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South Philly residents partner for reading of queer Passover murder mystery play

Writer Dan Kitrosser poses for a portrait to promote the film “We the Animals,” at the Music Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, Jan. 19, 2018, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP)

Theatre Ariel and The Bible Players, in association with Tribe 12, will present a reading of the play Why This Night, by South Philly resident Dan Kitrosser, at the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History (101 S. Independence Mall East) on April 3 at 7 p.m. The play is a celebration of inclusion, Ashkenazi roots, and queerness set against the backdrop of a series of murders that take place in a Jewish shtetl one unique Passover evening in the 19th century. 

Kitrosser, whose credits include the award-winning film We the Animals, the Amnesty International Award-winning play Tar Baby and who is currently the host and producer of iHeartRadio’s new podcast Svetlana! Svetlana! describes the play as if Fiddler on the Roof, Agatha Christie and John Waters got together, had a threesome and then wrote a play.

“When Dan, Andrew (Davies) and I sat down to discuss a Passover-timed collaboration, we all got excited about a fun, outrageous evening that celebrated the love’s exodus – and its freedom from shame,” says Jesse Bernstein, artistic director of Theatre Ariel, who is also from South Philly. “The look and feel of the whole evening became clear to us right away.”

That evening includes drag queen host “Adele Computer,” drinking games and ridiculousness. The script-in-hand reading will be a loose, fun, seat-of-the-pants experience.  

“Just like the Jews didn’t have time to prepare before fleeing Egypt,” said Bernstein, “We’re going to throw this thing up there in a hurry and see what miracles occur.” 

The plot centers around Motke, a writer in the vein of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy (but bad) who returns to his family shtetl for Passover, only to be framed for a series of murders modeled on the Ten Plagues. Like any good family dinner, at this seder (the ceremonial dinner with which Jews commemorate the holiday) the truth will come out, love will be tested, and true selves will blossom. 

“This show is the funniest seder I could ever imagine,” said Davies, co-founder of The Bible Players, a Torah comedy troupe. “There are murders, betrayals, frogs and most importantly drinking. Lots and lots of drinking.” 

Directed by Em Weinstein, the reading at the Weitzman is free, though reservations are encouraged. Beer and wine will be available to purchase. Audiences can reserve seats through Theatre Ariel at www.theatreariel.org/thisnight.

“We are so excited to be partnering with these organizations on this event,” says Rabbi Megan GoldMarche, executive director of Tribe12, which serves as a social and networking community for Jews in their 20s and 30s. “A murder mystery is fun as is, but we’re excited to see the twists built in with it having a queer, 19th-century shtetl theme.”

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