Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Jerusalem"

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note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Larry Stark


by Seth Greenland
Directed by Rick Lombardo

Lighting Design by Franklin Meissner Jr.
Scenic Design by Kristin Loeffler
Original Music/Sound Design by Haddon Kime
Costume Design by Frances Nelson McSherry
Production Stage Manager Greg Nash

Will..........................Benjamin Evett
Gruberman/Fisher/Saladin/Yitz...Robert Saoud
Meg...........................Allison Dunbar
Mary.........................Barbara Blossom
Glory............................Laurie Dawn
Bing............................Bates Wilder

If you go out to the New Repertory Theatre to see "Jerusalem" --- and you should --- don't leave in the act break. It's true that act one is a sprawling, broad-brush situation comedy that could be a pilot in the television fishbowl (on cable, at least), though the acting for the central pair is good, serious stage-work. Seth Greenland's script takes these mostly-comic sketches to contemporary Jerusalem in act two, and throws them into much more serious, though no less comic situations --- which you will be discussing all the way home. Trust me.

Here's the situation:
A lapsed-Lutheran woman (Allison Dunbar) who occasionally meditates in the lotus position is married to a Jew (Benjamin Evett) who has never practiced his social or religious heritage. ("The first six months I knew you I thought you were a Unitarian!") But her small-minded, pushy family drives him to defensiveness on a visit with them in Wisconsin for the Christmas holidays. Of course, the fact that he's a psychtherapist whose patient jumped through a window at the end of a session gives him good reason to need a secure religious framework. And his wife's Mother (Barbara Blossom), her sister (Laurie Dawn) and brother-in-law (Bates Wilder --- all stereotypes pushed to extremes --- don't exactly make convincing advertisements for his possible embrace of their creed. ("Of course the Jews killed Christ! But we don't hold it against them any more...")

In addition to these, the cast includes Robert Saoud as a kind of free-floating avatar appearing in several small parts: he is a Muslim who opens and locks up a Jerusalem church because the many Christian denominations cannot agree on any one of them to do the job; he's an "Existential Orthodox" Jew praying to a God he doesn't believe exists; he's the wife's drugged-out brother who fell in love with eastern religion; he's a therapy patient who believes Martha Stewart is really the Messiah and at her ressurrection he'll become her Pope.
That's the kind of very funny, intermittently profound sort of play this is...

Kristin Loeffler's set for act one features a glass wall like that of the Hancock Tower, and for act two the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. And Director Rick Lombardo has handled it all so that the funny parts are hysterically funny, the serious ones startlingly moving. This is much more than a "just Jewish" play that, as I suggested, you will talk about all the way home and maybe for days after. As a matter of fact, I intend to see the show again with a friend just so we can, indeed, discuss the play and its implications at some length. The fact that I --- an ex-Dutch Reformed militant Atheist --- happen to identify strongly with its hero in no way colors my enthusasm for a play that deserves a bigger audience than saw it with me last Saturday night. Go, see if you agree with me.
But stay for the second act!


"Jerusalem" (18 September - 20 October)
54 Lincoln Street, NEWTON HIGHLANDS MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide