Brookwrite

Columns - 2011

    The Passover Satyr Play

    by Doug Brook
    Southern Jewish Life columnist

    In ancient Greece, the satyr play was the third variety of Athenian drama, the other two being the better-known tragedy and comedy prevalent today in every election year.

    Originally performed as early as 500 B.C.E. to celebrate the Greek god Dionysus, satyr plays were pseudo-burlesque performances, filled with inebriation, graphic sexuality, whimsical sight gags, and wanton festivity.

    It's no wonder, then, that the historically limited subset of theatre related to Passover at last finds its first hit play drawing on this lost and lustful varietal of the theatrical vine.

    In his play, Never Enough For Us (The Passover Satyr Play), playwright Chad Gadiah combines all the best traditions of the satyr play form and of the time-honored Passover Seder and the biblical story from which it is derived.

    In combining this ancient form of theatre with an even more ancient religious ritual, Gadiah sheds a new light not only on a lost art form but also on a rite that has endured thousands of years and that's familiar to more ethnically diverse participants than any other Jewish festival.

    More non-Jews might attend bar mitzvah parties than seders, but those are a few thousand years newer than the seder because DJs were much harder to book before the early 1980s.

    Heretofore unknown in literary circles, Gadiah is just one small kid next to his Broadway-entrenched colleagues such as Tracy Letts and Neil LaBute. But his dialogue is just as crisp, biting with both wit and poignancy. Gadiah not only mines the depths of tradition in ways that would make Tevye at once gush and blush, but he also feasts on the marrow of modern life in all too familiar ways.

    Despite the language, adult themes, and graphic depictions in several scenes, Never Enough For Us is suitable for the whole family. After all, the kids will just text through the whole performance anyway. Also, while there might seem to be potential for blasphemy or social irresponsibility in the play's content and approach, no rabbi or other Jewish official has made any statement against the play, as of this writing.

    The play begins innocently enough at a contemporary Passover seder, filled with typical amounts of unleavened food and feud. As the biblical story of the Exodus is retold throughout the seder, it is portrayed separately in scenes that are both satiric and satyric.

    While the boundaries of the two styles are well established, occasional hints of transference occur, where moments of reason appear in the satyric retelling and - more pivotally - where moments of pure abandon surface at the seder. Suffice to say, you never thought of the wicked son as being wicked like this.

    In Ancient Greece, satyrs were typically portrayed as half-man, half-goat. Without giving away too much of the story, remember that the seder includes the paschal lamb. Also, the play culminates in a crossover of the Passover-retelling characters and the seder attendees for an uproarious take on the traditional final song of the night.

    Social commentary and historical homage aside, Never Enough For Us is more than entertaining enough. True to its title, it leaves the audience wanting more. Many moments shine, including such witty gems as, "don't be bitter, Herb, this isn't the first time you've heard Ma roar." There are some less polished baubles, such as, "and Moses didst sigh, 'nigh, desert looms ahead.'"

    A few lines such as this seem like Gadiah threw a box of wet matzah at the wall to see what would stick. But with great moments such as the Passover classic, "Who Knows One?" becoming a silver-tongued metaphor for monogamy (and its ensuing retort, "Ah, dear. Who?"), it is quickly apparent that the audience will come away with the bigger half of the middle matzah.

    Whether you love or hate matzah, enjoy or endure the most practiced Jewish home ritual in the world, or approach the fourth cup of wine with relief or grief, after seeing Never Enough For Us you'll never think of the seder the same way again.

    Next year in Times Square.

    Doug Brook is a writer in Silicon Valley who will not publish his Passover Satyr Play under the penname Chad Gadiah. No publicity is bad publicity, just ask Charlie Sheen. For more information, past columns, other writings, and more, visit http://brookwrite.com/. For exclusive online content, become a fan at facebook.com/the.beholders.eye.

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.