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Past & Present:  Russian Jewish American Stories

November 15-16, 2015

A unique show of stories, poetry, plays and song, which explores the humorous and poignant stories of Russian-speaking Jews – the life they lived in the FSU and the life they are living today as Americans.

PRESS

Broadway World

Bonnnie Priever Curtain Up

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DOWNLOAD PRESS RELEASE HERE

THE PROGRAM

Material Adapted and Produced by Ronda Spinak
Directed by Eve Brandstein
Assistant Producer Barbara Koletsky
Associate Producers Patrick Conde, Rose Ziff, Susie Yuré

Russian Folk Song — Yamshik
Performed by Julia & Jacob Kantor

A Jew in FSU
Written by Tina Grimberg, Rabbi Leonid Feldman and Lilia Lukowsky.  Performed by Lisa Ann Grant, Sean Topps & Kate Rappoport.

Refused No More
Written by Rabbi Leonid Feldman.  Performed by Sean Topps.

Peachy
Written by Yelena Shor.  Performed by Lisa Ann Grant & Eugene Alper.

Price to Pay
Written by Lilia Lukowsky.  Performed by Kate Rappoport & Eugene Alper.

What I Had to Learn
Written by Rabbi Leonid Feldman.  Performed by Sean Topps & Lisa Ann Grant.

My Son’s Turn
Written by Lilia Lukowsky.  Performed by Kate Rappoport & Eugene Alper.

Retired
Written by Alla Rubin.  Performed by Julia Kantor.

Always Come Home
Written by Natasha Basley.  Performed by Lisa Ann Grant & Kate Rappoport.

The Counterpart
Written by Nadia Kalman.  Adapated by Ronda Spinak.  Performed by Eugene Alper, Lisa Ann Grant, Sean Topps & Kate Rappoport.

Drama For Your Momma
Written and performed by Kira Soltanovich.

Love’s Infinite Streams
Music and Lyrics by Jacob Kantor. Performed by Julia & Jacob Kantor.

ARTIST BIOS

EUGENE ALPER (Actor)

Before emigrating from the Soviet Union in 1989, Eugene worked as a bread-loader, a house-painter, and, having earned a Master’s Degree in theater, an actor in a Leningrad troupe.  After immigrating to Los Angeles, he has been creatively employed delivering pizza, digging at a Jewish cemetery, enforcing municipal codes, pursuing occasional acting, composing Russian songs, translating Chekhovian memoirs, and studying political philosophy.  With one missing piece of the mosaic—participating in a Jewish Women’s Theater production—now in place, Eugene feels proud and almost complete.

NATASHA MICHELLE BASLEY (Writer) is a peacenik, poet, and short story writer. She has worked in international affairs for over a decade but has continued to dabble in the arts. She sang in the Peace Child Honor Choir of Los Angeles, which took her to a Soviet Pioneer camp in the 1980s in Yalta, where kids from the U.S. and USSR performed a joint musical production about world peace and preserving the environment. She also performed as an actor in Nancy Keystone’s award-winning The Akhmatova Project and Bill Viola’s internationally acclaimed series, The Passions. When living in Nepal, she worked with the Kasthamandap Modern Art Collective to produce a fashion show entitled Wearable Art and also sang back-up for a now-defunct rock band. She continues to write and hopes to publish her memoir-cum-novel about her adventures around the world. Natasha would like to dedicate “Always Come Home” to her mother, Alicin Varonica Basley.
EVE BRANDSTEIN (Director) has made contributions to every facet of the entertainment industry from studio executive, producer, director, writer/creator, talent manager, and author. Eve also has a notable career as a casting director. Credits include the feature This is Spinal Tap , television credits include Diff’rent StrokesOne Day At A TimeFacts of Life, Who’s The Boss, Beastmaster and Total Recall. Among her television production credits, she produced and developed  E/R the Comedy Series, and produced and directed the series John Waters Presents Movies That Will Corrupt You.  Her recent return to theater directing credits are the long running hit production of Not That Jewish, the NY Off-Broadway 2 year hit of Shut Up Sit Down & Eat, NY and LA premieres of Revisiting Wildfire, the NY premiere of Voices Of Swords, Ronnie Spector’s Beyond The Beehive, Waiting For Jack – A Beat Poetry ReunionClaiming Allen Ginsberg, and Suzanne Wang’s Cracked Open. Eve has also directed the Jewish Women’s Theater shows Stories From the FringeSaffron and RosewaterHold Me, Heal Me and He Said, She Said.  She continues to produce the bi-costal spoken-word event Poetry In Motion since 1988.  evebrandsteinproductions.com.
PATRICK CONDE (Associate Producer) the most recent JWT employee, came to LA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he earned his BA in history and communication arts. Driven by his passion for filmmaking and will to work in the entertainment industry, he found solace in contributing to the success of The Braid, JWT’s newly created theater. Using his talents to cement JWT’s success on social media and spearheading the paperless initiative, Patrick’s radical ideas and willingness to innovate have taken JWT in a whole new direction.
RABBI LEONID FELDMAN (Writer), spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in West Palm Beach, Florida, and CLAL associate, is the first and only Soviet-born Conservative rabbi in America. He is also the president of the Ami-Da Institute for training Russian Jewish leaders and senior rabbinic fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. Rabbi Feldman has lectured in 37 states and 19 countries, has testified before the US Congress and Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and addressed the California Senate and Florida House of Representatives. He has been the subject of feature articles in the NY Times, Chicago Tribune, Jerusalem Post, Miami Herald, LA Times, Insight Magazine, and Moment, and his biography appears in a host of Who’s Whos. Rabbi Feldman has served as a scholar for the Wexner Heritage Foundation and as director of education for Soviet emigrés in Italy. He holds graduate degrees in rabbinics from the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, in education from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, in physics and theater arts from Kishinev State Pedagogical Institute in the USSR, and is a Ph.D candidate in international relations at the University of Miami.
LISA ANN GRANT (Actor) is thrilled to be a part of the Jewish Women’s Theatre. Originally from New York City, Lisa appeared on Broadway as Eponine in Les MiserablesLeader of the Pack, DreamGirls, and Camelot. She appeared Off-Broadway with Robert Downey Jr. and Jane Krakowski in American Passion and Radio City Music Hall as a soloist. On television she has appeared on Comedy Central, Stacked, Charmed, ER, and Crossing Jordan, to name a few, as well as several commercials and voice-overs.
NADIA KALMAN (Writer) is the author of the novel, The Cosmopolitans, which won the 2011 Emerging Fiction Award from Moment magazine and was a finalist for the Rohr Prize. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she is currently editing her second novel.
JACOB (Singer/Songwriter) and JULIA (Singer/Performer/Actor) KANTOR, a husband-and-wife duo, have been singing together since their first date. They launched the French band Paris Chansons, specializing in original renditions of French favorites. Jacob and Julia perform regularly at the Sofitel, the Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood, and private/corporate events all over. They are especially known for their signature show Moulin Russe, of French and Russian music. Jacob is originally from Moscow; Julia was born in Lvov, Ukraine, and lived and studied in France. They are thrilled to be part of this show. For more information, visit www.parischansons.com.
BARBARA KOLETSKY (Stage Manager/Assistant Producer) has most recently worked on the production side of Jewish Women’s Theatre. Prior to that, for three seasons she was responsible for catering.  Now Barbara is thrilled to be moving into stage management for JWT at The Braid.  Barbara is also the owner of RSVP Party Planning, where as an experienced party planner she has produced many events, specializing in charitable organizations but with many corporate and private clients as well. Barbara was born in New York and moved to California for a career in marketing and promotions for Polygram Records and Elektra Atlantic Corp. She regularly volunteers at the Grossman Burn Center with her service dog, Rodney.

 

JAMIE LEVINSON (Technical Director) graduated from Santa Monica High School in 2010. At Allegheny College he acted in two productions, The Cherry Orchard, where he played Yepikhodov, and Servant of Two Masters, where he played Florindo. During his primary education, he appeared in numerous talent shows.
LILIA LUKOWSKY (Writer) was born in Kirovogad, Ukraine, and moved to Los Angeles with her family in 1996. She earned a BA in biology in 2002 and a PhD in epidemiology in 2012 from UCLA. An epidemiologist at the Tobacco Control and Prevention Program at the LA County Department of Public Health, Dr. Lukowsky is working on a study of the effects of secondhand smoking on residents of multi-unit housing. In an effort to learn about her roots, in October 2013 – March 2014 she participated in a Russian-Jewish b’nai mitzvah project sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, designed to introduce Jewish adults from the former Soviet Union to their heritage, and became bat mitzvah at the end of this project. Through the program she developed close friendships with other Russian-Jewish immigrants that continue to this day. Lilia  is a member of Kol Ami Temple in West Hollywood, and her son, Edward, is studying for his bar mitzvah, which will take place October 2017.
KATE RAPPOPORT (Actor) is a Polish American actress with a BFA in theater from Boston University. She most recently performed in and associate produced the One Minute Play Festival in San Francisco with the Playwrights Foundation. She also performed in several sketch comedy shows with the group Killing My Lobster and will be featured in SF Sketchfest in January 2016.
ALLA RUBIN (Writer) had been shipped from Leningrad, USSR, to Long Beach, CA, on a Soviet cargo boat, along with lumber and pine nuts.  She is a natural storyteller, and as a dentist, used this ability to keep her patients’ mouths wide open.  Recently she abandoned dentistry for doing nothing at all.  The new career fulfills her and meets perfectly her life ambitions.  She writes about it in her poetry and short stories.
YELENA SHOR (Writer) was born in Moscow, Russia. In the late ’70s, when she was 14, her family applied for emigration and soon joined the ranks of “refuseniks”—thousands of Jewish families denied permission to leave the USSR. Nine years later they succeeded and arrived in the United States as political refugees. In the US, Yelena pursued her deep interest in human development, studying cultural anthropology, philosophy, dance, Hawaiian jujitsu, and various mind-body disciplines and delighted in studying Jack Grape’s Method Writing in Los Angeles. Yearning for more first-hand knowledge of the land that was her new home, she spent a year and a half traveling in her pickup truck throughout the US and Central America. She is currently working on a book of short stories and poetry based on her travels. Yelena regularly presents her work at Beyond Baroque in Venice, CA.
KIRA SOLTANOVICH (Writer/Performer) began her comedy career in 1998, after her parents confessed, “It’s not like you’re smart enough to be a doctor.” Kira took that as their blessing to pursue her dreams to become a stand-up comedian, and she’s never looked back. Kira has appeared on The Jay Leno Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Last Call with Carson Daly, Hell’s Kitchen, Last Comic Standing, Set List TV, Hello Ross! and The World Stands Up on Comedy Central. She has written for Joan Rivers, Scott Baio, Selena Gomez, and Justin Bieber. Kira’s pilot, Weren’t You Scott Baio? was optioned by New Line Television; her hidden-camera dating show Who’s Got Game? was optioned by MTV, and her feature film What’s Your Sign? was optioned by Terra Firma at Universal. Kira’s three-year-old son inspired her podcast, On the Kira Soltanovich Show, where she interviews fellow comedians who have kids, and they discuss all things comedy and colic related. Her most recent offering, You Did This To Me, shot when she was 7 months pregnant, will be out on Netflix and Hulu.
RONDA SPINAK (Producer/Adapted Material) created and produces JWT’s At-Homes Salon Theatre Series, now in its eighth season. She has curated more than 24 original Jewish-themed salon shows for JWT, as well as adapted many of the pieces performed. She graduated from Stanford University, and holds degrees from UCLA (MBA) and USC (Masters in professional writing). Ronda’s plays include Stories from the Fringe and festival-winner Oscar Wilde’s Wife, a favorite at the Ashland New Play Festival and Dayton’s FutureFest. She has written for the Emmy Award-winning children’s show Rugrats and authored the critically acclaimed nonfiction book ProBodX: Proper Body Exercise (HarperCollins, publisher). Ronda is on the board of the Association for Jewish Theatres and is a member of the Dramatists Guild. She feels blessed to be working with the many talented and inspiring women who give so generously to Jewish Women’s Theatre.
SEAN TOPPS (Actor) was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada. He was classically trained at the University of Windsor Fine Arts in Acting program. Most recently Sean created and starred in a solo show for the Hollywood Fringe Festival called What Be G*d Is Blessing. He is excited to return to the Jewish Women’s Theatre after last year’s Hold Me, Heal Me salon show.
SUSIE YURÉ (Associate Producer) has volunteered for 30 years in non-profit organizations, in which she has held leadership roles in fundraising, event planning, facilities coordinating, programming, membership, marketing, and administration. Susie has produced musical theatre productions, classical concerts, and cabaret performances and has been intensely involved in the world of theatre for over 20 years. She holds a BA and MA in elementary education from USC, along with her California lifetime teaching credential. Her favorite role is as mom to her two talented (grown) children, who are both professional (and working) musicians.
ROSE ZIFF (Associate Producer) came out of retirement to work for JWT after working at UCLA Medical Center for 33 years, where she functioned as “den mother” to more than 1000 interns, residents, and clinical fellows at UCLA, the VA, and Olive View-UCLA Medical Centers, providing resources and support. Rose is currently serving on the Board of Directors for Lev Eisha, a Jewish women’s non-profit religious organization and spiritual community. Her hobbies include gardening, dog training and hosting a monthly book club.

GALLERY

Russian folk song performed by Julia & Jacob Kantor

Sean Topps in Rabbi Leonid Feldman’s “Refused No More.”

Sean Topps and Eugene Alper

Lisa Ann Grant and Kate Rappaport in Natasha Basley’s “Always Come Home”

Eugene Alper loses his nose  while Lisa Ann Grant looks on in Nadia Kalman’s “The Counterpart”

Eugene Alper and Kate Rappaport disagree on their son’s choice to have a Bar Mitzvah, in Lila Lukokwsky’s “My Son’s Turn.”

Artistic Director Ronda Spinak with Director Eve Brandstein

Kira Soltanovich in her own “Drama For Your Momma”

Patrons check out jewelry offerings before the show

Photos by Jan Burns