By Erin Levi

A new immersive play about Passover titled «Exagoge» has just concluded its nearly 4-week run at La MaMa Experimental Theater Club in the East Village. The play is set during a seder and features an opera within a play, in which audience members are both actors and participants in the seder.
The play is based on the world’s oldest known Jewish play, an ancient Greek drama, also called «Exagoge,» that was written in Alexandria more than 2,000 years ago by someone known now as Ezekiel the Tragedian. According to NY Jewish Week journalist Chava Pearl Lansky, writer Howard Jacobson has theorized that the original «Exagoge» — an interpretation of the Book of Exodus mixed with pagan ideas — was written in the second century BCE but was destroyed shortly after its creation by the Jewish elders, on grounds of idolatry. Today, only 269 lines remain.
In writer-director Edward Einhorn’s adaptation, «Exagoge» is transformed into an opera penned by Zeke, a contemporary artist residing in New York City. The narrative unfolds as Zeke introduces his non-practicing Muslim girlfriend, Aliya, to his Jewish history professor father, Avraham, during a Passover seder at their Upper West Side home.
Einhorn seamlessly interweaves the two tales, utilizing the 15-part structure of the seder. Modern characters are positioned on a platform at the rear of the stage, while Avraham leads the seder, involving the audience in call-and-response readings from the haggadah. Audience members seated closest to the stage are offered a modest meal of matzah, charoset, eggs, gefilte fish, and macaroons, mirroring the fare presented to the actors. Accompanying the performance is a six-person chamber orchestra playing Finberg’s evocative score, while three puppeteers animate set pieces such as the burning bush, a snake, and a phoenix.
Einhorn was inspired to do the project after encountering the original Ezekiel play in a book by Howard Jacobson titled «The Exagoge of Ezekiel.» Intrigued by this unknown work, Einhorn envisioned bringing it to life onstage. However, the fragmentary nature of the play presented a challenge. His solution? Transform the original text into an opera and frame the story within a Passover seder.
In his interview with NY Jewish Week, Einhorn emphasized that «Exagoge» transcends the Passover season. While the play premiered during Passover, it can be performed year-round. His decision to incorporate the immersive seder experience stemmed from a desire for audiences to viscerally connect with the food. «It’s part of the ritual,» he explained, «and just watching people do it isn’t the same as participating.»
The current political climate surrounding Israel has inevitably influenced Einhorn’s interpretation of the play’s themes. He expressed satisfaction with his choice to include a Muslim character, noting the positive audience response.
«Some of the people at La MaMa had said to me, maybe this could be a healing play. And my first reaction to that was a little cynical — like it’s a piece of theater, it’s not going to end hate or violence. I still feel that way. But it does mean a lot to me that people from all over the place in terms of their political leanings can respond to it,» he told NY Jewish Week.
«Exagoge» aspires to be accessible to all viewers, regardless of their prior seder experience. Einhorn sees the play as an opportunity to share his own love for seders, particularly their structure. He draws a connection between his passion for theater and the theatrical elements inherent in Jewish ritual, suggesting a shared appreciation between theater and tradition.
Let’s hope it makes a return to stage soon. Next year at La MaMa?