Grand Rapids Jewish Theatre explores culture, engages all


GVL / Meghan Tripp

Allison Bair, Staff Writer

The Grand Rapids Jewish Theatre kicked off its performance season last week with a performance of “Crossing Delancey.” The play navigates Jewish themes that help connect the performers, audience and community to diverse ideas. 

GRJT’s slogan, “You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy Jewish culture” means that productions include all interested individuals, not just those who are Jewish. Anyone interested can volunteer, join a production, or act and direct the shows that center around the Jewish community. 

“Crossing Delancey,” written by Susan Sandler, is a play about Isabelle “Izzy” Grossman, played by Kristin Tomlin and her “Bubbie” Idela Kantor, played by Frances Gentile. In the performance Bubbie pays a matchmaker, played by Rosanna Steffens, to set Izzy up with a future husband, the pickleman. 

The play contains plenty of Yiddish verbiage commonly used by Jewish communities to immerse the audience into part of the Jewish experience. Ian Grell, the director of this production said he worked to accurately present these elements. 

“We didn’t know how to pronounce it all (the Yiddish words) but I brought a Jewish friend in and she helped us figure out the meaning and how to say it,” Grell said.

This production is part of the running history of GRJT. The theatre started small in the surrounding community during its inaugural season in 1994-95. Judy Subar, the founder of GRJT, Don Herman, Judy Krell and Linda Albert worked together to put on small productions at Congregation Ahavas Israel and Temple Emanuel. During GRJT’s third season, Herman reached out to the founder of Actors’ Theatre Grand Rapids, Fred Sebulske, who agreed to move GRJT to the Spectrum Theatre. 

Although the company mainly holds productions at Spectrum Theatre, GRJT occasionally revisits Temple Emanuel and Congregation Ahavas Israel.

The original spirit of this theatre carries on in the company’s productions today. Grell said he loves Grand Rapids because of the diverse culture and GRJT’s ability to celebrate culture and the ability to involve and educate people of different faiths. 

“I really admire how this group really wants their culture to be known,” Grell said. 

Many individuals involved in the production come from different backgrounds and faiths. The board pushes for inclusion and encourages a genuine Jewish experience, even if the participants of the play are not Jewish themselves.

“None of the actors are Jewish (for this performance) but the entire board is,” Grell said. 

The next performance during this season is “The Creation of the World and Other Business,” a comedy about the Book of Genesis written by Arthur Miller and directed by Jason Marlett. Auditions will be open for any race, religion and gender. Performances will begin in February on the Spectrum Theatre Main Stage. 

The third and final production of GRJT season is “Indecent” written by Paula Vogel and directed by Caitlin Hart. The play centers around LGBTQ issues in the early 1900s including the “obscenity” that was thought to be connected to the lesbian stigma. Showings begin in late April.

Grand Rapids Jewish Theatre relies on ticket purchases, donations, fundraisers and sponsorships to continue productions. The board of directors encourages volunteers to help with production and marketing to make the performances possible. 

GRJT will continue to perform “Crossing Delancey” on Oct. 5, 6 and 8 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 9 at 3 p.m. in the Spectrum Theatre’s Black Box. Tickets and season passes are available for purchase online. The site also offers donation and advertisement opportunities.