A Jewish Carol

The Jewish star of Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol says, for him, the play resonates more with the themes of the Jewish High Holidays than those of Christmas.

Local actor and director Michael Mendelson plays Holmes for the play’s second season at Artists Repertory Theatre Nov. 23-Dec. 30. Originally scheduled to end Dec. 23, tickets have sold so fast the show already has been extended.

“The play uses Dickens’ (A) Christmas Carol as a framework to move Sherlock from a place of isolation to a place of self-forgiveness and acceptance of others,” says Michael. “Scrooge’s journey is about the spirit of Christmas. This (play) is about the spirit of embracing humanity.”

“It’s an extraordinary script and an extraordinary journey,” he continues. “For me it connects to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. You have to ask those you have offended to forgive you to move forward. … That is what Sherlock has to do to be able to move forward.”

Written by Seattle playwright John Longenbaugh, the play uses a host of supernatural visitors led by Holmes’ nemesis, Moriarty, to force the ill-tempered detective to face his own past, present and future.

The past in the play finally gives Holmes’ fans an explanation of the famous detective’s unemotional outlook on life. The present shows Holmes how innocent people will suffer if he refuses to use his unparalleled skills at discovering the truth. In the play, the future is World War I and the play evokes a real event from that era. Shown his potential role in that event, Holmes is inspired to celebrate life and find his own humanity and way back to detection.

“What I love about the script is – like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, it combines two great tastes in one story,” said Michael. “Holmes’ character combines seamlessly with Scrooge’s journey to redemption.”

Michael has acted and directed extensively in Portland since 1991, with a four-year break in New York. A frequent performer in ART productions, he has been a member of the ART acting ensemble since it was created in 2008. He is also the artistic director of the Portland Shakespeare Project, which is “in residence” at ART during the summers. He has performed in several Jewish-themed shows, including BeauJest and Bent, about the treatment of homosexuals in the Nazi concentration camps.

Jewish audiences may recognize Michael from the 2007 production of Address Unknown by the Reader’s Theater Repertory at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts. Written in 1938, the story is told in a series of letters between two California business partners, one a German Jew and the other a German gentile who returns to Nazi Germany. The gala opening benefitted the Oregon Holocaust Resource Center, which arranged for Holocaust survivors or their children to participate in a talkback after each performance.

Michael calls the talkbacks with the survivors, cast and audience “some of the most poignant moments in theater I’ve had.”

Raised in Detroit, Michael became a bar mitzvah at Temple Israel, which was at that time the largest congregation in the city.

Michael says when he was in grad school his mentor told him he would have to choose between being religious and acting because, “Actors can’t get off for the holidays.”

He chose acting, but says, “I try to be as religious as possible. I’ve grown more spiritual than religious, but it’s spirituality based on Judaism. As I get older, I cling more to my religious upbringing.”

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol
Dates: Nov. 23-Dec. 30

  • Wednesday through Sunday at 7:30 pm
  • Sunday at 2 pm. Additional matinee Dec. 19 at 11 am

Venue: Artists Repertory Theatre, Alder Stage (16th and Alder Street)
Written by: John Longenbaugh
Directed by: Jon Kretzu
Tickets: $25-$50; students $20
Box Office: 503-241-1278 or www.artistsrep.org

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