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How to Enrich Your Seder with Some (Good) Drama

How to Enrich Your Seder with Some (Good) Drama

Three members of the author's family singing a song from one of her plays at their seder

While others cook and clean, something I do each year to prepare for our family’s Passover seder is write jokes for Moses, Miriam, Pharaoh, and even God. That’s because one of our favorite traditions is adding a play to our family’s retelling of the familiar Passover story. No rehearsals are required, props are minimal, and we are both the actors and the audience as we read our parts around the seder table.

To begin, I search print sources and the internet for a new play to perform. For the past several years, I’ve used Shoshana Hantman’s Passover Parodies: Short Plays for the Seder Table – which includes inventive plays in the style of Shakespeare, Gilbert and Sullivan, and even Harry Potter – as a springboard. Since I'm working from a book, I quickly type the play I've chosen onto my computer, so that I can edit and then print a copy for each of us. (Of course, I always credit that author at the top of the title page!)

To personalize the plays, I incorporate jokes, Yiddishisms (we’re Ashkenazi), family lore, and political references liberally into the scripts. (For our family, Pharaoh and his ministers in particular have clear modern parallels.) I also assign parts to suit each person based on the various personalities and talents that will be around the seder table. For example, a friend from our synagogue is graced with a deep, resonant voice; she has convincingly played both God and Pharaoh over the years.  Whenever possible, I feature the kids in the major roles, as they revel in the chance to take center stage. When they get their scripts, they first eagerly count their lines to see how many they have.

Last year, in one of our more ambitious dramatizations, we gathered around the piano and performed an operatic version of the story of our escape from slavery in Egypt. We are lucky to have a professional pianist in our family, who cheerfully accompanies our musical numbers. We gave ourselves lots of bravos and bravas for that one! I cast my cousin, a retired pediatrician and good sport, as an operatic diva. Sporting a boa, she playfully serenaded us with the Four Questions set to the tune of “Musetta’s Waltz” from Puccini’s “La Boheme.” Currently, I’m in the midst of writing new jokes, “casting” actors, and prepping the script for a reprisal of last year’s production of “La Forza del Dayenu,” back by popular demand. A few years earlier we performed “Much Ado about Bupkus,” which interspersed famous quotes from Shakespeare’s plays into the story of the Hebrews. (In this version of Shakespeare, Lady Macbeth’s “Out, damned spot!” referred to a Manischewitz wine stain.)

We follow the order of the seder, beginning with the Kiddush. When we get to the retelling of the Passover story in the Magid or fifth section of the Haggadah, we take up our play scripts instead.  The familiar events come alive in novel settings, whether in the language of Shakespeare or as a Broadway musical (“Give My Regards to Pharaoh” is one we took on in the past). This family tradition has become a highlight of our seder, with everyone playing a part. I encourage you to add some drama – the good kind! – to your seder this year with a play or other dramatic interpretation. You’re sure to get a big round of applause!

Karen Esther Rood is an avid student of Yiddish and member and soloist with the Jewish People’s Philharmonic Chorus. A medical educator and longtime New Yorker, she lives happily with her two ketslekh (Yiddish for cats).

Karen Esther Rood
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