Chautauqua Theater Company’s season continues apace today with not only a performance of Pride and Prejudice at 4 p.m. this afternoon in Bratton Theater, but the second of three New Play Workshops this summer, as well.
Readings of Cannabis Passover, a play written by Sofya Levitsky-Weitz, will be held at 11:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. today in Bratton.
The play zeros in on a “somewhat dysfunctional, multi-generational” family of Reform Jews who have gathered to celebrate Passover. With the intent “to light up more than just the Seder candles,” the family engages in camaraderie and discussion, according to the play synopsis.
“Cannabis Passover is my take on the family drama tradition in American theater, but it is a West Coast Jewish dramedy that’s big and sweeping and funny and tragic all at once,” Levitsky-Weitz said.
Her family — with whom she is very close — inspired the play. Before this piece, though, she hadn’t written much about her family because she felt too protective about them. Now, she wants to portray her experience so that others may relate to it.
“I wanted to tell a story about my experience with Judaism and modern and ancient Judaism and what it means to be a Jew in America today,” she said. “… In some ways, Jews are very pronounced in popular culture, but the actual spirituality and religious and traditional aspects of Judaism are not widely known, which is this interesting disparity. I had very rarely seen my Judaism and my experience reflected in media, so I wanted to write something that gave that perspective.”
Cannabis Passover has the largest cast of any theater piece Levitsky-Weitz has written to date, comprised of nine people, with eight onstage for the majority of the play. Levitsky-Weitz wanted to capture the often chaotic nature of large, multigenerational families.
“It’s a big family dynamic, and there’s lots of relationships and emotions and conflict inside the family,” she said. “One of the big things in working on this play that is so valuable is really getting that rhythm down.”
Part of the workshopping and writing process, Levitsky-Weitz said, is adapting the play to an ever-changing sociopolitical climate, particularly since she started writing this play in 2018 and wrote the bulk of it the following year.
“I try to keep really current and there’s a lot of current issues that get brought up — and it’s also having to think through updating it to this current moment and the ways in which we are still dealing with a lot of the same issues,” she said.
Levitsky-Weitz has used the New Play Workshop process at Chautauqua, which is supported by the Roe Green Foundation, in part to adapt the play’s conversations surrounding political issues to constantly shifting current events.
She’s found that Chautauqua’s spirit of caretaking and community resonates with her, and with the premise of the play.
“That’s part of what’s so special about working on this play at a place like Chautauqua – which in my limited experience of it so far, is a place that really values those kinds of intellectual, philosophical, ethical discussions, that really prides itself on being a place for rigorous conversation. I really feel that permeating the process of the play so far already,” Levitsky-Wietz said.
She likened the caretaking and hospitality felt through the Seder dinner in the play to the many ways in which she has felt cared for at Chautauqua.
“It’s really amazing to be in a space where people are super grateful to be there in person and be working on something and really bringing their whole self to it and coming in with a lot of vulnerability,” she said. “In a really magical way, it’s been a really vulnerable room and people have been really open and accepting and able to express themselves in a really beautiful way. That’s been a really cool part of this process.”