Performance of PHARAOH
followed by Q + A with creator Rabbi Misha Shulman and Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie

Sunday, March 17th
Theater for the New City

The piece, which tells the biblical Exodus story from the perspective of the king of Egypt, is a work for two artists: Shulman, dressed in black, gives voice to all the characters, while Kalamandalam John, founder and Director of Kalatharangini Kathakali School in South India, performs the play in movement theater using vibrant traditional Indian dance drama and elaborate makeup. Everything is in English. Michael Posnick directs.

The production was inspired in 2008 when Shulman was in the village of Muzhikulam, Kerala to watch a fifteen-day play called the Asokavanikangam, or the Asoka Tree Garden, performed in the Kudiyatam, Sanskrit theater tradition. This Indian classic, taken from the Ramayana, the holy Hindu book, tells of how The arch-villain Ravana kidnaps the goddess Sita, taking her to his island of Lanka, and trying repeatedly to convince her to succumb to him. Shulman describes the experience as “riveting,” “the slowest thing you’ve ever witnessed,” and “the best thing I had seen in my life.” Longing to make a parallel play of his own, Shulman imagined a staging of the Exodus story in which Jews could watch a play about the inner life of Pharaoh, their greatest enemy, modeled on Ravana and reimagined with Indian influences.

The piece ultimately evolved into a two-man production: a dialogue between a Pharaoh character performed in physical theater by Kalamandalam John, founder and Director of Kalatharangini Kathakali School in South India, and Misha Shulman, clad in black, voicing all the characters of the story including Pharaoh, Moses (stuttering), Pharaoh’s son, wife and father; an Egyptian priest and Death. They are accompanied musically by Galen Passen on Sitar and Tripp Dudley on drums. Kalamandalam John performs with the elaborate costume, colorful makeup, intricate gestures and expressive facial movements of Kathakali.

The piece was initially envisioned to be performed by Shulman as a solo show, influenced by the spirit and style of Kudiyatam. It was workshopped in Toronto, where Shulman was playwright in residence of Crow’s Theater. Later he had a staged reading at the 14th Street Y, where he was a LABA fellow. The project was set to premiere at Theater for the New City in March 2020 but was canceled due to the Covid shutdown.

Additional performance dates:
March 15 – 31, 2024
Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8:00 PM, Sunday at 3:00 PM
No performance Friday, March 22
Theater for the New City

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