Guests at one of Heidi Kahn's Passover potlucks stepped into a desert oasis. That year, her Irvine tract home was transformed with a Bedouin makeover achieved by suspending a tent inside. Another year, guests, who always contribute to the feast, were also asked to bring household goods and were put to work assembling care packages for Jews trying to flee the former Soviet Union.
Typically, the amphibian plague, one of many inflicted on ancient Egypt in the biblical story of Exodus, gets a star turn at Kahn's seder. Plastic frogs croak unexpectedly at arriving guests, who can fold origami frogs while waiting for latecomers. Some guests even don frog masks.
"When you've sat through a lifetime of tedious seders and create your own tedious seders, and then go to Heidi's place and play, no seder will ever compare," said friend and past guest, Gail Shendelman, of Irvine. "I'm spoiled for life."
"The Syringa Tree," which won the 2001 Obie Award for best play and premieres in Los Angeles this week, might be the first theatrical work to deal with the complicated and ambiguous relations between Jews and blacks in South Africa. A solo performance written and acted by Pamela Gien, it is a partly fictionalized -- though mostly factual -- account of a half-Jewish, half-English child in Johannesburg during apartheid. Created by Gien in a Santa Monica acting class in 1996, the play was inspired by the brutal murder of Gien's grandfather when she was a child.