Group: New Jewish Theatre
Venue: Wolfson Studio Theatre, 2 Millstone Campus Drive
Dates: March 26,27,29,30, April 2,3,5,6
Tickets: From $20 to $28; contact 314-442-3283
Story: Journalist Ben Kishman has returned home to his native Atlanta to be with a beautiful young museum tour guide he meets named Beth Richardson. He falls in love with the WASPish Beth, a disappointment to his religious father Manny but of no matter to the secular Ben. When blood tests taken prior to their marriage reveal that Beth is a carrier of Tay Sachs, a Jewish genetic disease, Beth’s mysterious past begins to clarify. Her father, stricken with Alzheimer’s, never told her much about her mother, who died when Beth was four years old. When Ben’s sister, Ilene, does some research, she learns that Beth’s mother was Jewish. As Beth and Ben’s family embrace her new identity, friction develops between her and Ben, who is more comfortable with his secular life than his religious upbringing.
Highlights: Director William Whitaker has assembled an expert cast that delivers a bevy of fine performances in this New Jewish Theatre presentation. That’s important, as the script by Janece Shaffer is disappointingly uneven, teetering far too often into soap opera as she attempts to balance humor and drama in her two-act work.
Nicole Angeli is terrific as Beth, with smart control of her emotions that allows us to experience Beth’s joy, anger, resentment, curiosity and longing for a home, both physical and spiritual. Dave Cooperstein is equally adept at conveying Ben’s innate love for his fiancé as well as his devotion to his craft. While Ben wants badly to be the first Jewish anchor in Atlanta television, he also consciously avoids references to his ethnic heritage, a source of increasing strife with Beth, and Cooperstein walks this fine line in realistic fashion.
John Contini is marvelous as Ben’s very religious father, a true family man who counters life’s challenges with a "God is good" mantra. Peggy Billo nicely complements Contini as Ben’s mother, comfortable in her traditional role as Jewish wife and mother and hoping for her children’s happiness. Sarajane Alverson injects spunk and delicious humor into the role of Ben’s younger, divorced sister, while Andra Harkins has a small but memorable role as Beth’s insularly WASPish stepmother.
Other Info: Dunsi Dai’s set is a perfunctory view of a middle-class living room, complemented by Glenn Dunn’s satisfactory lighting and Michele Friedman Siler’s costuming. Robin Weatherall’s amusing sound design runs the gamut from Dean Martin to Ray Conniff to more ethnic elements.
Beliefnet, a web site for spirituality, published a quiz about Jewish identity that revealed that, ultimately, "the suggested person with whom to discuss your religion in all categories is one who has the same rating as you." In other words, relationships between kindred spirits have the best chance of success. Shaffer’s interesting work reaches that same conclusion, but only after descending into melodrama, a most unfortunate occurrence.
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.