Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - November 5, 2010

It was meant to be

Palo Alto writer's new play is a mosaic of 'how we met' stories

by Rebecca Wallace

Palo Alto writer Caryn Huberman Yacowitz has penned picture books and plays, nonfiction and musicals. Her latest work could be called a mosaic.

Her new play "Bashert!" — which has its first performance this Saturday at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills — is based on memories she gathered from congregants. "Bashert" means "destined" or "meant to be" in Yiddish, and these stories are how-we-met anecdotes, both humorous and poignant.

"When I meet people, I like to ask how they met (their significant others)," Yacowitz said. "They just blossom. When they're telling the story, everyone gets to relive it."

The play has 16 stories and 13 cast members: a few experienced performers but mostly congregants who haven't done theater since the odd elementary-school play. (The actors include Roy Blitzer, the husband of Weekly associate editor Carol Blitzer.)

Yacowitz says the cast has developed a nice community feel, with everyone pitching in to share particular skills. Heather Klein, for instance, is a professional opera singer, and she's teaching her castmates how to bow correctly.

Yacowitz added, "These actors have really stepped up to the plate and given depth and humor in their acting."

The cast ranges in age from 15-year-old Josh Strauss to 80-year-old Hank Sterngold, Yacowitz said. Sterngold may give a particularly poignant performance. He plays a U.S. Navy officer who served in the South Pacific in World War II, and fell in love with a beautiful redheaded girl at a Halloween party. The story also happens to be his own and that of his late wife, Levona.

Many of the stories are set during World War II, and all feature straight couples except one about two young women. Some stories are told at length, and some zip by in funny one-liners, "like in 'Laugh-In,'" Yacowitz said. One is about a middle-aged couple who knew each other when they were young, then married other people, then found each other again later in life when both were single again.

Yacowitz co-directs the play with JoAnne Wetzel, and it's her first major directing foray. Her recent theatrical scripts include "Jeans!", a musical play about Levi Strauss, and "Pumpkin Fiesta," a musical play based on her book of the same name, which was recently presented at Juana Briones Elementary School in Palo Alto. She is also a regular judge in the Weekly's annual short-story contest.

This playwright also has acting experience. Wearing period costume at special events, Yacowitz regularly portrays Jane Stanford over at the little university that bears Jane's name.

The "Bashert!" project began last year, when Yacowitz began asking fellow congregants to share their stories. She wove them together, then connected them with a conversation between a romantic narrator who believes in the "meant to be" concept, and God, who is skeptical. (God is played by Rabbi Janet Marder.)

At Saturday's free performance, all the people whose stories are being told in the play are expected to attend the performance, which will be followed by a talk-back session and a reception, Yacowitz said. "The cast is so curious. They all want to meet the people they're playing."

What: "Bashert!", a new play by Caryn Huberman Yacowitz

Where: Congregation Beth Am, 26790 Arastradero Road, Los Altos Hills

When: 4 p.m. Nov. 6, with a talk-back and reception following

Cost: Free

Info: Call 650-326-0600 or go to http://betham.org .

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