Sabbath-friendly theater group forms in Monroe

Resident eager to engage local audience with Bimah Players

BY PATRICIA A. MILLER Staff Writer

Myra Cohen Klenicki had often wanted to put her theatrical skills to good use in a community theater group.

But Klenicki, who is Jewish, couldn’t perform on the Sabbath, which runs from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

“My husband was observant,” she said. “I just couldn’t do that to him. It got me thinking, Wouldn’t it be nice if there was community theater that was Shabbatfriendly?”

She and her husband, Leon, moved to The Ponds adult community in Monroe several years ago when his health began to worsen.

“The Ponds was very handicappedaccessible,” Klenicki said. “We just loved it.”

Her much-loved husband died in January 2009. Klenicki traveled. She tried, in her words, “to outrun grief.”

But her vision of a community theater remained.

“I thought about establishing a community theater that would be open to everyone, but would enable somebody who observed the Sabbath to participate,” she said.

So she approached Rabbi Ben Levy of Congregation Etz Chaim at the Monroe Township Jewish Center to see what he thought. Levy was thrilled. So were the members on the board of directors.

“We have a number of wonderful community theater groups in New Jersey, but if you observe our Sabbath, you can’t perform on Friday evenings when other community theaters put on their shows,” Levy said. “The Bimah Players enables everyone to be involved.”

The Bimah Players will do “readers’ theater,” which eliminates the need for most costumes and scenery.

“I have done readers’ theater,” Klenicki said. “I’ve seen it in New York. I always wanted to try it. I love being able to engage the audience’s imagination. The actors get to play all sorts of parts. You can have a 70- year-old playing an ingénue.”

The word “bimah” in Greek means platform. It’s also the name for the platform that holds the Torah, she said.

“Basically, the actors will be sitting in a semicircle of chairs,” Klenicki said. “But they will get up and move and interact as they do various scenes. It’s very challenging.”

The group’s first production will be “O. Henry’s New York,” based on four stories the famed author wrote. Klenicki wrote the play, which eliminated the need for expensive copyrights.

“Basically, we are brand new,” Klenicki said. “We have no money. We are not the kind of community theater that can hire a New York director. We’re not going to be able to do elaborate costumes and scenery.”

Now all she needs is a cast.

“I need nine people,” she said, “five men and four women.”

The auditions are open to anyone with an interest in theater. And the cast members don’t have to be Jewish.

“It’s like Levy’s rye bread,” Klenicki joked — “you don’t have to be Jewish. If they are willing to come and make the rehearsals, that’s fine. Community theater is open to everybody. Even if they just want to try out for the fun of it. And if they don’t get in for this one, I’m hoping we’ll have a season for next year.”

Anyone interested in joining the group can email Director@BimahPlayers.org or call the center at 732-251-1119. More information is also available at the group’s website, www.BimahPlayers.org.

Open auditions will be held at the center 7:30-9 p.m. March 3 and 4, and 3-5 p.m. March 7.

Klenicki asks that anyone interested in auditioning email the website so she can send them the script.

Performances of the play are slated for 3 and 7:30 p.m. June 6 and 13 at the Jewish Center.

“I know the audience will buy it and enjoy if the acting is good and the material is good,” Klenicki said. “I think we will be able to really make magic.”