Q&A with Todd Salovey by Dan Berkowitz

So here I am, sitting in New York City, in an apartment without wifi or TV.

Well, of course, I’m clearly not sitting in that apartment at the moment, since I’m posting this on the web, thanks to borrowing Rose Desena’s wifi while she checks on the renovation of her new apartment. You may remember Rose as the previous critic for the LA Post. She’s now living in New York, and based on the panicked phone call she just made on her return, the renovation is a disaster.

As an aside, living for a week in an apartment with no wifi or TV has made me feel as if I’ve been on an obscure island in the 1940s. Except it’s Manhattan. Oh well, at least it’s been cold and rainy…

Back in Los Angeles, Todd Salovey has adapted and directed The Blessing of a Broken Heart, a play which won him the Edgerton Foundation New Play Award. As Associate Artistic director at San Diego Rep, Todd has helmed numerous productions, including Outside MullingarHamlet (starring Jefferson Mays), and The Dybbuk. He adapted and directed A Hammer, Bell, and a Song to Singbased on the life and work of Pete Seeger, and his one-man adaptation of The Dybbuk for Sam and Hannah’s Wedding will premiere at SD Rep this fall.

Recently, I asked him a few questions…

Dan Berkowitz: In thirty seconds, can you tell us what The Blessing of a Broken Heart  is about?

Todd Salovey: The story is about an American woman, Sherri Mandell, who travels to Israel, falls in love there, marries, and has 4 kids. The family finds a “landscape” in Israel that “suits their inner being,” in Tekoa, with its natural beauty, wonderful community, and ancient Wadi. Sherri is a writer, overwhelmed Mom, trying to keep everything in place, when one day her eldest son Koby plays hooky from school with a friend, and goes hiking in the Wadi. Tragically, he and his friend are killed. The story follows Sherri’s courageous search for meaning and purpose in the year that follows. During that year, she grows in many ways, finds an inner strength she never knew, and attains a renewed sense of blessing and purpose. She and her husband start a camp for other children who have met loss. She discovers that when our hearts are broken, it is a time when our souls can be sculpted. It’s a mystical and poetic piece that has many emotions: joy, humor, sadness, loss, passion, and purpose – contemporary and traditional music from Israel, and vivid images.

L-R, Sherri Mandell, Todd Salovey, and Lisa Robbins. Photo by Zachary Andrew

L-R, Sherri Mandell, Todd Salovey, and Lisa Robins. Photo by Zachary Andrew

DB: Todd, you adapted it from a book by Ms Mandell: what made you choose that book to adapt, and were there any particular challenges?

TS: I was visiting a friend for a Rosh Hashanah dinner, and got a little antsy waiting for the main course. I began to peruse the books on her shelf. I took Sherri’s book down and was immediately drawn in by the incredible beauty of her language. Her thoughts are so mystical and poetic. I heard them immediately as if they were being spoken on stage. I knew that language so beautiful and such a rich emotional story would work on stage. While I used the book as a foundation, I also looked over everything I could find from Sherri: interviews, articles, lectures. I met with Sherri and spoke with her on the phone. The play is a tapestry from all these sources. The big challenge was crafting a moving and ultimately uplifting pathway through her incredible story. It’s about blessing and broken heart but ultimately about blessing – so finding the balance I think is the biggest challenge.

DB: I hear Ms Mandell has flown in from Israel to see the play. How closely did you work with her on the adaptation – and what does she think of the finished product?

TS: Sherri and her husband Seth have become my good friends through this process. I know that seeing the play is of course difficult for her. She thinks it is a very true rendering of her book, and she is very, very grateful that we are helping her carry her story and keeping Koby’s spirit alive. When we first performed it, she told me that it was getting very hard for her to keep telling her story, and she was so relieved that her story is being told.

DB: People have said this show has a particular resonance now, in the wake of the San Bernardino shootings. What do you think?

TS: The piece deals with loss, and with making meaning in the face of tragedy.  I think there is tremendous resonance for people of all backgrounds about how to “be with” people that are in pain. We often think that we have to take people’s pain away, make them happy, make the bad things disappear. But in fact – just by being with people in times of pain we are offering true comfort. There is a section I love, when Sherri tells the audience she could make a top ten list of what NOT to say at a shiva: he’s in a better place, be happy you had him for 13 years, if you need anything call… The piece offers incredible inspiration to people facing pain, but also encouragement and instruction for others who can offer support. Sherri also reflects that one of the purposes of evil, is so that we can choose to do good.

Lisa Robbins in The Blessing of a Broken Heart. Photo: Zachary Andrew

Lisa Robins in The Blessing of a Broken Heart. Photo: Zachary Andrew

DB: How did you get involved with Jewish Women’s Theatre, and why were they the best venue for the show?

TS: Lisa Robins, who plays Sherri, has done several readings with JWT including this play Blessing of a Broken Heart, five times. We’ve been hoping for several years to produce it in Los Angeles. JWT has been developing a wonderful audience with their Salons and of course with Monica Piper’s Not Too Jewish, just nominated for a Los Angeles Drama Critic’s Circle Award. We wanted to bring it to a company that loves new work, and has a strong audience. I appreciate that we are doing it in a gallery with an art exhibit. It’s an intimate artful piece in an intimate artful venue. It’s very poetic, a beautiful piece that goes so nicely with an art installation about Jacob’s Ladder. In fact, Jacob was Koby’s Hebrew name – so it just seems a perfect fit.

DB: What’s a fun thing about you that no one else knows? (And we guarantee not to tell…)

TS: My brother, Peter, coined the term “emotional intelligence.” I’ve got a fertile long-running artistic partnership with Herbert Siguenza of Culture Clash and we have developed two new pieces together and toured many cities and theatres with our piece, A Weekend With Pablo Picasso.

The Blessing of a Broken Heart
Adapted and Directed by Todd Salovey
From the book by Sherri Mandell

Through March 20

Jewish Women’s Theatre at The Braid
2912 Colorado Avenue #102
Santa Monica, CA 90404

Tickets: 800-838-3006 or http://www.jewishwomenstheatre.org


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