april 2018 | Volume 166
Richard Newman and Gina Chiarelli. Photo by Damon Calderwood.
In Mark Leiren-Young’s new two-hander, a sixty-something Jewish divorce lawyer (Richard Newman) comes to a female rabbi (Gina Chiarelli), asking her to give him the bar mitzvah he never had when he was 13. Michael the rabbi insists Joey the lawyer needs instruction. Joey insists he’ll take it only from her, one-on-one, and seals the deal with a fat cheque to the synagogue.
Joey is skeptical, even cynical about religion—about the Abraham-Isaac story he comments, “What kind of asshole is ready to kill his son because he hears voices?”—but he’s clearly pursuing this unusual goal out of a deep need, a deep wound really, as we’ll eventually learn in a less than fully convincing revelation.
Rabbi Michael has her own brand of skepticism—the biblical stories, she insists, aren’t to be taken literally: they’re “metaphors, puzzles, fairy tales.” But she has faith, sorely tested as it is by her 12-year-old daughter’s cancer.
These two smart, sensitive people—often masking their sensitivity with jokes—go back and forth about religion, marriage, faith and community in an entertaining and sometimes illuminating series of conversations. Though Joey’s raison d’être remains fuzzy, and Leiren-Young introduces a second personal crisis for Michael late in the play that feels stagey and anticlimactic, the material is mostly interesting and intelligent, and really funny.
And the performances are superb. Chiarelli, one of the city’s best actresses making her first stage appearance in years, absolutely nails the rabbi’s keen professionalism and personal anguish. She also has great deadpan comic timing. Newman matches her beat for beat, keeping Joey’s shtick nicely in check while giving his humanity full range.
Director Ian Farthing wisely keeps the stage business to a minimum and just lets these two pros get on with it.
get in touch with vancouverplays:
Vancouver's arts and culture website providing theatre news, previews and reviews