Shallow and Sketchy: Review of Three Short Jewish Plays by Established Writers

Shallow and Sketchy: Review of Three Short Jewish Plays by Established Writers

Despite exploring themes of birth, marriage, and death, these three short Jewish plays by established writers offer a shallow and sketchy evening of entertainment.

Each script, written by Amy Rosenthal, Alexis Zegerman, and Ryan Craig, takes unexpected directions.

The plays introduce elements like the presence of God in modern London, where the Jewish diaspora extends to Tooting, and even a hamster named after Israel’s only female prime minister, Golda Meir.

However, a significant drawback is the stiff and artificial quality of Kayla Feldman’s production.

The cast includes experienced actors like Nigel Planer and Adrian Schiller, along with talented newcomer Abigail Weinstock.

Unfortunately, the dialogue delivery lacks authenticity, and it’s hard to believe that the actors truly believe in the lines they’re delivering.

This undermines the authenticity of the performances in these playlets (referred to as a “trilogy” though it might be too grand a term), which are all centered around themes of faith, culture, and family.

The first play introduces us to retired obstetrician Michael (Planer) and his 50th wedding anniversary celebration with his wife Lynda (Caroline Gruber).

Their joy is disrupted when a mystery woman (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) arrives and implicates Michael in her birth trauma.

This sparks a discussion about how we perceive and respond to suffering, including a direct reference to the Holocaust.

Rosenthal then takes a surprising turn, freeing Lynda from her husband’s dominating God-complex through a monologue that circles back to the metaphor of a crossword clue, albeit somewhat cryptically.

In Zegerman’s play, Planer seemingly transforms into God, taking on the role of a restaurant customer named Godfrey.

He compels Eva (Weinstock) and Adrian (Sam Thorpe-Spinks) to endlessly relive a disastrously awkward first date because he has chosen them to “propagate the Jewish race.”

The play is rife with clichés, from Adrian’s awkward remarks to Eva’s sentimental fondness for animals, and even the waitress’s exaggerated rudeness.

Amid a theistic interruption, Adrian exclaims, “Jesus Christ!” to which Planer’s Godfrey humorously retorts, “That’s a WHOLE other story,” almost winking at the audience.

While characters do not carry over between the playlets, themes and actors do.

In Craig’s final tale, Weinstock portrays Leah, the sarcastic daughter of a distant and all-powerful cancer surgeon (Schiller), and sister to Adam (Dan Wolff), who rivals Adrian in nerdiness.

In this story, themes of death and family dysfunction find expression through the character of a hamster.

The plays offer a mixture of too much and too little.

Reflections on age-old traditions coexist with quips about Brexit, and profound contemplations on identity and mortality clash with moments of sentimentality.

The limited 65-minute runtime prevents the exploration of the connecting threads among the tales.

The most significant shortcoming lies in the absence of emotional authenticity in the character portrayals, which detracts from the intelligent writing.

Production company Emanate aims to integrate Jewish narratives into the mainstream using both emerging and established voices, which is a commendable endeavor.

However, for this goal to be achieved, the stories need to be more substantial, better executed, and delivered with a deeper sense of conviction than what is present in these plays.

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