Elliott Green needs his morning coffee breaks. Ritualistic, (“Sip, bite, read…something about Madonna “) they’re all he likes about his job as an admin assistant at IBM. Brenda, his tightly wound, micro-manager of a boss is after him for The Report.
Worlds away in 19th-century Poland, Reb Nachman, the dying great-grandson of Hasidic Judaism’s founder the Baal Shem Tov, is desperate to find a successor. Among other qualities, his heir must be a “terrific dancer, ” and the kingdom possesses no one worthy. And so, the rebbe expands his search by depositing himself into modern-day San Francisco. Sipping an espresso, Elliott’s coffee break turns mystical — and that’s not the java talking.
So unfolds The Mad Dancers, Los Angeles-based Yehuda Hyman’s extensively researched follow-up to real-life Rabbi Nachman’s unfinished tale The Seven Beggars. Ten years in the making, Hyman’s inspiration to pen the time-traveling comedy came during a stay at the Hotel Pomegranate in Israel’s Galilee. Hyman’s semi-autobiographical work — he exists fundamentally in Elliott as a gay Jew who feels more than excluded — The Mad Dancers charts one man’s spiritual journey toward self-acceptance, though Elliott resists following these curious characters he meets, who occasionally attempt to derail him. Along the way to epiphany, Elliott is misplaced, displaced, lost, and finally, found.
The Theater J collaboration, co-directed by Nick Olcott and Liz Lerman, incorporates dance, music and sign language into this work, which celebrates Kabbalistic texts. Hassidic thought, traditionally, is very closed, “oppressive, sexist and homophobic, ” says Olcott, pinpointing the impetus of Elliott’s journey. “But, in fact, I think the original writings are extremely beautiful and open to everyone. ”
Hyman, trained as a dancer and choreographer, danced for Lerman but deferred the steps to her (“There are a couple of my moves in there, ” Hyman exclaims. “She’s just magical! “). The Mad Dancers had its premiere in San Diego two years ago, with Hyman playing Elliott. And though he as a soft spot for the first production, of the Theater J collaboration, Hyman says, “I felt it had finally arrived. “
Through June 1, at Theater J’s Goldman Theater at the DCJCC, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $21-$34. Call 202-518-9400.