Hampshire Shakespeare Company to Stage New Play About Religious Tolerance
June 18, 2006 - Amherst, MA
EDITORS NOTE: Author is available for interview; author photo available
Amherst, MA Hampshire Shakespeare Company is proud to announce plans to stage the première of a new play, Burning Words, by New York playwright Peter Wortsman. A story of courage and dedication to the defense of religious rights, long obscured by the veils of history, this powerful drama will be performed at the Northampton Center for the Arts at 17 New South Street, Northampton, Massachusetts, on November 17-19, 2006, with performances each night at 8 PM. The playwright will be available to discuss the play after the shows, and a symposium at the Massachusetts Center for Renaissance Studies in Amherst on the subject of Jews in the Renaissance is planned to coincide with the performances that weekend. This production is sponsored in part by the generous support of the Harold F. Grinspoon Foundation, the German Information Center of the German Embassy, the Center for the Word at Hampshire College, WFCR FM, Smith College Program for Jewish Studies, and the Hampshire College Jewish Studies program.
In the early 1500s, an era marked by the lingering excesses of the Inquisition and the initial rumblings of protest by Martin Luther, Emperor Maximillian I was persuaded to order the confiscation and destruction of holy Hebrew texts by rabidly antisemitic forces. One German Christian scholar, Johannes Reuchlin, argued forcefully for their preservation as the foundations of the Christian faith, adding the “the Jew is as worthy in the eyes of our Lord God as I am.” The play tells the story of Reuchlin’s confrontation with his church and his society in one of the most religiously turbulent times in European history.
Veteran Hampshire Shakespeare actors will flesh out such powerful characters as Reuchlin himself; his nemesis Johannes Pfefferkorn, a Jewish convert to Christianity; the Emperor Maximillian; and various other members of the German Catholic hierarchy at the time. The playwright has been working with director Lucinda Kidder and dramaturg Lauryn Sasso to hone the action of the play, which has received enthusiastic reviews at two public readings in the Valley. For the performances in Northampton, reserved seating will be: $25; general admission will be $15 and $10 for students with ID. The Center is handicapped accessible, and there is parking available at various locations nearby in downtown Northampton.
Peter Wortsman is a playwright and author who translated Reuchlin’s historic defense of the Talmud and other holy books, Recommendation Whether to Confiscate, Destroy and Burn All Jewish Books for the first time into English. This book on which the play is based was published by the Paulist Press in 2000, and was the subject of a day-long symposium at New York University in 2001 attended by a wide variety of scholars, clergy, diplomats and publishers. An earlier dramatic work by Wortsman, The Tattooed Man Tells All, based on extensive interviews with Holocaust survivors, was published in 2000.