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‘Desperate Acts’ showcases work of Jewish playwrights at Fringe Festival

Three Jewish playwrights, Victor Wishna (from left), Sarah Aptilon Inbar Kahn, joined forces to bring their three plays to the Fringe Festival, which runs July 22-30.

Scene 1

Curtain opens three times in succession, revealing characters faced with impossible situations, desperate to figure out their next steps and at great risk of committing desperate acts.

An immigrant Israeli writer faces the choice of a new life or an old dream (Inbar Kahn’s “After the Rain”). A filmmaker is foiled by a technical glitch near the end of the first showing of his film and then struggles to stay connected to reality (Sarah Aptilon’s “Acapulco”). And an older TV actor is written out of the show, and out of his identity (Victor Wishna’s “Written Off”).

Kahn, Aptilon and Wishna — three local Jewish playwrights — joined forces to bring together their three plays as a showcase called “Desperate Acts,” which runs July 22-30 as part of the 12th Annual Fringe Festival Kansas City. The three plays combined run about an hour. Kahn also directs all three plays.

“Desperate Acts” is the first collaboration of its kind for the three playwrights, who sat down over coffee recently and discussed their plays before they started writing. Aptilon proposed the idea to her colleagues for the three to find a common thematic thread — desperate situations and the desperate acts they can prompt — and to stage their individually titled plays under an overarching title.

“We were talking about (Arthur Miller’s classic play) ‘Death of a Salesman,’ about self-delusion and desperate situations,” Aptilon said of her discussion that day with Kahn and Wishna. “The idea to combine our plays grew out of that.”

“Acapulco” will be Aptilon’s first staged play. Collaborating with Kahn and Wishna, she said, provided an added layer of structure for her play, which she welcomed.

“I like having restrictions as a writer,” Aptilon said. “It’s inspiring to me.”

All three plays implicitly ask three questions fundamental to the human condition: What does it mean to belong? To betray? To begin again? The playwrights ask these questions not from a strictly Jewish perspective but from a universal one, they said. 

Kahn is an Israeli native. She and Aptilon attend Congregation Beth Israel Abraham & Voliner. Wishna attends Congregation Beth Shalom and is vice president of its board.

“This is the secret of ‘Desperate Acts,’ ” Kahn said. “(The plays) are talking to anybody, (about the) need to love and have recognition in this world. … We’re talking about people and human emotions. When you push someone to his hard point in life, that makes for people the most interesting discoveries, things that you would not expect. 

“It’s very easy to see a comedy, and everything is fine and laugh all the way,” she said. “But in (difficult) situations, related to their past and their identity and hard memories, I think this is the power of the plays.”

The protagonist in “After the Rain” is “a woman who’s a playwright, and she has to face a new reality,” Kahn said. 

“We feel sorry for her in the beginning, but then they come to see her integrity,” she said. “Then we understand the need to write is like the need to breathe.”

Kahn said she has had a different experience writing for American audiences than for Israeli ones.

“All the time, I have to be very conscious that what I write is clear to them,” she said of her American audiences. “When I’m writing for an Israeli audience, I use a lot of culture codes. Another thing is that I feel a need to explain myself more. I’ve been through an interesting journey, writing-wise. At first, I got a lot of (rejections of her work) from directors, from production people, from theaters.”

Then she hired a story and production consultant.

“He told me, ‘You’re trying to write like it’s for us Americans. (Your story is) only in your mind. I want you to go home and write your story. Your story is beautiful,’ ” she said. “It was a very good point for me as a writer. You’re chasing truths your whole life. You’re dancing around the truth. It’s a catharsis: Finally, someone wants to hear my story.” 

Wishna said that “maybe more than any other art form, theater humanizes characters.”

“Before a word of any script is being spoken, you have a real human being standing there in the room with you,” he said. “A novelist is writing something and communicating directly with the reader and hoping that they see it in their head. With theater, a play is a blueprint for an experience. I rely on what an actor and a director will do with what they take from the story on the page to make it a living, breathing art form.”

‘Desperate Acts,’ a showcase of three short plays

July 22-30

Performance times:

• 6 p.m. Friday, July 22

• 6:30 p.m. Saturday, July 23

• 6:30 p.m. Monday, July 25

• 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 27

• 8 p.m. Friday, July 29

• 3 p.m. Saturday, July 30

Where: Just Off Broadway Theatre, 3051 Penn Valley Drive, Kansas City, Missouri

Tickets: $10 with a Fringe button (for which a one-time $5 fee is required for all Fringe performances). Tickets can be purchased at www.kcfringe.org/desperate-acts

Run time: Roughly one hour.