Student-run play ‘It Could Have Been Enough’ fosters meditations on identity

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Zachary Goldsmith (junior), playwright of “It Could Have Been Enough”, photographed at the set of his play behind Keck Theater at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. March 2, 2023. Renee Ye/The Occidental

The student-run production of “It Could Have Been Enough” was performed in an outdoor venue behind Keck Theater, March 3 and 5The play, written and produced by Zachary Goldsmith (junior), details a Jewish family’s confrontations with antisemitism as they attempt to host a Passover seder.

Blending the real world, mysticism and reinterpreted characters from Jewish traditions, “It Could Have Been Enough” features a traumatized Rachel, played by Riley Polaner (first year), enlisting the help of the Wicked Son, played by Pika Whitman (first year), to derail her family’s Passover plans in a misguided effort to preclude the possibility of an antisemitic attack.

I’ve been working on the show for two years as a writer,” Goldsmith said. “Then I sort of thrust myself into the role of producer which has been a crazy ride all on its own. I’m very grateful that I got to do both.

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Cast of “It Could Have Been Enough” gathers around the set sofa behind Keck Theater at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. March 2, 2023. Renee Ye/The Occidental

According to Goldsmith, with a lack of faculty supervisionthe creative process of the play was a unique educational experience.

It’s been incredibly rewarding, incredibly exciting and incredibly stressful,” Goldsmith said. “It’s my first time producing, sI’ve been learning as I’m going.”

According to Samuel Levy (junior), a co-director of the show, the independent nature of the production posed greater challenges for its cast and crew, so solving them fostered newfound confidence in his creative abilities.

“There’s been definitely a learning curve, I think one of the big things for me is just having that ability to make the decisions,” said Levy. I’ve definitely become a lot more confident in learning what choices work, what choices don’thow to communicate effectively with actors and creatives and say what needs to be said in a calm, respectful, effective, communicative manner while also being able to look critically at my own work and figure out what’s not working.

According to Levy, the camaraderie throughout the production enhanced the creative process.

“Everyone has been so willing to participate and excited to be part of everything, that it’s been such a great experience, feeling so close to the people I’ve been working with,” said Levy. “It feels like we’re working on a professional production. We are the professionals here.

According to Polaner, the student-led nature of the production led to a greater degree of improvisation and communal collaboration.

It was super fun, very playful the whole process. And it was also cool, because being similar in age, I feel like we had a bit more agency within the whole process, because it wasn’t as intimidating as talking to an adult professional professor,” Polaner said. “It just it felt a lot more like I was involved in the process.

According to Goldsmith, in an effort to reconcile his Jewish identity with the assimilating pressures of contemporary America, It Could Have Been Enough” was conceived as a meditation on Judaism in modern times.

I was writing this in 2020. Antisemitic violence had been on the rise. The events of the past few years [increases in incidents of hate crimes, as well as the national conversation on racism that arose in the wake of George Floyd’s murder] have really informed my sense of identity and that gets expressed in the play, said Goldsmith. I feel like we’re at this precipice as Jewish Americans where, for the first time in a long time, we’re starting to reevaluate what it means to be Jewish.

Because of its inherent connections to Judaism, Goldsmith said he felt that the majority of the cast and crew being Jewish would offer the production a level of authenticity.

“This is a show about processing the Jewish experience and the sort of turning point of processing the Jewish experience in 2023,” said Goldsmith. “I love the fact that there are things that don’t need to get said in the rehearsal, there are things that don’t need to be explained.

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Riley Polaner (first year) at the dress rehearsal for “It Could Have Been Enough” behind Keck Theater at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. March 2, 2023. Renee Ye/The Occidental

Indeed, the subject matter of “It Could Have Been Enough” prompted some of the Jewish members of its cast and crew to reflect on the differences within the Jewish experience, according to Polaner.

I’ve never really looked at Judaism through somebody else’s perspective. It’s always very like, individual, personal thing. So it was really interesting, seeing all the different perspectives of people in the cast,” said Polaner. “It’s so different for each personall the different ways being Jewish means to people.

Yet despite these differences, Levy said the commonalities between the traditions were unifying.

The first time I read through the script I was taken aback a little bit by how relatable the nuance of it was, said Levy. “Being Jewish, to me, is about having conversations about what it means to be Jewish.

According to Karis Palomino, the other co-director, while the story itself might be an examination specific to Judaism, its resonance and relevance applies to anyone struggling with their identity.

I feel like I learned a lot about a different culture. Being able to incorporate that to the best of my ability into the play was really, really cool,” said Palomino. “It’s really about identity. And finding and knowing who you are, and learning to be proud of that, no matter what is very important theme to this play.

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