Pop Smart - The Last Schwartz: Jewish Theatre of the South goes dark in 2008

(Photo T.W. Meyer)

Sometimes I’ll go to a playhouse on an ill-attended opening night and wonder how they stay in business. That thought never crossed my mind at Jewish Theatre of the South. Whenever I’ve gone to see its productions at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta (usually on opening nights), its audience has seemed engaged, enthusiastic and numerous.

Therefore it comes as a shock to learn that the MJCCA is eliminating Jewish Theatre of the South at the end of the current season, and artistic director Mira Hirsch will resign, effective May 31, 2008.

According to the theater’s press release, the MJCCA’s current mission clashes with Jewish Theatre of the South’s programming choices, particularly its advocacy of world premieres and rarely produced work.

Howie Hyman, Chair of the MJCCA’s Arts & Culture Task Force explains, “Jewish Theatre of the South succeeded in producing quality, professional theater with Jewish content. However, the mission of the MJCCA has evolved and the specific mission of JTS – ‘a professional theatre committed to presenting seldom-produced plays that originate from a Jewish perspective,’ will be broadened to the more universal mission of ‘inspiring and engaging the Jewish community through professional and community-based, theater; as well as producing work with broad appeal for children, teens and adults.’”

The company’s 13th and final season will continue Jan. 30-Feb. 24 with Hard Love (starring Hirsch and Chris Kayser) and finish with the now aptly named comedy The Last Schwartz (April 25-May 25). Apparently, the MJCCA will form a new theater company that will debut in fall 2008.

I’ve been following Jewish Theatre of the South since its third production, The Loman Family Picnic, in 2006 at its old location on Peachtree Street. And it's true that some titles, such as Mizlansky/Zilinsky, Kuni-Leml and Miklat (the latter a terrific culture-clash comedy set in Israel), aren’t exactly familiar to most play-goers. But Hirsch and JTS never valued obscurity for its own sake, staging fine, professional productions that always echoed contemporary issues and concerns. I guess such JTS productions of famous crowd-pleasers as Fiddler on the Roof (2005), Funny Girl (2003) and Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys (2003) don’t count.

Over the years I’ve particularly enjoyed JTS’ production of the work of Donald Margulies, including The Loman Family Picnic and last year's superb Brooklyn Boy (pictured above with David de Vries and Sharon Zoe Litzky). My favorite production, however, was the corny yet delightful Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh! The Alan Sherman Musical staged at the 14th Street Playhouse. For Hirsch and JTS’ intelligence and consistently high caliber of work over the years, I just want to say, “Mazel tov.”