Torah Stories With An Offbeat Accent
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Torah Stories With An Offbeat Accent

Moses, as far as is known, didn’t sound like Woody Allen. And Jacob the Patriarch didn’t have a British accent. And Abigail the prophetess, a Southern belle? Unlikely.

But that’s how some biblical figures will be presented this weekend in Central Park.

As part of “The Bible Players: The Quest for MenschHood,” a children’s show that is a combination of standard theater and comedy clubs’ brand of improv, two Manhattan residents with stand-up backgrounds will give performances that they say combine a lighthearted style and serious message.

The free shows — Saturday, July 9 at 3 p.m. and Sunday July 10 at 11 a.m. in Central Park’s Summit Rock, West 85th Street near Central Park West — offer a nondenominational look at such issues as loshon hara (malicious gossip) and shalom bayit (peace in the home), says Aaron Friedman, who founded his two-man troupe last year with Andrew Davies, an old friend from a Philadelphia Jewish day school.

“We don’t preach about God,” but about biblical morals, Friedman, 28, says.

Think Sunday school without the boredom.

The Bible Players (thebibleplayers.com) finds “the funny in the unlikeliest of places,” with some rap music, some comical accents, some imaginative reworking of well-known biblical stories, a press release issued by the pair states.

Friedman works as a tutor and entertainer. Davies, 27, also a teacher, works the comedy club circuit.

Both were working last summer at the Ramah Day Camp in Nyack, and hadn’t intended to bring their improv backgrounds to the Torah. Then it rained one day. The camp found itself with 150 campers trapped indoors. Find some way to entertain the kids, the camp director told Davies and Friedman.

They brainstormed for two hours and came up with an outline of several Bible-based skits. They acted, sang and asked for suggestions from the audience. “The kids loved it,” Friedman says.

The Bible Players, a form of “alternative education,” was born.

Davies and Friedman have subsequently performed and taught at New York-area synagogues and schools. Their gigs this weekend in the Central Park amphitheater will be their first in an open forum.

Their Purim shpiel this year at Congregation Habonim on the Upper West Side, which included students’ participation, was “highly successful,” says Rabbi Laurie Phillips, the synagogue’s director of education. “They are knowledgeable” about biblical ethics. “They have real skills. They present an important message in an accessible, fun way.”

The pair performs with “no costumes, no props,” Friedman says. And no microphones — whose use Jewish law prohibits on Shabbat. The show, he says, is “completely Shabbosdik,” conforming with halachic protocol, designed to be acceptable to observant Jews.

“We can do it anywhere, anytime,” Friedman says.

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