This week, performance artist Brian Feldman celebrates Chanukah in each of the District’s eight wards with his family. And everyone is invited. The Feldman Dynamic “Eight Wards of Chanukah” puts this very ordinary Florida family on stage, where they converse, bicker, light candles — barely remembering the Hebrew blessings — and play dreidel.
Sound familiar? You’ve probably done the same. But the Feldmans do it for the sake of art, or something like that.
Think the “Real Housewives” franchise in the flesh without the glamor and affluence. On Sunday night in Ward 1, the Source Theatre stage was set with a dinner table with party-aisle paper Chanukah decorations, Whole Foods latkes and vegan jelly doughnuts. (Feldman promises he’ll be making latkes on nights three, seven and eight). It’s reality TV in the flesh, and the banality after nearly 50 minutes of small talk — is at once fascinating and numbing. They’ll cover the rest of the wards and Chanukah nights in the coming days.
With no script or outline, nothing is planned and the family avoids talking about the show before they walk on stage. Whatever happens, well, it just happens,
Meet the Feldmans: patriarch Ed, a graphic designer; matriarch Marilyn, a writer/editor and breast cancer survivor; younger sister Adrienne McIntosh; and the impresario and brains behind this eccentric venture, Brian. Warning: They are not trained actors. They’re real people with real conversations. If observing a near-hour-long dinner with a family you’ve never met feels both voyeuristic and frustratingly boring, that’s one possibility. The other? Just go with the weirdness. (But, they’re using “inside” voices, so if you don’t sit close, you might miss parts of conversations, if that matters.)
Sunday at Source the Feldmans chatted about their Airbnb accommodations, cats and Adrienne’s visit to see the White House where she played Pokemon GO, came across the National Christmas Tree and the National Menorah lighting. Later they compared steps on their Fitbits, took selfies, played dreidel, made plans to visit the Kennedy Center Honors gala stage door and, after about 50 minutes, stood up and took a bow.
There’s nothing performative about this family, they talk over one another, mumble, ignore and rib each other, pass applesauce and ask for more latkes. Ed, for some strange reason, ate his doughnut with a fork and knife, while Brian mostly faded into the background, his demeanor sour and cranky. When mom asked what was wrong, he complained he was up all night making the program for the show and felt tired. Hey, if he doesn’t enjoy this, why do it?
The evening’s star — and saving grace — was Kristina Wong (and, alas, she won’t attend any of the other nights), who provided most of the laughs as the goyish outsider. An L.A.-based performance artist, Wong is executive producer for this eight-day week — meaning she fronted Feldman some money when his grant didn’t come through — and flew in for the first night.
Unlike the Feldmans, she brought Chanukah gifts — campaign buttons and a poster for her own performance project-cum-political campaign proclaiming “One Wong Makes It Right.” Her witty commentary included observations like: “Latkes are just Jewish hash browns,” “Chinese people are Jewish adjacent” about her mother’s accounting job at a JCC and dreidel is “like roulette for little kids.”
As a one-time child actor, Brian appeared in commercials and local theater in his Orlando hometown. For his bar mitzvah, his mom hired an improv artist to help him work up an act. Instead, Feldman wanted to make his whole family the act simply by putting them onstage eating dinner.
It took nearly a decade to convince mom Marilyn. In 2003 The Feldman Dynamic was born and has been intermittently “performing” ever since. Now a District resident living in Ward 3 for six years, Brian said the time was right to bring The Feldman Dynamic to the nation’s capital for Chanukah.
Feldman’s other projects have included a Shabbat dinner in a District Wawa, washing audience members’ dishes in their own homes, and hugging his father for 24 hours in a boxing ring on Father’s Day. As a performance artist he challenges the nature of what is staged and what is real, asking audiences to consider the mundanity of his life on view as an artistic endeavor — and question our own lives.
The “Eight Wards of Chanukah” is an acquired taste and may not fulfill your Chanukah wishes. If another family’s small talk fills you with dread, stay home and enjoy your own. Dad jokes are universal — and rarely optional. So when Ed’s story meanders, son Brian just cuts him off, saying, “Let’s save it for another night.” Feels familiar. Then they stand up and bow, even though Dad’s yarn has just gotten started.
The Feldman Dynamic “Eight Wards of Chanukah”; for information and tickets, visit facebook.com/pg/FeldmanDynamic/events/.