Playwright Helen Pafumi: Talking about, but not to, God

Helen Pafumi
Helen Pafumi

Helen Murray Pafumi didn’t intend to write a Jewish play, when she set out to create “Redder Blood,” which is premiering this month at The Hub Theatre in Fairfax, Va., where she is a co-founder and artistic director. (See review here.)

“I don’t think from a Jewish perspective most of the time in programming  or in my approach to art,” says Pafumi. “This play has a lot of Jewish undertones because the characters in the play are Jewish. Because they are culturally Jewish, they are going to be things Jews are going to identify with.”

But, she emphasizes that writing a “Jewish play” was the last thing on her mind when Dan Kirsch, cultural arts director at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, approached her about supporting a new play. the JCC-NV provided modest initial funding, space for a first table read, a public reading last year and, ultimately, Kirsch encouraged Pafumi to submit the script to the Jewish Playwriting Contest. It won.

“When Dan asked me if I had anything that was remotely Jewish, I said, ‘I’ve got a couple of scenes that have been sitting in a drawer for a long time.’ They were very loosely based on my family because I grew up in an interfaith home. So that’s where I started,” Pafumi says.

Pafumi grew up all over the world. Born in California, she lived in Hawaii, England, Las Vegas, and in high school her family settled in Northern Virginia. She graduated from Oakton High School before attending Virginia Tech, where she majored in theater.

Before founding The Hub in 2008 with two other Fairfax colleagues, Pafumi performed on stages throughout the region. With the tagline, “a dynamic circle of story, art and community,” The Hub has built a small, but loyal audience of play-goers interested in thought-provoking theater.

“Hope,” Pafumi says, “is an operative word when looking at the work we produce. I care a great deal about our audiences walking out of our shows and feeling they want to do better in this world.” That means seeking – and writing – works that explore what she calls “our common humanity.”

Pafumi continues, “That doesn’t keep us from exploring the darker parts, but what it does is asks us to look at what is our connective tissue. When we do that and look for what’s going to connect us all, in that very act, we tend to find work that makes our audiences bond together when watching.”

While she admits to drawing on experiences from her family life – her Jewish-Israeli mother and Christian father, and a house filled with six brothers and sisters – “Redder Blood’s” questions of belief derive from her writer’s imagination.

“As I said, this isn’t a Jewish play; it’s a play about these people. It happens that there are Jewish characters in it. The nature of God in the play is not in any way reinforcing what I believe about a Jewish God. I crafted a Being thinking, ‘If one were to hear the voice of God in today’s world, how would it sound and how would it be effective?’ I went from there.”

And in “Redder Blood” God is a woman. Pafumi adds: “People ask me all the time about that. In writing, I asked, ‘How would God communicate in today’s world? I think that God and Sadie have a lot in common. So, of course She’s going to speak in a way that Sadie gets understands. That’s why they get along so well together.”


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