note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
With dynamic Boston award-winning favorites Will LeBow and Jeremiah Kissel, directed by Obie Award winner Melia Bensussen, you know Seth Rozin‘s one-act comedy “Two Jews Walk into a War” must be hilarious.
The fact that they’re portraying comic versions of the actual last two Jews in Kabul, Afghanistan, who join forces to preserve Judaism there but hate each other, sounds hysterical, too.
LeBow and Kissel deliver with plaudits. There’s so much fodder for bittersweet acridity between these two feuding landsmen, starting from the time their parents and grandparents convinced each other to remain in Kabul, to their overall philosophic and lifestyle differences and their approach to dealing with their anti-Semitic townspeople. Despite several poignant and funny scenes, the play drags at times, through repetitious scenes and predictable shtick.
While Ishaq, (LeBow) is older and more devout, Zeblyan (Kissel) is younger, feistier, more argumentative. Ishaq doesn’t dare to leave the bombed-out synagogue and vows to rebuild and repopulate the congregation, while Zebylan loves being out, despite the danger of bombs dropping and marauding, racist street gangs. He shops in the markets, en route to his carpet store, and managed to trade a tourist child’s iPod as partial payment for one of his rugs.
Ishaq is more devout. He writes letters to rabbis internationally, seeking advice on how to rebuild the Jewish population in Kabul. After receiving disappointing responses, such as, “Get out of there,” Ishaq figures maybe he’ll advertise for a non-Jewish woman willing to convert and have a baby with him. However, there’s no one there to perform conversion rites. Ishaq then decides they must replace the Torah, but buying one is cost-prohibitive, so the two attempt to recreate their own. Zebylan inscribes it, not on parchment, but slightly bloodied, used butcher wrap that he salvaged from a dumpster. He bought pen and ink, though.
As they recreate the Torah, through Ishaq’s imperfect interpretation of Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus, they argue incessantly and explosively over small points of text and punctuation. They hit a boondoggle, trying to determine whether it’s okay to continue defying the Sabbath, or take a break, according to talmudic law.
Their feud, interplay and interaction lead to a poignant, surprise ending that leaves the audience hushed. Kudos to set designer Richard Chambers for his dreary, grimy, bombed-out synagogue with its Torah, ner tamid (everlasting light) and other accoutrements missing, but its bimah (platform) and symbolic Star of David in tact. Judy Gailen’s costumes add to the anachronistic blend of modernity vs. Judaic traditionalism, while Dan Kotlowitz’s lighting and David Remedios’ sounds simulate blackouts and poundings the two endure.
While Rozin’s dialog needs honing, and details about the men’s personalities need enhancement, overall, the audience enjoyed chuckling at LeBow and Kissel’s delightful performance.
BOX INFO: One-act play written by Seth Rozin, appearing through April 10 at Lowell Repertory Theatre, 50 E. Merrimack St., Lowell. Post-show forums, March 31, April 7, after the 7:30 p.m. show. Performances are Wednesdays, Thursdays, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 4,8 p.m.; Sunday, 2,7 p.m.; April 10, 2 p.m. only. Tickets start at $25; group, senior, student discounts. Call 978-654-4678 or visit www.MerrimackRep.org.