37 is an inventive literary novel (think Cloud Atlas meets Eat Pray Love). This genre-blending fiction combines a contemporary self-discovery travelogue with historical fiction, literary fiction, and elements of magical realism.
If small-town reporter Polly Stern has to cover one more manure runoff story, she's going to lose her already unmindful mind. Polly thought she'd end up as a serious photojournalist, traveling the world, meeting important people, and documenting significant environmental and social events. Life didn't turn out exactly as expected. With her career at a standstill, her marriage over, her nest empty, her spiritual foundation precarious, and her family keeping a vital secret from her, Polly is desperate for answers. And change. She sets out on an unintended journey, stumbling upon story after story that for some reason—coincidence, fate?—all occurred in 1937.
Polly's path leads her to: a troubled teen on a stone bridge high in the Green Mountains of Vermont, a political refugee on a kosher farm carved out of the Dominican Republic jungle, a tribal chief near a remote hut in uncharted Papua New Guinea, a volunteer soldier in a foggy olive grove in Spain, an artistic savant in a tenement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and to a Tibetan boy and his snow-white mastiff as they begin their trek across the formidable Himalayas. Each person’s story of struggle and resilience is more remarkable than the next. As the lines blur between reality and fantasy, between truth and fiction, between present and past, Polly writes about these inspiring characters, and others, in nine linked short stories.
Her compelling literary voyage reveals clues that allow Polly to uncover the truth about her own history, opening a new path for understanding, forgiveness, and love.
Of the Better Kind
Over the course of two nights and one day in spring of 1910, in a small city in rural New
England, a community of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants readies itself for the reveal of their first synagogue mural, painted in the folk style traditions of the “old country.” Or so they think. They are quite anxious about what they will see when the mural is finally completed. The painter they hired, Ben Zion Black, is a relative newcomer from Lithuania, and has his own radical artistic vision.
Ben spent two years traveling around eastern Europe—writing and performing Yiddish poems and theatre, painting theatre backdrops, even leading a 30-piece mandolin orchestra!—to earn passage to America, just so he could be reunited with his one true love, Rachel Saiger. Rachel’s father, Shimon, had brought his family to America, both to escape oppression under the Czar’s rule, and in large part to keep his daughter away from the itinerant artist.
As the community worries, Ben is filled with creative angst, and he may not finish the mural. He fears the mural will not be accepted, he feels insecure that this community will not understand his intentions, and he worries what his legacy will be. Parallel to Ben’s tensions, Mollie Selco is an Art Conservator in present time, hired to repair the mural, which has been uncovered after being hidden and lost behind an apartment wall for decades, long forgotten after the synagogue had been shuttered, the building turned into a dry goods store, then a carpet store, and finally an apartment building. As Mollie tries to make sense of Ben’s artistic choices, so unusual for 1910, she grapples with her own insecurities, identity, and purpose.
Across time, Ben and Mollie develop an intimate relationship, creating a connection that
transcends temporal bounds.
With a kosher vegetarian literary café as the centerpiece (complete with delicious food smells emanating during specific scenes), add a stranger, a theft, neighbors struggling to make ends meet, and community trying to find balance between holding on to old ways and embracing the new, and fitting in while maintaining tradition, and their stories play out, at once forgotten and also everlasting.
Of the Better Kind is based on a true community and events, and like so many others throughout history and across cultures, this community of immigrants were sons and daughters, peddlers and cooks, artists and scholars. Transplants. They face issues of identity, culture, and ultimately: survival. Of the Better Kind explores the healing power of community, love, and art, so present back then—and also completely relevant today.
Anna's Journal was performed as a staged reading November 14-17, 2013.
August 26, 2013
THEATRE KAVANAH PRESENTS ANNA'S JOURNAL, NOV. 14th-17th
Screenplay by Vermont author Joy Cohen will come to life at Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center.
Burlington, Vermont--Theatre Kavanah, Vermont's premier production company dedicated to staging the Jewish experience, is pleased to announce its second production, a dramatic reading of Anna's Journal by Vermont author Joy Cohen.
Anna's Journal centers on Anna Ludkin, a 13-year-old struggling to find her way as a Jewish teen in rural Vermont. Anna navigates the challenging territory of her parents’ disintegrating relationship, school friendships, and blossoming romance with 16-year-old Jamal, who also knows what it’s like to be an outsider. As Jamal becomes closer to both Anna and Anna's grandmother, Leah, he begins to suspect something at once shocking and hopeful: that Leah is none other than Anne Frank, who—he believes—has survived the atrocities of the concentration camp, and is living a quiet and anonymous life in Vermont. Set in September 2001, Anna's Journal weaves together historical accounts, Holocaust flashbacks, and issues of human intolerance into a complex, beautiful, coming-of-age story.
"For Theatre Kavanah, presenting Anna's Journal is a double win," states Founding Co-Director Wendi Stein. "We not only get to give voice to a perspective not often seen on the stage - that of young Jewish girl growing up in small town Vermont - but we have the opportunity to showcase the work of a talented Vermont writer."
That writer is Joy Cohen, a Burlington-based author, educator, and artist. Says Cohen, "I'm thrilled that Theatre Kavanah selected my work for their fall production. I look forward to seeing the audience transported into the world of my characters. I hope that when people attend the performance, they will share an intimate experience resulting in a deeper understanding that, despite differences in cultures and individuals, there is a profound commonality in the essence of our human condition."
The Possibility Exists, a screenplay
Rob Fisher is an easy-going, popular high school teacher. He lives with his wife and his two stepchildren, and he's an active, well-liked member of his community. Rob has a special rapport with kids; he coaches wrestling and is successful working with at-risk teens. He leads a happy, comfortable life until everything changes—in the flash of a computer screen.
Rob is working late at school one day. He's searching the web and notices an unfamiliar address on his browser. When he clicks on the address, a pornographic website pops up. As he briefly checks out the site, Rob’s principal walks in and catches him. In that moment, Rob’s simple, wonderful life is turned into a living hell.
Rob is immediately suspended from his teaching and coaching duties. The principal files a report with devastating “findings of fact” based on nothing more than supposition. One of the damning allegations states that “the possibility exists that Rob attempted to contact and meet individuals under the age of 18.” Rob denies it all, but as facts are uncovered, it is unclear what Rob did or didn't actually do. Sometimes, truth is more about perception than reality. And sometimes it is not.
Ultimately, The Possibility Exists explores how peoples’ reactions to events reveal more about their own dirty little secrets and lies than about what really happened.
Dramatically Incorrect, a screenplay
Richard Grayson is a gifted actor, most famous for popularizing Shakespeare. He also won an unprecedented Academy Award for Best Actor for his voice-over work on an animated film. Because of his beautiful, impeccable elocution, Grayson is known around the world as “The Voice.” But what his fans don’t know is that Richard Grayson has suffered with a speech impediment his whole life.
Grayson’s impediment, known as SED (Semantic Emphasis Disorder) is a rare malady in which people enunciate and emphasize the wrong syllables when they speak. It turns out to be the same problem that Regis Philbin had—even though he never knew it!
The only time Grayson's speech impediment doesn't show up is when he is acting, speaking memorized lines. Therefore, even though he is one of the world’s most popular actors, he has also become the world’s most reclusive celebrity, never speaking in public, never speaking out of character, and never granting interviews.
When Grayson finally undergoes therapy at a speech clinic, scene after belly-laughing scene are filled with speech disorders and unconventional treatments that have never before been seen—nor heard—on film. Until now. In Dramatically Incorrect, no one is off-limits. Between the excessive salivators, the low-talkers, and the phumpherers, combined with activities such as the “Miss-Communications” talent contest, things at the Speech and Oral Health Clinic (aka SOHC) get out of control. Think The King's Speech meets Dumb and Dumber.
Grayson’s youngest child begins to show signs of having SED, and Grayson finally decides to go public and grants an interview with—who else but... Barbara Walters?! During the interview, flashbacks take us through Grayson’s childhood and early career.
Dramatically Incorrect explores the difficulty of living with a speech disorder, using riotous, offensive, politically incorrect humor as the vehicle to entertain as it also enlightens.