How deeply do we have to bury the past to keep it from erupting into the present? In Andrew Rothkin’s “Bubby’s Shadow,” in which the playwright also stars, the spirit of a deceased grandmother reunites a deeply divided Jewish family and restores its connection to Judaism. The play, an earlier version of which ran Off Broadway in 2008, returns starting June 3 at a theater in the West Village.
Directed by Greg Cicchino, “Bubby’s Shadow” begins with a divorced Jewish man, Jonny (Rothkin) visiting his sister, Debra (Rosie Cosch) and niece Cara (Isabelle Goodman), who still live in the home in which he and Debra grew up. Both adult children are estranged from their father, Norman (Jeffrey Farber), whose wife died when the children were young, prompting Norman’s mother-in-law, Bubbe (Gloria Rosen) to move into the house to help rear the children.
After a series of frightening and mysterious events, Bubbe returns from the grave and reinstalls the ritual objects that Norman had eliminated from the household. The play climaxes with a Shabbat dinner, in which the family members heal their ruptures with each other and with the past.
The playwright, who grew up in Silver Spring, Md., majored in theater at Towson State University in Baltimore. He then came to New York, where he earned a master’s degree in acting from Brooklyn College. He has penned a number of plays, including “Meredith’s Ring,” about a teenage boy’s coming of age, and “Danny (and God and John and Me),” about a group of acting students who gather, “Big Chill”-style, on the anniversary of the death of their friend Danny.
Rothkin told The Jewish Week that “Bubby’s Shadow” is “the most Jewish thing that I’ve ever written.” While the family is not identifiably Jewish at the beginning of the play, Rothkin noted, the family members ultimately reconnect with their religion, despite having what the playwright called “a lot of stalled Jewish things in their lives.”
Bubby’s ghost gets things moving again by pointing the family to a trunk that contains the ritual artifacts that adorned the home when their mother was alive. As the family “springs to life,” Rothkin said, the household loses its former blandness and adopts a visibly Jewish decor. (The set was designed by R. Allen Babcock, with costumes by Roejendra Adams.)
Rothkin’s family, which was Reform, did not celebrate Shabbat on a regular basis; he modeled the Shabbat dinner in the play after the Passover seders that he remembered from childhood. He felt moved to write the play after his mother passed away last year during Passover Week; he was particularly inspired by her melding of Jewish beliefs with New Age spirituality, a mix that he said also infuses the play.
As part of his own grieving process, Rothkin said, he is using many of his own family’s ritual objects as the props in the play. “As much of my mother’s Jewish paraphernalia as I could get is up on the stage,” he said. For the new production, he returned to Baltimore to pick up his mother’s kitchen table. Having it on the stage is enormously meaningful to him. “It makes me feel that she’s there with me,” he concluded.
“Bubby’s Shadow” runs on an irregular schedule through June 23 at The Theatres at 45 Bleecker St. For tickets, $18, visit www.planetconnections.org/bubbys-shadow.