TERRE HAUTE —
At a table inside a Denny’s in Terre Haute on a July night in 2012, a trio of theatrical writers conjured a bold idea.
They considered creating a musical based on the story of Abraham, a religious figure to whom three faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — trace their ancestries.
One of the writers, Andrew Park — an Indiana State University grad working in Chicago — had written and staged a play, “Abraham’s Calling,” using a similar theme a decade earlier. It presented Abraham as a symbol of hope for reconciliation and dialogue among Jews, Christians and Muslims. Leaders from each faith participated in a conversation with audience members after each Chicago show.
“It sounded fascinating to me,” said Arthur Feinsod, another of the writers and a theater professor at ISU.
They assembled writers from each religious background — Feinsod, who is Jewish; Park and composer Scott Lamps, who are Christians; and Rohina Malik, a Muslim playwright whose one-woman show, “Unveiled,” packed ISU’s New Theater last year.
Together, they’ve crafted a new musical, “Abraham’s Family,” which will be produced for the 2014 Crossroads Repertory Theatre season in Terre Haute. A grant through Arts Illiana will enable the ensemble to perform the production at two churches, a temple and a mosque next summer, too. “Abraham’s Family” then makes its world premiere next autumn in Chicago.
The script, still evolving, features two acts. The first centers on the story of Abraham and the son, who Abraham was prepared to sacrifice, as God commanded, before an angel intervened. The second act focuses on a modern-day family, with a Christian mother and two sons — one a convert to Judaism, another a convert to Islam. The sons and their mother venture into topics of entrenched disagreements.
“We wanted to raise some of the controversial issues,” Feinsod said, “especially in the contemporary setting.”
Lighter moments emerge, too. The sons also split their baseball loyalties, with one backing the Chicago White Sox and the other the crosstown Cubs. “It’s a low-stakes conflict that eases some of the tension,” Feinsod said of the sports rivalry. After a “read-through, sing-through” presentation of “Abraham’s Family” by the Crossroads Repertory Theatre at ISU last summer, where audience members filled out evaluation forms, the playwrights considered adding the skeptical voice of an atheist to the family, which could turn out to be a source of humor, Feinsod said.
That voice also presents a bonding point. “That’s where the three religions come together, in answering that atheism,” Feinsod said.
Post-performance feedback has influenced the project. Malik was in the audience in 2003 at Chicago to see Park’s initial “Abraham’s Calling.”
“She remembers, as do I, the hopeful tone of the talkback she participated in,” Park explained. “Theater brought folks from all three faiths together to have conversation about what’s happening between our three faiths. We have to do something. We have to learn how to respect and love each other. A show and a conversation — it’s a promising model, and Abraham is the perfect symbol for peace, acceptance and love.”
The evaluation form distributed during the read-through at ISU asked audience members to rate everything from the production’s originality to its plot, characters, dialogue, music and theme. It asked if and why any elements were offensive. The reviewers held nothing back. “It was a remarkable response,” Feinsod said. “It gave us lots of information, and it was all over the map — some that was extremely positive, some that was extremely negative, and some in between.”
The 62-year-old Feinsod grew up in Roslyn, N.Y., a village on Long Island’s north shore. The community was 90 percent Jewish, he said, “so I grew up thinking the majority of the world was Jewish.” As he went on to a preparatory high school at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., Feinsod realized that wasn’t the case. He drew inspiration from his Jewish grandfather, who had to sneak into college to get an education. With degrees from Harvard, Cal-Berkeley and New York University, Feinsod holds an affinity for education, the arts and people “who feel like outsiders.”
Respect drives the “Abraham’s Family” project, too.
“I think our goal is to achieve a level of respect among religions, rather than tolerance,” Feinsod said. “‘Tolerance’ can be a very negative word. Tolerance kind of means, I’ll stay on my side of the road, and you stay on yours, and we won’t beat each other up.”
The contributors see the musical illuminating similarities.
“My hope is that the play will help people realize that we are more similar than we are different,” said Malik, whose hometown is Chicago.
Lamps, the 33-year-old composer from Wisconsin, said, “In a time when our religious differences are trumpeted far and wide, we often believe that there is a vast divide between Christians and Muslims, Christians and Jews, or Muslims and Jews. We would like ‘Abraham’s Family’ to remind the audience that what we share far outweighs our differences. We are all branches of the same tree and should not forget our roots.”
When dealing with religious subjects, even the concept of shared interests can be divisive.
“The theme [of the musical] — which is, interestingly, more controversial than we thought it would be — is that there are many ways to God,” Feinsod said. The writers understand “there are people in all three faiths who won’t” agree, Feinsod added.
Real as the differences are, the common threads — often overwhelmed — provide a great opportunity, Park pointed out.
“I believe that Abraham is a potential symbol of reconciliation between Judaism, Christianity and Islam,” Park said. “What if we spent more time remembering what we have in common, instead of fighting about our differences?”
The project yielded the Individual Artist Grant from the Indiana Arts Commission for Feinsod, who’s served as artistic director of Crossroads Repertory Theatre since arriving in Terre Haute in 2001. Another Arts Illiana grant allows the CRT to present “Abraham’s Family” at a handful of local houses of worship.
“I hope people will come to this with an open mind,” Feinsod said, “and I think [the writers] need to keep an open mind, too, as we create these characters, to see the blindspots. That’s the message — how important it is to keep an open mind and an open heart.”
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘Abraham’s Family’: New musical illuminates common ground, value of respect the three Abrahamic faiths can share
TERRE HAUTE —
At a table inside a Denny’s in Terre Haute on a July night in 2012, a trio of theatrical writers conjured a bold idea.
- Valley Life
TRIED ‘N’ TRUE: A recipe for oyster lovers
I have been looking through some old recipe books. I was looking at Gene’s mom’s cookbook. It is a Clark County Extension book. It’s fun seeing some of the women who we knew when I was really young.
GRAPE SENSE: Exploring everything a new wine region has to offer
SIENA, ITALY — From the lush green countryside of Oregon’s Willamette Valley to the majesty and golden valleys of Tuscany, a common refrain connects wine lovers. There’s nothing better than good food and good wine.
Engagement listing: July 6, 2014
Wedding listing: July 6, 2014
Anniversary listings: July 6, 2014
Mr. and Mrs. Robert F. Prox Jr.
Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Tarrh Jr.
Engagement listings: June 29, 2014
‘Slick’ production: Documentary to show a lesser-seen side of Bobby Leonard, just days before his Hall of Fame induction
In a new documentary, Indiana basketball legend Bobby Leonard serves as the leading man. His hometown of Terre Haute provides much of the supporting cast.
YOUR GREEN VALLEY: Microbeads found in personal care products damaging to waters
For the past six years Julie Manson has been working to get plastics and chemicals out of her home. She also tries to cook as many from-scratch meals as possible with local food from the Terre Haute Farmers Market and a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) she participates in. During a visit to the Farmers Market last year, her daughter, Madeleine, told her mother she wanted to be like the vendors she saw there and sell something. Julie then went to work trying to find a niche for the two of them to enjoy together.
Birds, bees, bats and more at Naturalist Workshops
Purdue Extension Service’s Vermillion County Office is sponsoring an Indiana Master Naturalist Workshop, beginning Aug. 18. The workshop will continue for a total of nine classes, from 6 to 9 p.m. on most Mondays through Oct. 27. Most classes will be in Vermillion County, with three more in Parke County and two in Terre Haute.
TRIED ‘N’ TRUE: Take your pick: Apple, blueberry, cherry for this cake
We have this every once in a while in church. You can have this for brunch or as a desert. Everyone sure enjoys this cherry cake.
Anniversary listing: June 29, 2014
Mr. and Mrs. Steve Austin
Rock ’n’ Camp: New camp teaches details of forming, running garage band
A handful of friends. Second-hand guitars and amps. A drum kit. A garage. Big dreams.
Those are all the ingredients needed to create a rock band, right?
TRIED ‘N’ TRUE: Bake, kabob chicken nuggets for a healthy change
I think we all love chicken nuggets. But to fry them is messy and isn’t real good for you.
I like this recipe because you can bake them or make kabobs. Add your veggies. They can be fried if you want.
Plans to further develop Deming holly arboratum
The Friends of The Arboretum board of directors is looking to take the next step in developing the Clark/Landsbaum Holly Arboretum at Deming Park in Terre Haute.
WICAA Energy Assistance Program taking applications
The Energy Assistance Program of Western Indiana Community Action Agency Inc. has limited funding available to assist low-income families whose energy service has been disconnected or those that have received notice of pending disconnect.
GRAPE SENSE: The color of summer shines in Provence Rosé
If you could be a super hero, mythical character or fictional leader, who would you choose?
Superman? A Mutant Ninja Turtle? Or maybe Jean ValJean?
I’d be the Pied Piper of Provence, France, and lead you to dry, French Rosé wine.
Vigo County Fair looking for Open Class entrants
The Vigo County Fair Open Class Department is looking for exhibitors.
If you love to bake, enter your favorite cakes, cookies, breads, pies, decorated wedding cakes, and more in the Culinary Department. Exhibitors who make their own barbeque sauce, cole slaw, salad dressings or fudge may want to consider entering items in the Miscellaneous Foods Department. Food preservation items and pickled foods can be entered into the Canning Department.
Anniversaries: June 22, 2014
Mr. and Mrs. Gerry Hoffa
Mr. and Mrs. Bill Kassis
Mr. and Mrs. Randy Kneeland
Mr. and Mrs. Jeff Schrink
Anniversary: Mr. and Mrs. Ron Walker
Mr. and Mrs. Ron Walker of Sullivan will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 21, 2014.
Helping Hands: Fill your free time this summer by becoming a volunteer
Summer is upon Terre Haute and with the warm weather and open swimming pools comes an exuberant amount of free time for busy children. Outside sports are one way to fill the time and energy, but what else can families do together to benefit their youth and communities? Volunteer.
Your Green Valley: Farm to School Network and ‘scratch kitchens’
The Downtown Terre Haute Farmers Market has been open for business for the past couple weeks. As the fresh produce continues to roll in, an important question should be considered: Can we grow more local food to better feed the children in the Vigo County School Corp. while supporting local growers?
TRIED ’N’ TRUE: Quick, sweet treat for summer days or nights
This is a good diabetic recipe or for anyone. When Gene is working in the garden sometimes his blood sugar gets too low and he has to get something to eat real fast.
YOUR GREEN VALLEY: Are ‘flushable’ wipes really that flushable?
For more than 34 years, Brad Fix has been in charge of the Indiana Wastewater Treatment Plant and collection system in Shelbyville. He says the business has changed drastically in the last 10 years due to the growing number of “flushable” wipes and other personal hygiene products available on the market.
Anniversaries: June 15, 2014
Mr. and Mrs. David Brown
Mr. and Mrs. James E. Dodson Sr.
Mr. and Mrs. John W. Scott
Mr. and Mrs. William Ray Smith
Engagements: June 15, 2014
Wedding: June 15, 2014
Birthday: Freda Cornett to celebrate 90th
Freda Cornett will celebrate her 90th birthday from 2 to 4 p.m. on June 15, at an open house given by her family.
Rings of Fire: Amateur astronomer, photographer’s hobby has led him across the world in pursuit of total eclipses of the sun
Some people might think amateur astronomers are the kind of people who enjoy star gazing from the safe confines of their homes or perhaps an observatory, but for Clinton-area resident Spencer Young, being an astronomer is a far cry from safe and easy armchair activity.
Tried ‘n’ True: A recipe for when the kids get home from school
I used this recipe when the kids got home from school. They were always hungry.
When I was little we lived next door to a lady we called Grandma Byrd. She was so sweet. Sometimes we would stop at her house when we got off the bus and then walk home. I guess everyone has eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Military life: Girton to attend Air Force Weapons School
Master Sgt. Damon Girton, 181st Intelligence Wing Indiana Air National Guard, will be the first Air National Guard Tactical Air Control Party member to attend the elite, grueling 5 1/2-month U.S. Air Force Weapons School at Nellis AFB, Nev.
- More Valley Life Headlines
- TRIED ‘N’ TRUE: A recipe for oyster lovers