Every time they stage a new play, she’s remembered. Liliana Moraru, in many ways, was at the forefront of getting Santa Cruz’s Jewish Theatre launched, along with renowned local director/teacher Wilma Marcus Chandler and Claire Cameron. In 2009, Chandler gathered a group of actors and crewmembers, many connected with Temple Beth El in Aptos, and asked if they would be associated with putting together large-scale productions at the temple. However, the temple’s schedule wasn’t able to accommodate mounting major theater productions.
The next year, in 2010, the fledgling group morphed into a legitimate company with its first major production, “Crossing Delancey.” Moraru was supposed to be a part of the project, but sadly, she passed away before seeing the play. The company, now on its feet, knew its official name—The Liliana Moraru Santa Cruz Jewish Theatre. From there, the community theater group has been performing and producing steadily, with work that is either written by a Jewish person or has at the heart of the play a topic important to Jewish life.
Cameron became the artistic director and her husband, Fred Kuttner, is the managing director. They work with a group of hand-selected actors and this month the company is performing “Raison d’Etre—A Reason to Be,” written by Mollie Schwartz. It plays through Nov. 13 at the Live Oak Grange. According to the company’s website, the play is about, “A young man born in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, fights his way through the mob’s hold on boxing in the 1940s and into his dream of a different life.”
A “different life” is the key here—exploring what it means to be Jewish today. The company “is a window on the Jewish experience, all its sorrows, joys and perplexities,” says Kuttner. This might include literature, holidays, customs and culture. In part, the theater group exists as a tool “for Jewish people to stay in touch with their culture,” Kuttner adds. “Particularly in Santa Cruz, which has a fragmented Jewish community. A lot of people are not associated with the temple.”
For each person involved in the theater company, their history as a Jewish person is unique: For example, actor Ali Eppy grew up in a Christian home, but is now reconnecting to being Jewish. “Being involved with this company is a way of honoring my ancestors,” Eppy says. “It’s very much a cultural, ethnic experience.”
While the company focuses on Jewish playwrights or Jewish content, the team is fully open to non-Jews being a part of the crew or cast. They are an inclusive crowd.
“This play speaks to how anyone can change their life,” says Cameron. “If you have a dream and keep working toward it, you can have that dream happen and become a reality. … This is a wonderful avenue to present another aspect of diversity (with the company in Santa Cruz).”
The Liliana Moraru Jewish Theatre company will present “Raison d’Etre—A Reason to Be” until Nov. 13 at the Live Oak Grange, 1900 17th Ave., Santa Cruz. Show times are at 8 p.m. on Nov. 11 and 12 and 3 p.m. on Nov. 13. Tickets are $15/general; $12/students and seniors. For more information or to make a reservation, call 465-1411.
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