Historians believe that exagoge was written sometime during the second century B.C.E. (Before Common Era), and that it was the first recorded Jewish play. It is Ezekiel the Poet’s telling of the biblical Jewish Exodus. Performed here in the Greek Tragedy narrative form, theatre dybbuk has created a beautiful blending of the story of Moses leading his people out of Egypt and the migration of people from all over the world to America. Even though only 269 lines of the original play exist, the company and artistic director/playwright Aaron Henne took this small fragment and produced a powerful ninety-five-minute play. exagoge takes a critical look at how immigrants are most often met with fear and suspicion everywhere, and the violence that is created by those emotions. The play shifts back and forth between Biblical times and the present, depicting the rounding up of Jews in Germany, Hispanics, Asians and Native Indians in America, and Muslims in Europe; to name a few.

Rob Adler in Exagoge photo by Taso Papadakis
Rob Adler in exagoge Photo by Taso Papadakis

Performed outdoors in the small amphitheater adjacent to the UCLA Fowler Museum, exagoge is a provocative and political statement on humanity and religious beliefs. A Greek Tragedy play includes a chorus, a great deal of spoken narrative and masks. In this case there is only one mask to represent Moses. Each of the truly amazing actors have a turn wearing this mask designed by Leslie K. Gray, to take on the persona of Moses (sometimes called Moshe). The chorus introduces different scenes, moves about the stage and provides musical and vocal narrative accompaniment. This lengthy production, without an intermission, forces us to take a look at how we treat people with different ethnic backgrounds from ourselves or “others” who follow a religion that is not our own. We often admonish these people even after we have felt the same type of prejudice directed toward us. One only has to research America’s history to see how each ethnic group that migrates here experiences rebuke, slander and violence. exagoge incorporates and intertwines America’s history into the story of the Jewish struggle to find a place to call home, and to be free of persecution.

Exagoge - Photo by Taso Papadakis
exagoge – Photo by Taso Papadakis

I looked up the meaning of the word dybbuk, which is in the group’s title, and found the following: “In Jewish folklore a dybbuk was a demon, or the soul of a dead person, that enters the body of a living person and directs the person’s conduct, exorcism being possible only by a religious ceremony.” There is one scene in which an entity or demon takes over the body of Moses’ wife Zipporah (or Tzipora), but the result of that possession was strangely dropped. Zipporah murders both her sons, almost drowns in their blood, but we never see Moses’ or anyone’s reaction to her horrific deed. There was no exorcism! Was it only a dream?

Theatre Dybbuk in "Exagoge" - Photo by Taso Papadakis
Theatre Dybbuk in “exagoge” – Photo by Taso Papadakis

The seven actors who did an incredible job of weaving this eileecomplex story-line were (in alphabetical order) Rob Adler, Jenny Gillett, Nick Greene, Julie Lockhart, Rebecca Rasmussen, Diana Tanaka and Jonathan CK Williams. They must also be commended for their precise execution of Kai Hazelwood’s very kinetic and complex choreography. Hazelwood created literal and abstract movement that is often riveting. The chorus consisted of very young and quite striking members of The Harmony Project Leimert Park Choir. It was wonderful to listen to their amazing singing with its pristine harmony.

One of Los Angeles’ finest Lighting Designers, Eileen Cooley wove her magic once again in this intimate setting with minimal equipment. Composer Michael Skloff’s music was an enormous plus to this incredible evening, along with the work of Music Director Kenneth Anderson and Sound Designer Martin Carrillo.

L to R Jonathan C.K Williams, Rebecca Rasmussen, Julie Lockard, Diana Tanaka, Jenny Gillett, Nick Greene
L to R Jonathan C.K Williams, Rebecca Rasmussen, Julie Lockart, Diana Tanaka, Jenny Gillett, Nick Greene – Photo Taso Papadakis

theatre dybbuk premiered exagoge at the Temple Israel of Hollywood before presenting it at the Fowler Museum. If it appears in a theater or space near you, I strongly suggest that you attend.

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