|L-R: Lauren Annunziata and Jeremy Rishe in THE SABBATH GIRL. Photo by Carol Rosegg.|
Observant Orthodox Jews refrain from doing any work on the Sabbath – and they construe “work” to include even activities as trivial as turning on an electrical appliance or changing a light bulb. That can, of course, create problems on Saturday when some unanticipated need to accomplish some forbidden task arises. Enter the “Shabbos Goy” – a non-Jewish neighbor or friend ready and willing to come to their rescue.
Seth (Jeremy Rishe) is a 32 year old divorced Orthodox Jewish-American currently living on the Upper West Side, having “emigrated” from his “ancestral” community in Riverdale subsequent to the dissolution of his three year old quasi-arranged marriage to a nice Jewish girl from a good Jewish family. Here his “Shabbos Goy” of choice had been his Korean neighbor, Mr. Lee, but Mr. Lee has unexpectedly moved out. And his new neighbor, as it turns out, is Angie (Lauren Annunziata) a very attractive Italian-American art gallery curator who has a great eye for art but not nearly as good an eye when it comes to boyfriends.
Angie’s latest art discovery (and relationship misstep) was Blake (Ty Molbak), a 31 year old hotshot whose considerable artistic talent and sex appeal were more than outset by his narcissism, arrogance and outright untrustworthiness. Which brings us back to Angie and Seth.
Superficially, at least, the two would appear to be polar opposites. She is a single Italian-American woman, cool, sharp, secular, passionate, forward-looking – just what one might expect of the curator of a trendy art gallery in Chelsea. He is a divorced Jewish-American man, awkward, religious, traditional – just what one might expect of the co-owner (with his sister, Rachel) of a knish shop on the Lower East Side. But beneath the surface, Seth and Angie actually have more in common than one might ever have imagined: they are both lonely, intelligent, charming and compassionate – and ripe for the discovery of their own “b’sherts” (the Yiddish term for that which was meant to be).
And so it is not surprising that Angie becomes Seth’s new “Shabbos Goy” or better yet, his Sabbath Girl, (the title role in The Sabbath Girl by Cary Gitter, currently enjoying its New York City premiere at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan). Of course the road to true love never doth run smooth, not even for “b’sherts,” and Seth and Angie have their hurdles to overcome, not the least of which is Seth’s knish shop partner, his well-meaning devout older sister Rachel (Lauren Singerman). But they are helped along the way by Sophia (Angelina Fiordellisi), Angie’s romantic, magical grandmother.
The theme of The Sabbath Girl, revolving around the romantic relationship between a nice Jewish boy and his “shiksa goddess,” may not be remarkably original, but it can make for wonderful entertainment. And this variation on that tried and true theme is especially charming, not only because it is very well-written but because the play’s entire ensemble cast is simply terrific. Lauren Annunziata is outstanding as Angie as she allows the cool artificial exterior of her hip persona to be peeled away, disclosing her truer self. Jeremy Rishe is equally good as Seth, conveying his tortuous struggle in reconciling his religious convictions with the demands of his heart. Ty Molbak provides great comic relief as Blake, the Fonz-like hip artist who manages to command Angie’s attention, at least temporarily. Lauren Singerman as Rachel, may be the best yenta I’ve seen since Molly Goldberg, expressing her own struggle between her devotion to her faith and her love for her baby brother. And Angelina Fiordellisi as Sophia adds just the right touch of magical wisdom to tie it all together in one very entertaining show.