Bet Torah Celebrates 20 Years of Tradition Led by Chappaqua’s Actor/Director Alynne Amkraut Krull
What do Bill Clinton and Elvis Presley have in common? Both have been the subjects of Bet Torah’s Purimspiels, plays which parody the story of Purim, in which the Jews in Ancient Persia are saved from a villain named Haman by a brave heroine, Esther. On Purim, the story is read from a scroll called a Megillah. The holiday calls for acts of charity and merrymaking, which is where the Purimspiels come in.
This year, Bet Torah celebrates 20 years of Purimspiels with “Purim Goes Hollywood, Take Three!” (it’s the third adaptation of the play) written and directed by Chappaqua resident Alynne Amkraut Krull, with contributions from Daniel Baitch, Wendy Goodman Maller and Merryl Schechtman. The Hollywood-style red carpet event on Saturday, March 3 includes “Meal with a Spiel,” hors d’oeuvres, desserts and a Passover wine tasting sponsored by the Bet Torah Men’s Club. Cast members who have participated over the years will be honored, and there will be displays of photos and memorabilia from past shows.
The show features many synagogue members who have been part of the ensemble since its inception, one first-timer and some who have joined along the way. Where does Krull get the ideas? “Divine intervention,” she says with a laugh explaining that thoughts for the plays may come while in services or walking down the street.
Krull’s first production was “Purim Goes Hollywood” in 1992, and she has written and directed most of the shows since then. She is a working actress and director and feels this project has helped her professionally. Although the shows are written for all ages, Krull intended to cast mainly adults since there are so many theater opportunities for kids in Westchester. But along the way children have made appearances. Chappaqua’s Hilary Weissman played a lawnmower, when her father Andrew was Fred Flintstone in “The Purimstones” in 1995.
According to “The Purim Anthology,” the earliest known Purimspiel was staged in Germany in 1694. At that time Purimspiels consisted of parodies, impersonations of popular characters and local personalities. That tradition is carried on today, as exemplified by Krull’s ‘Purimbillies,” a spoof on “The Beverly Hillbillies” with a twist that includes the Clintons, and “Purimella,” where Elvis meets Cinderella. The tenth anniversary Purimspiel was “2001 – A Purim Idiocy.”
Krull is thrilled that so many synagogue members (over 200, ranging in age from 2 to 92) have been willing to give their time and energy. The first show had a cast of 10 and there have been as many as 30 in the cast. “Something can be said for a project that lasts 20 years,” she notes. But life does throw curves and there were a few years that Krull was not involved and Chappaqua residents Dan Baitch and Lisa Ginsberg both stepped in as writers and directors.
Cast members lead busy lives, including attorneys, teachers and physicians, but commit to weekly rehearsals, and more, as the performance gets closer. Krull has seen many cast members grow as actors. “They don’t realize how good they have become,” she says. And the cast members enjoy the experience. “It’s different from what I do every day,” says Andrew Weissman, a financial planner. “The actor comes out in me – I don’t have a chance to do this anywhere else.”
Krull also said that she is “blessed to have invaluable support,” referring to talented musical director, Pleasantville resident Michael Rosenman. She also appreciates the talents of cast member Wendy Goodman Maller, a pediatrician who lives in Chappaqua, deemed by Krull as “the costume and prop wizard of the world.” Krull adds that a 92-year ‘young’ cast member, Michael Greene, affectionately known as ‘Grandpa Mikee” and whom she calls ‘our national treasure’ always brings down the house.
Ask the cast why they do it and they will talk about the how much fun it is. “It’s crazy… nutty, what Alynne dreams up for me to do,” says Weissman — which is what Purim is all about.
Lori Sachare is a freelance writer living in Chappaqua.
Purim Goes Hollywood… Take Three! takes place on Saturday, March 3 at 7:30 p.m. at Bet Torah, 60 Smith Ave., Mt. Kisco. Tickets are $18 and include a Hollywood-style red carpet event, “Meal with a Spiel,” hors d’oeuvres, desserts and a Passover wine tasting sponsored by the Bet Torah Men’s Club.