On Oct. 19 and 20 at Temple Beth Or in Raleigh, NC, Temple Beth Or and Actors Comedy Lab presented a highly entertaining staged reading of Souls Are Flying, three provocative new one-act plays adapted by Raleigh, NC actor/playwright Scott H. Davis from the colorful Yiddish short stories of the legendary I. L. Peretz (1859-1915). The plays skillfully dramatized three classic moral tales: “Bontshe Shvayg” (“Bontshe the Silent”), “What Is a Soul?” and “If Not Still Higher!”

“Bontshe Shvayg” (“Bontshe the Silent”) directed by Rod Rich starred the hilarious but too-seldom-seen Jerry Zieman as the lonely, downtrodden, tightlipped, uncomplaining title character. During his ultra-miserable earthly existence, which ended in the 1880s, the hapless and increasingly passive Bontshe fell victim to just about every misfortune that life has to offer, starting with a botched circumcision, and to the deceit and betrayal of everyone he trusted and held dear. Even after death, Bontshe finds that he must defend his pathetic and squalid earthly existence before a Heavenly Court of Paradise in which a novice defending angel (Rebecca Blum) and an experienced prosecuting angel (Al Singer) passionately argue Bontshe’s case before a sympathetic presiding judge (John McIlwee).

“What Is a Soul?” directed by Bunny Safron is the touching tale of a young Jewish boy (Jess Lawrence) who has lost his father and must rely on his devoted mother (Diane Gilboa), family friends, and teachers to answer difficult spiritual questions, such as “What Is a Soul?” In carefully weighing the different answers from his conservative Talmud teacher (Al Singer), his free-thinking writing teacher (David Serxner), and a mystical Chassidic Rebbe (Seth Blum), the boy finds the truth.

“If Not Still Higher!” directed by Nancy Rich answers another thorny question. Where does the small, tight-knit Jewish community’s beloved rebbe (John McIlwee) go when he vanishes between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipper. When a skeptical Litvak (Seth Blum) secretly shadows the rebbe, he learns a profound lesson in kindness.

Although it was just a staged reading, Souls Are Flying featured crackerjack characterizations by Seth and Rebecca Blum, Patsy M. Clarke, Diane Gilboa, John McIlwee, David Serxner, Al Singer, and others who skillfully slipped into each of their several roles and provided crowd-pleasing performances in these three one-acts staged with warmth and a great deal of wit by Rod and Nancy Rich and Bunny Safron.