THE TITLE, “Covenant (or…bagels and butchery),” hints that this one-act — playing during the fifth session of NJ Rep’s festival’s Theatre Brut — is certain to make Jewish viewers prick up their ears. It should; Ken Weitzman’s short play is a comic take on one of Judaism’s seminal rituals, cast with a measure of ambivalence, even anxiety.
In fact, said Weitzman in his playwright’s notes (in Blackbird, a journal of literature and the arts, 2017), “Covenant” was written as a commissioned response to “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” the Pew Research Center’s 2013 study of a changing Jewish identity.
Acknowledging that he is “deeply ambivalent about my religion, about religion in general,” Weitzman, who is assistant professor of dramatic writing at Stony Brook University in New York, said he agreed to tackle the assignment in order “to wrestle with myself…through my characters.”
The urge to wrestle with this specific topic stemmed from his memories of the first bris he attended (presumably beside his own), which involved his nephew, a cross-eyed mohel, and a desperate father seeking to spare his son from the “butchery” certain to ensue. This, said Weitzman, was incitement for him to “explore issues of Judaism, of ceremony, of my conflicted feelings around a ritual that includes a bunch of people standing around eating bagels and lox while watching an infant’s foreskin get removed.”
— ABBY METH KANTER