Jewish Journal

‘Boychick’ puts bar mitzvah audience in the simcha

by Jay Firestone

Posted on Feb. 28, 2008 at 5:00 pm

The bar mitzvah boychick

The bar mitzvah boychick

Most b'nai mitzvah are similar. The prayers are rehearsed months in advance, the speeches are delivered almost flawlessly, and even the parties are practically identical, regardless of which disc jockey you've hired. It's probably even safe to say that the b'nai mitzvah experience is quite a production.

But not like this one.

When I arrived at the bar mitzvah of Harry Boychick, the family immediately greeted me with open arms, as relatives paraded the foyer with cameras in hand. Aunt Leenie (on the Teitelbaum side) snapped a photo with me as she thanked me profusely for attending the simcha. Walking into the sanctuary, the ready-to-pop pregnant Rabbi Jules handed me a program as she wished all the guests a hearty "Shabbat Shalom." Following the service, which included a unique version of the Shema, guests made their way into the ballroom for lunch and dancing.

It was all strangely familiar.

While I had never actually met any of the relatives before, I felt like I had met each of them at every b'nai mitzvah or family function I've ever attended.

But that's all part of the show.

"The Boychick Affair: The Bar Mitzvah of Harry Boychick," is the latest addition to the ever-amusing genre of interactive theater, known in the business as "environmental theater." In such plays, the conventional fourth wall is broken as actors directly interact with members of the audience. Each character has a detailed background, either created on the spot or written prior to the performance. While the show is staged and scripted, about 30 percent to 40 percent is improvised, said playwright and director Amy Lord.

In addition to writing and directing the show, Lord also plays Cheryl Boychick, mother to the bar mitzvah boy -- a part with which she is very comfortable, considering that in real life she is a mother of six.

Although it mimics a real bar mitzvah, "The Boychick Affair" also adds that certain craziness that only a true Jewish family can provide.

"It's a show about a kooky family and how love carries through in the end," said Lord, who finished the script in August.

The plays begins with photo-taking in the lobby, as the audience and cast make their way to the sanctuary for the service. However, the service is only a small part of the show. Much like an actual bar or bat mitzvah, the real excitement takes place during the party, which includes a cash bar, free meal, a DJ, dancers and a variety of songs one might expect to hear at such an event, including the Hora.

And just like any family, the Boychick clan has more than its fair share of amusing characters. From an overly macho father to a free- spirited aunt, everyone in this show has some sort of strange feature.

During the meal, I was approached by the 20-something Uncle Brendan, who asked if I'd like to participate in some illegal "herbal" activity. I said yes, but only because I knew it was just a show. Uncle Brendan and hippie Aunt Trudy snuck me into a back room as the bar mitzvah boy, Harry, tagged along. The group whispered anxiously as Trudy removed an Altoids container from her purse and revealed a hand-rolled cigarette, of which the contents' legality was in question. As soon as the first few puffs were taken, Cheryl Boychick barged in screaming. Busted!

(Upon later scrutiny, the cigarette was revealed to be tobacco, not marijuana.)

Situations like these occurred throughout the evening, and it seemed everyone was involved in the show somehow. Toward the end, you couldn't tell who was acting and who was in the audience.

While Lord said most of the characters are fictional, she admits that some of them are "loosely based on a few family members." In fact her actual son, whose name is also Harry, had his bar mitzvah a few weeks ago. "The two bar mitzvahs are similar," said Lord, adding "at Harry's actual bar mitzvah, his father's arm began to catch fire and six inches of the challah went missing." Lord, however, described her family much the way she described the Boychick family: "It may look messy on the outside, but underneath, it's great."

Lord grew up in a Conservative Jewish home in Brooklyn, N.Y., and became interested in entertainment at an early age, thanks to her parents and grandparents, who were involved in writing, acting and music. Double majoring in theater and psychology at City University of New York, she went on to star as Tina in the regional production of "Toni and Tina's Wedding," perhaps the most famous interactive production.

While this is the first time interactive theatre has centered on a bar mitzvah, it's not the first time the form has hit the Jewish community. Lord also created the hit play, "Grandma Sylvia's Funeral," which became New York's fifth- ongest running off-Broadway comedy, when it was finally retired in 1998. Her current projects include the musical "Unbroken" and the TV pilot "A Slice of Life."

But does "The Boychick Affair" have the potential to be the longest running bar mitzvah ever?

While Harry's bar mitzvah may be more of a production than any other b'nai mitzvah, Lord has expectations.

It has a "life of its own," Lord said.

"The Boychick Affair: The Bar Mitzvah of Harry Boychick" plays Sundays at 2 p.m. at The Hayworth Theatre, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Tickets are $36. For more information, visit http://www.thehayworth.com

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