Metro Weekly

Theater J’s Adam Immerwahr: “Judaism grapples with life or death questions all the time”

For Theater J's Adam Immerwahr, the questions raised by Roz and Ray are precisely the point

Roz and Ray — Photo: C. Stanley Photography

“In 1984, as your patients are dying around you, what do you do?”

For Dr. Roz Kagan, treating hemophiliacs in the early days of the AIDS epidemic with a drug derived from a blood supply that may or may not be tainted, that question is agonizing. A lifesaving drug that could just as easily turn life-threatening. And in Karen Hartman’s compelling Roz and Ray, there are no easy answers.

“How do you make the right decisions?” says director Adam Immerwahr. “How do you decide between two impossible, potential death sentences?… These are the questions that this play asks, which doctors at this time were asking. Devastating questions. Impossible questions. And, I think, very Jewish questions.

“Judaism grapples with important life or death questions all the time,” he continues. “This is what rabbis debate. This is the experience of Judaism. The experience of Judaism is wrestling with these questions. It’s not of passively saying, ‘These are the laws and I follow them.’ But, saying, ‘But, but, but, what about this? What about this? What about this?'”

Theater J recently announced its upcoming season, which includes Lanford Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Tally’s Folly and The Jewish Queen Lear, a Yiddish masterpiece getting its English-language premiere. Immerwahr, who has served as artistic director of the theater since 2015, says the mission of adhering to Jewish themes is helpful when it comes time to choosing a season. “It certainly makes it easy to reject plays. It is very easy to look at a play and go, ‘There is nothing here for us. This doesn’t speak to Judaism in any meaningful way.’

“But it’s also a great challenge — how to crack the same nut differently over and over again, how to provide variety and diversity, and also how to be inclusive. We’re in the middle of Dupont Circle. We want to make sure that the work we are doing speaks to all of our patrons, tells inspirational stories of who we are as a city, of who we are as a community, and of course, offers inclusive opportunities for artists of all backgrounds, all of whom deserve work in this city. So, there’s lots of challenges in it. But, yet, in some ways, having a restriction is sort of fun.”

Roz and Ray runs to April 29, at Theater J, 1529 16th St. NW. Tickets are $39 to $69. Call 202-777-3210, or visit theaterj.org.

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Randy Shulman is Metro Weekly's Publisher and Editor-in-Chief. He can be reached at rshulman@metroweekly.com.

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