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‘The Temple Bombing’ at the Alliance Theatre

2017 March 3

As someone whose family was a member of The Temple since the 1920s, I wish I could say I liked the play “The Temple Bombing” at the Alliance Theatre, but I can’t. My sister, who hates most everything, liked it. My mom felt the same way about it as I: It was more of an oral history than a play. Melissa Fay Greene’s fantastically written book, “The Temple Bombing,” which the play is based on, presents scenes that are far more dramatic and theatrical than those in the play.

The play tells the story of Rabbi Jacob Rothschild (Todd Weeks), a Pittsburgh native who came to Atlanta in 1947 to become the rabbi of The Temple, then Atlanta’s largest and wealthiest synagogue. Rothschild, a proponent of Civil Rights, compared the then segregated South to Nazi Germany, which started with segregation. Rothschild’s Friday night sermons and public speaking engagements consistently revolved around integration. In the early 1950s, the National States’ Rights Party, which the New York Times then described as a cross between the Ku Klux Klan and Nazis, wanted to shut up Rothschild and discussed bombing The Temple. When it was bombed years later, in October 1958, four Nationalist men were arrested and tried in court.

The trouble with the play is that it is very similar to what I just told you. There are too many scenes of people citing history rather than living it. The production is more of a sermon than a play, which should make you feel something and care about its characters. This “play,” and I use that word loosely, is more like a history lesson and reminds me of the types of plays I saw in elementary school back in the 1960s–plays that tell a history of the past rather than live the history. For example, in one scene Rothschild’s daughter, Marcia (Ann Marie Gideon) goes to her mother, Janice (Caitlin O’Connell) and says “I remember going to my mother . . .” Ensemble members of The Temple also talk about their memories rather than living them.

There are some live action scenes. The best scene is the trial of the accused bombers. Flamboyant attorney Reuben Garland (Ric Reitz) defends Chester Griffin (Justin Walker), who is accused of calling the Rothschild home and telling Janice that a bomb has been planted in her house. Effeminate and prissy, Garland waves his hands and arms while he speaks, swoons on a courtroom desk next to the judge and leaves plaintiff Janice in tears.

Written and directed by Jimmy Maize, “The Temple Bombing” runs through March 12 at the Alliance Theatre.

Full disclosure: My sister and I, whose father’s family was a member of The Temple since the 1920s, were third-generation Temple members. We remember Rabbi Rothschild and my mother remembers the bombing.

Amari Cheatom . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ensemble
Danielle Deadwyler . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ensemble
Eric Mendenhall . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . George Bright
Lee Osorio . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ensemble
Justin Walker. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ensemble
Minka Waltz . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ensemble

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