By Michael Orbach
Issue of February 19, 2010/ 6 Adar 5770
Circumcise Me, the hit off-Broadway play, will have its run at the Bleecker Street Theatre extended until May 16th.
“We’re all very excited, nobody more than me,” said Yisroel Campbell, the star and only actor in the show.
Circumcise Me tells of Campbell’s journey from Catholic boy in Philadelphia to Orthodox Jew in Jerusalem. He hit some snags along the way, converting to Judaism three times, each with its own circumcision. The play has been favorably reviewed in both Jewish and non-Jewish media, including the New York Times.
The play’s broad appeal explains its success, Campbell said.
“I think we’ve been able to tell a Jewish story but tell it in a way that’s open to more than about finding Judaism,” he said. “It’s about searching for something and going on a spiritual journey. I think that appeals to people, by and large.”
“Within the Jewish community, the one sentence synopsis is ‘Reform, Conservative, Orthodox,’ which meant wrong, wrong, right. What might be the idea is that I didn’t do it correctly the first and second time, and I did it correctly the third. That’s not the way I talk about it. I see each of the various conversions as adding some wonderful [aspect] to my life and each being approached for different reasons,” Campbell explained.
“I’ve had more than several people come and say, ‘I’m a Catholic from the Bronx, that’s a great story,’ as well as ultra-Orthodox from Boro Park.”
In honor of the play’s extension, Ben’s Deli, a kosher delicatessen in Manhattan under the supervision of Rabbi Israel Mayer Steinberg, and Triangle-K, is offering a “Bris-ket” sandwich: brisket on rye with coleslaw and a pickle with the ends cut off.
“I suggested a hot dog with the bun cut back,” Campbell said, “Since it’s not the pickle being cut, it’s the bun. Having had three of them, I should know.”
He said non-kosher restaurants offered a similar sandwich deal but he turned them down since he wouldn’t be able to eat it.
“They said what about a stunt-sandwich? I said no. That’s what I give up for my art,” Campbell quipped.
The play was initially scheduled to have a two-month run, from November 2009 until January 2010. Campbell and his family have been in the United States since 2008 for the play; he’s looking forward to returning to Israel and “walking down Emek Refaim and getting a cup of coffee at Cafe Hillel,” he said.
“The Upper West Side is very Jewish, but it’s not Jerusalem.”