The world premiere of "Broken Snow" at the JCAT Cultural Arts Theatre marks the launch of JCAT Pro, the first professional equity production for the ten-year-old company. The production promises a new era of growth for the important Jewish theatre. JCAT will be moving to a new 200 seat new facility in December, enabling the company to expand out of its cramped space as a somewhat improvised theatre-in-the-round.
"Broken Snow" is also something of a family affair, written by playwright Ben Andron and produced and capably directed by his father, Michael Andron, who is the driving force behind the production company. This is fitting, because Ben Andron's script provides a dark, painful exploration of family, rooted in a complex history important to the Jewish community. If this summary provides only a vague explanation about the play, then the blame the playwright. As he correctly notes in the playbill, "to say much more would spoil it." Although a work of fiction, the play explores true events that cannot be summarized without revealing the story's central mystery.
Michael Andron's thirty-year history in Jewish theatre and his son's exploration of themes central of identity, G-d, and redemption continue a centuries-old tradition. Early American Yiddish theatre explored modernity and identity, while the early Jewish playwrights grappled with the Jew's role in the secular state. Playwrights such as Elmer Rice, Clifford Odets and Paddy Chayefsky, have informed Andron's self of identity and importance.
Perhaps the best context for "Broken Snow," however, can be found in Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman." The relationships explored replace the harshness of the failed American dream with a much darker, more insidious past. Likely there is no coincidence that JCAT produced a Yiddish version earlier this season.
Avi Hoffman delivers a heart-wrenching performance as a man who has fought a lifetime battle with his demons and lost. Like "Salesman's" Willie Loman, "Broken Snow's" Kris Brenner is a man betrayed by the world around him.
Hoffman's every movement elicits an exploration of a broken man's inner monologue. Given the intimate, in-the-round staging, every gesture risks shouting at the audience, and Hoffman deftly manages to inhabit his character without devolving into the grotesque. Without ever overstating the character, he captures the character's pain in his face, wrists, stammer, and walk. Hoffman projected the wreckage of his life from his first moment on stage, transforming from monster to victim with the turn of a phrase. The performance was electrifying and elevated both of his co-stars whenever they appeared on stage together.
As a world premiere, it is likely the script continues to be a work-in-progress. It highlights powerful memories, delving into a shared history that should never be forgotten. Andron's script could benefit by reflecting on Arthur Miller's gift for subtlety or Paddy Chayefsky's use of humor and pathos. Some actions are unforgivable by any adult. A play that seeks to explore the nuances of right and wrong must paint in shades of gray. Without this, the moral challenges at the heart of the play become muted by the choices reflected earlier in the ninety-minute story.
Together, the father and son duo of Ben Andron and Michael Andron deliver a powerful first installment for JCAT Pro. The production provides an excellent opportunity to develop a promising voice in Jewish Theatre. In doing so, they created the perfect vehicle for Avi Hoffman and a story that will leave an indelible memory on those willing to explore its dark depths.
"Broken Snow" continues through May 21. For tickets and more information, visit www.jcctheatre.com. See Mary Damiano's review of the play. Click here.