January 17 – February 1, 2016

This show examines the eternal conundrum of temptation through words and music, and looks at moments in life that are too tempting to resist, and the consequences of taking a bite out of various forbidden fruits.



Topanga Messenger


Curated & Produced by Ronda Spinak
Directed by Susan Morgenstern
Assistant Director Michelle Altman
Dramaturge Lisa Rosenbaum
South Bay Producer Liz Altman
San Francisco Producer Carol Kirsh
Associate Producers Barbara Koletsky, Susie Yuré, Rose Ziff & Patrick Conde

WELCOME  — Ronda Spinak, Artistic Director of JWT


Written and performed by the Ensemble.

The Joy of Politics
Written by Joy Picus.  Performed by Kate Zentall.

Eating the Apple
Written by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat.  Performed by Bill Ratner.

The Story of Rescue – Published in The Longest Date – Life as a Wife (Penguin Books).
Written by Cindy Chupack.  Performed by Abbe Meryl Feder.

In My Father’s House
Written by David Masello.  Performed by Aaron Himelstein and Bill Ratner.

To Fill or Not to Fill
Written by Monique Barry. Performed by Kate Zentall and Ensemble.

The Binge
Written by Shawn Goodman.  Performed by Abbe Meryl Feder and Aaron Himelstein.

The Smoothest Way is Full of Stones – Adapted from How to Breathe Underwater (Alfred A. Knopf)
Written by Julie Orringer.  Performed by Kate Zentall, Matisse Rose, Abby Meryl Feder, Aaron Himelstein and Bill Ratner.

Tempted to Believe – in Memory of Abby Freeman
By Cynthia Freeman.  Performed by Matisse Rose.

Temptations Not Faced by My Great-Grandmother in Szumsk
Written by Susan Terris.  Performed by the Ensemble.


MICHELLE ALTMAN (Assistant Director) graduated from Drake University with a BFA in Theatre/Acting in 2012. Since then she has been performing, writing, and directing in Chicago. Performance credits include Silent Night of the Living Dead, The Cherry Orchard (Charlotta) and Beast Women (Standup/performance art). Directing credits include The Chocolate Affair, Sure Thing, A Smell of Burnt Feathers, Immature (co-writer), When Angels Wept, Everybody Needs a Good Night Out, and The Titus Andronicus Project (co-writer). Thank you to all who support the arts community!
RABBI RACHEL BARENBLAT (Writer)  is the author of three book-length collections of poetry: 70 Faces: Torah Poems (Phoenicia Publishing, 2011), Waiting to Unfold (Phoenicia, 2013), and the forthcoming Open My Lips (Ben Yehuda Press, 2016), as well as several poetry chapbooks. A 2012 Rabbis Without Borders Fellow, she has blogged since 2003 as the Velveteen Rabbi. She was ordained by ALEPH (Alliance for Jewish Renewal) as a rabbi and spiritual director and holds a BA in religion from Williams College and an MFA in writing and literature from the Bennington Writing Seminars. She serves as co-chair of ALEPH with Rabbi David Evan Markus and is the spiritual leader of a small congregation in western Massachusetts.
MONIQUE BARRY (Writer) is a Chinese Jew who has an MFA in screenwriting from UCLA. She was a recipient of the Barbara Streisand Fellowship for Comedy Writing.  Monique wrote and designed the web show Pop-Up Libido. She spends her time caring for her two young daughters, writing, and obsessing about trivial things like whether the salmon she bought at the market is really wild and whether that bottle of water that’s been sitting in her car for a month is contaminated or still drinkable.
CINDY CHUPACK (Writer) has won two Emmys and three Golden Globes as a TV writer/producer whose credits include Modern Family, Sex and the City, and Everybody Loves Raymond.  She is the author of New York Times bestseller, The Between Boyfriends Book: A Collection of Cautiously Hopeful Essays, and the original version of this story about her St. Bernard appears in her new comic memoir about marriage, The Longest Date: Life as a Wife, which is now available in paperback. For more about Cindy, visit cindychupack.com.
PATRICK CONDE (Associate Producer) the most recent JWT employee, came to LA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he earned his BA in history and communication arts. Driven by his passion for filmmaking and will to work in the entertainment industry, he found solace in contributing to the success of The Braid, JWT’s newly created theater. Using his talents to cement JWT’s success on social media and spearheading the paperless initiative, Patrick’s radical ideas and willingness to innovate have taken JWT in a whole new direction.
ABBE MERYL FEDER (Actor) has been called “the greatest actress of her generation” by her grandmother. Hailing from the fabulous city of New York, her film credits include Sex Ed (opposite Haley Joel Osment) and Brahmin Bulls. Other credits include The Internet Date (film), Ed(tv), CSI:NY (tv), Pushing Daisies (tv), and Las Vegas (tv). When not pursuing her craft, Abbe is the Director of Operations at IKAR. Twitter and Instagram: @iAMFeder.
CYNTHIA FREEMAN (Writer) is a senior program director at Community Partners, where she helps people start and run nonprofit organizations. Previously, she spent seven years in the field of philanthropy, most recently at the New York Foundation, making grants to community organizing, advocacy, and start-up projects in New York City’s low-income neighborhoods. Freeman has served as a consultant to government and nonprofit organizations and started her career as a community organizer. She has served on the boards of Interfaith Funders, Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy, and Jewish Jumpstart. She misses her sister.
SHAWN GOODMAN (Writer) is an investor and has co-authored self-help books, including The Seven Secrets of Slim People, and Selfish Women Give More Love.
AARON HIMELSTEIN (Actor) is thrilled to be making his JWT debut. LA theatre credits include Speech and Debate, Dickie and Babe: The Truth about Leopold and Loeb, Young Playwrights Festival (The Blank). Chicago Theatre Credits include Morning Star, Russian Transport, Frank Galati’s world-premiere adaptation of East of Eden (Steppenwolf Theatre), Watch on the Rhine (Eclipse), To Kill a Mockingbird, Our Town (Bog), One Touch of Venus (Light Opera works). Off-Broadway credits include The Dead Eye Boy (MCCDrama Desk Award nomination), Galileo (CSCwith F. Murray Abraham. Some of his TV credits include Joan of ArcadiaHouse, Las Vegas, Community, the first season of HBO’s Doll & Em, as well as the voice of Desna on Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra. Film credits include High Fidelity, Austin Powers in GoldmemberThe InformersAll the Boys Love Mandy Lane, Fast Food Nation, Losers Take All, Captain America the Winter Soldier and Avengers Age of Ultron.
BARBARA KOLETSKY (Stage Manager/Assistant Producer) has most recently worked on the production side of Jewish Women’s Theatre. Prior to that, for three seasons she was responsible for catering.  Now Barbara is thrilled to be moving into stage management for JWT at The Braid.  Barbara is also the owner of RSVP Party Planning, where as an experienced party planner she has produced many events, specializing in charitable organizations but with many corporate and private clients as well. Barbara was born in New York and moved to California for a career in marketing and promotions for Polygram Records and Elektra Atlantic Corp. She regularly volunteers at the Grossman Burn Center with her service dog, Rodney.
DAVID MASELLO (Writer) is a widely published essayist, feature writer, poet, and playwright (his newest play, Poetic Justice, was chosen by New York’s Acting Studio for a series of cast readings). He is a longtime magazine editor and writer, having held senior editorial positions at Town & Country, Art & Antiques, Travel & Leisure, Departures, and other periodicals. The founding editor-in-chief of Out Traveler, he is currently executive editor of Milieu, a print magazine about design. Prior to his magazine work, he was a hardcover nonfiction editor at Simon and Schuster and has authored two books about architecture and art, as well as published in the New York Times, Salon, Boston Globe, and many other periodicals and anthologies, including Best American Essays. A frequent lecturer at universities, art foundations, and other venues on writing about art and culture, he is on the board of SAY650.com, a popular live-essay reading series where his works have been featured and filmed.  Although Manhattan is where he lives and works, he comes from Evanston, Illinois, which will always feel like home.
SUSAN MORGENSTERN (Artist-in-Residence/Director) began directing in college by staging musical theatre concert readings while co-teaching American Musical Comedy with Tom Lehrer at UC Santa Cruz.  She went on to teach and direct at the renowned Stage Door Manor, a performing arts camp in upstate New York.  In Los Angeles, for Theatre West, Susan has directed selections from David Ives’ All in the Timing, the musicals Just Too Cool, book by Mary Garripoli, music by Phil Orem, and Saturday Night at Grossinger’s, book by Stephen Cole, music by Claibe Richardson, as well as Barbara Nell Beery’s play, The Socialization of Ruthie Shapiro.  At the Falcon Theatre she directed Leap, by Arnold Margolin, Surviving Sex, by David Landsberg, and the hit comedy, The Psychic, by Sam Bobrick. Susan directed Happy Days, a New Musical, book by Garry Marshall, music/lyrics by Paul Williams, at Cabrillo Music Theatre.  For the Skylight Theatre, she directed an INKubator series fully staged presentation of Ghost-s, a Musical About a Musical, book by Kincaid Jones, music by Brian Woodbury, as well as an extended-run production of Meryl Cohn’s comedy Reasons to Live.  In 2014, Susan began working as a consultant show director at Disneyland Parks and Resorts, Anaheim.  She has directed several JWT salon shows, including The Moment You Knew; Sex, Lies, and Virtual Relationships; Untold Stories of Biblical Proportions; and Uncuffed.
JULIE ORRINGER (Writer) is the author of The Invisible Bridge, a novel (Knopf, 2010), and How to Breathe Underwater, a short story collection (Knopf, 2003). Her stories have been published in The Yale Review, the Paris Review, Ploughshares, Zoetrope All-Story and by the Washington Post Magazine. She is the recipient of two Pushcart Prizes, and her work has appeared in numerous anthologies. Her short story collection, How to Breathe Underwater, won the Joseph Henry Jackson Award and the Northern California Book Award; it was a San Francisco Chronicle and LA Times Best Book of the Year. Stories from the collection have been presented on NPR’s Selected Shorts and BBC Radio 4, have been read at the Steppenwolf Theater’s Stories on Stage, made into short films, and adapted into full-length plays. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, the writer Ryan Harty, and she is at work on a novel about Varian Fry.
JOY PICUS (Writer) served on the Los Angeles City Council for 16 years (1977-1993). Her major public-policy achievements were in garbage and hazardous waste and the recognition of Los Angeles as a family-friendly city. She is nationally recognized for her promotion of opportunities for women. Since then her community activities have included president and board chair, Friends of the Griffith Observatory; board member, Community Partners; board member, Jewish World Watch; board of visitors, University of Wisconsin College of Letters and Science. Many activities at CSUN include being a member of the Foundation Board, membership on several dean’s councils, and ambassador for the Valley Performing Arts Center. She is proud of receiving the Distinguished Alumna award from the University of Wisconsin in 2002. Other special honors include the naming of the Joy Picus Child Development Center in LA’s Civic Center and being a Ms. Magazine Woman of the Year in 1985.
BILL RATNER (Actor) is one of America’s premier voiceover performers on movie trailers, documentaries, computer games, and cartoons. Bill’s spoken-word performances are featured on National Public Radio’s Good FoodThe Business, and KCRW’s Strangers. He is a nine-time winner of the Moth Story Slams and a two-time winner of the Best of the Hollywood Fringe Festival Extension Award for Spoken Word Performance. His personal essays and short stories have been published in The Missouri Review, The Baltimore Review, Hobo Pancakes, FeminineCollective.com, Blue Lake Review, Spork Press, Niteblade, Papier Maché Press, and Wolfsinger Publications. He is the author of the book Parenting for the Digital Age: The Truth Behind Media’s Effect on Children and What to Do About It from Familius Press and holds a masters in fine arts in creative writing from the University of California Riverside/Palm Desert.
MATISSE ROSE (Actor) is newly graduated from Boston University with a BFA in theater arts. She created and starred in her play, An Introduction to Heat Transfer. Theater: Alice (the Duchess), directed/written by Stevan Sater and Duncan Sheik; The Penelopiad (Telemachus), the Wimberly Theater, Chicago (Roxie Hart); Hairspray (Amber). TV/Film: Tyrant (Alison); Beware the Night (Jerry Bruckheimer Films). Matisse studies with the Groundlings and Upright Citizens Brigade.
RONDA SPINAK (Producer) created and produces JWT’s At-Homes Salon Theatre Series, now in its eighth season. She has curated more than 24 original Jewish-themed salon shows for JWT, as well as adapted many of the pieces performed. She graduated from Stanford University, and holds degrees from UCLA (MBA) and USC (Masters in professional writing). Ronda’s plays include Stories from the Fringe and festival-winner Oscar Wilde’s Wife, a favorite at the Ashland New Play Festival and Dayton’s FutureFest. She has written for the Emmy Award-winning children’s show Rugrats and authored the critically acclaimed nonfiction book ProBodX: Proper Body Exercise (HarperCollins, publisher). Ronda is on the board of the Association for Jewish Theatres and is a member of the Dramatists Guild. She feels blessed to be working with the many talented and inspiring women who give so generously to Jewish Women’s Theatre.
SUSAN TERRIS (Writer) is the author of six poetry books, fifteen chapbooks, and three artist’s books. Her recent books are Ghost of Yesterday: New & Selected Poems (Marsh Hawk Press) and Memos (Omnidawn).  Journal publications include The Southern ReviewDenver QuarterlyColorado Review, and Ploughshares. Her poem from Field appeared in Pushcart Prize XXXI. A poem from Memos was in Best American Poetry 2015. Her next book, Take Two: Film Studies, will be published by Omnidawn in 2017. Ms. Terris has a prior career in the field of children’s books, primary publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. The editor of Spillway Magazine and a poetry editor for Pedestal Magazine, she does freelance editing of poetry and prose. For 15 years she’s run workshops in the San Francisco Bay Area taught by David St. John, chair of the English Department at USC. www.susanterris.com.
SUSIE YURÉ (Associate Producer) has volunteered for 30 years in non-profit organizations, in which she has held leadership roles in fundraising, event planning, facilities coordinating, programming, membership, marketing, and administration. Susie has produced musical theatre productions, classical concerts, and cabaret performances and has been intensely involved in the world of theatre for over 20 years. She holds a BA and MA in elementary education from USC, along with her California lifetime teaching credential. Her favorite role is as mom to her two talented (grown) children, who are both professional (and working) musicians.
KATE ZENTALL (Writer/Actor) is proud to be an artist-in-residence at JWT. She has performed in NYC venues including the Public Theater, Guggenheim Museum, and Carnegie Hall. In LA, there’s been lots of Shakespeare, Irish plays, English comedies, and modern dramas, at the Taper and other companies around town, as well as movies and commercials plus a good deal of network TV, from series regular on Studio 5B to a recurring role on Hunter to guest spots on Cheers, Lou Grant, It’s a Living, Becker, LA Law, and many more. In recent years she has been a writer and editor for magazines, books, the internet, and JWT. Kate, who considers herself a recovering actress who’s increasingly lax about falling off the wagon, believes she may be the only LA writer not currently working on a screenplay.
ROSE ZIFF (Associate Producer) came out of retirement to work for JWT after working at UCLA Medical Center for 33 years, where she functioned as “den mother” to more than 1000 interns, residents, and clinical fellows at UCLA, the VA, and Olive View-UCLA Medical Centers, providing resources and support. Rose is currently serving on the Board of Directors for Lev Eisha, a Jewish women’s non-profit religious organization and spiritual community. Her hobbies include gardening, dog training and hosting a monthly book club.


Susan Morgenstern directing rehearsal

Pre-show dessert buffet features a delicious cheese board