It is without too much exaggeration that Mike Levine says everyone he grew up with was Jewish. He came of age in Newton, Mass., which was home to a lot of Jewish families in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.
That’s not so much the case in Maine.
“It’s difficult to feel connected to your cultural identity in December,” said Levine, who now lives in Portland. “It’s Christmas everywhere.”
To help Jewish people feel more at home, Levine and the theater company he directs, Acorn Productions, are presenting a distinctively Jewish play, “The Legend of the Golem.” Levine wrote the play, and directs a cast of six.
It opens Thursday and runs three weekends at the Acorn theater in the Dana Warp Mill in Westbrook.
The one-act play runs about 80 minutes and is set in a Jewish “shtetl” (a small town) in Poland in the early 20th century. The action revolves around a tailor whose daughter has fallen in love with a non-Jewish man. The crisis causes the tailor to question his faith.
In Jewish lore, the golem is an inanimate object that comes to life to save Jewish people from persecution. But despite the play’s title, the golem occupies a relatively minor presence in the play.
It helps the tailor through his troubles, but Levine’s play is less about the legend and more about a crisis in faith. The golem in this story is really a light-hearted take on the creature. It is not a big scary thing, as it is sometimes portrayed.
The existence of the golem provides the tailor with evidence that there are things that exist beyond the realm of logic, and allows him to better understand his ability to follow traditions without feeling connected to them.
This is the third year in a row Acorn has offered something Jewish-centric in December.
But this play is not just for Jews. Just as “A Christmas Carol” relates to people of all faiths, “The Legend of the Golem” is suitable for anyone who might be struggling with faith. The play has messages, ideas and themes that are universal.
Levine wrote it from his own experience.
“Like many contemporary Jewish people, I feel somewhat distant at times from ritual and some of the ways of doing things that have been done for generations and generations,” he said. “You go to synagogue and do this, and you do this at Hanukkah. Sometimes in the modern world, it’s hard to find a role for those rituals.
“This play is about a man, even though he lives in the early 20th century, who is experiencing some of those same feelings. ‘Why am I doing this? What does it really mean?’ I was trying to explore the place where logic ends and where faith has to begin, where you need to realize that not everything that exists can be explained logically.”
Levine wrote the play during the summer. He began the writing process while vacationing at Monhegan Island. It came surprisingly easily, he said.
The cast of six includes mostly Acorn regulars: Hal Cohen, David Handwerker, Josh Brassard, Brenda Chandler, Kara Haupt and Tristan Rolfe.
Programming a Jewish-oriented play this time of year might seem a bit risky. As Levine noted, virtually everything on stage these next few weeks in Portland has a Christmas or Christian theme.
But Acorn has had great success with this time slot these past two years. Last year, it presented an adaptation of “The Wandering Beggar.” All nine shows sold out, and several had a waiting list.
This year, Acorn added an extra weekend, with a total of 12 shows.
“This just feels right,” Levine said. “As a Jewish person, it’s nice to have the opportunity to connect with one’s own culture during such a public Christian holiday.”
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: