Unfairness at the fair leads to salty story

by Connie Shakalis

I miss Kosher pickles. And kashe varnishkes and shakshuka and crispy latkes. (Although in Manhattan, I missed Hoosier fried pork tenderloin sandwiches and mayonnaise on cheeseburgers.)

Did you know that kosher pickles’ brine is cloudy, and it’s supposed to be? That’s because of the salt — as opposed to vinegar, in which other kinds of pickles bask.

Francesca Sobrer told me that, and she knows, because she is directing Jewish Theatre of Bloomington’s “A Pickle.” It’s a dark, and informative, comedy by Deborah Yarchun, starring mutli-award-grabbing film and TV actress Annabel Armour.

“I am drawn to (directing) ‘A Pickle’ because it is a true story about a woman named Doris Rubenstein,” Sobrer said. “Doris’s story reminds us that injustice begins at a young age, but that we can fight it anytime.”

Doris Rubenstein, pickle maker and also an author, advocate and policymaker, transported her pickles with pride as she entered the 2000 Minnesota State Fair contest, the fair being a mammoth event, even bigger than our Indiana fair, Sobrer said.

The canning judges’ faces soured as they examined Rubinstein’s pickle jar. Her dills went nowhere but home, the examiners noting cloudy brine.

They didn’t understand. Salt brine is cloudy. Just as people get misjudged by our “look,” these crunchy cucumbers, too, had become victims of prejudice.

And this wasn’t the first time; Rubenstein’s pickles had disappointed, with nary a taste test, the previous year. She kept making them, but she never entered her pickles again.

Rubenstein knew about the salty sourness of fighting and of being odd man out. She had grown up in the unsettled 1960s in troubled schools. But this new, adult, rejection stung down deep. Her Uncle Harvey Glassman had recreated his mother-in-law’s kosher pickles and shared them with Rubenstein’s family annually. So after he died Rubenstein went pickle-less, unable to find anything resembling Uncle Harvey’s product.

She realized that her pickle situation might well become a play, so she phoned a theater to ask if she could talk with someone. Playwright Yarchun happened to be in town on a Jerome Fellowship; her ears opened quickly. So did a bond between the two women. And even though Rubenstein had envisioned a big boisterous cast with fair-worthy choruses and swishing yellow skirts, Yarchun imagined it more as a one-woman play, which it became.

Yarchun knows plays. Among other awards, she won two Jerome Fellowships at The Playwrights’ Center, a Dramatists Guild Foundation Fellowship, an EST/Sloan Commission, Dartmouth’s 2020 Neukom Literary Arts Award for Playwriting, and the Kennedy Center’s Jean Kennedy Smith Playwriting Award.

Playing Rubinstein is Armour, and we are lucky to have her, for which I thank the good judgment of director Sobrer. A few of Armour’s many honors include a nomination for a 1976 Joseph Jefferson Award for Actress in a Principal Role for her part in “A View from a Bridge” at the St. Nicholas Theater Company in Chicago and a win at the 1998 Joseph Jefferson Award for Actress in a Cameo Role for “After-Play” at the Organic Touchstone Company there. She was nominated for a 2014 Joseph Jefferson Equity Award for Supporting Actress in a Musical for “Cabaret” at Chicago’s Marriott Theatre as well as for a 2015 Joseph Jefferson Equity Award for Actress in a Supporting Role in a Play for “The Clean House” at the Remy Bumppo Theatre Company also in Chicago.

A bonus for me is that this is not another issue-play. No one’s going to scream their values at me. It’s primarily just a good funny play about a feisty and funny achiever.

Don't miss our virtual staged reading of A Pickle on May 20, 22, & 23!