of Affliction,” written by Matthew Greene, was the end product of the invitation, and a very entertaining one, to be sure. The play is about a Jewish professor and his Gentile wife who are planning to have Passover with the professor’s family. While the professor lectures at a university, his wife is at home with his family, who are preparing the Passover feast and telling Jewish jokes. Much of the tension in the play comes from the professor’s disapproval of his family’s Jewish jokes, which, he feels, make light of a very serious, sensitive subject.
According to Matthew Greene and director Landon Wheeler, the play began first as a concept (finding humor in the face of persecution and suffering) that was built around an amalgamation of Jewish jokes that they pulled from a variety of sources. The concept was simple but effective, and Matthew did a good job of weaving the jokes into the narrative. I enjoyed the performance quite a bit. One of the things that interested me in particular about the play was its reception. From all accounts, the play was received very well at the Society of Jewish-American and Holocaust Literature symposium, and some of the most shocking jokes got the most laughs. When shown to BYU and Provo audiences, however, the reactions were a little reticent. Non-Jewish audience members weren’t sure if they should be laughing at Jewish jokes, several of which referenced the Holocaust and anti-Semitic stereotypes in rather bitingly ironic terms. Most seemed to lighten up after a while, though, once they got used to the style of humor and realized it was okay to laugh. Continue reading ““Bread of Affliction” and Cultural Self-Consciousness”