Sunday, February 16, 2020

THE SABBATH GIRL by Cary Gitter Premieres at 59E59 Theaters

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.

Monday, January 13, 2020

MAZ AND BRICKS By Eva O'Connor at 59E59 Theaters

L-R: Eva O'Connor and Cieran O'Brien in MAZ AND BRICKS.  Photo by Lunaria.

No, Maz and Bricks doesn’t address the issue of the Irish “troubles” but that’s just about the only Irish theatrical mainstay theme it doesn’t touch on.  Child abuse, rape, trauma, familial estrangement, alcoholism, paternal love, depression, abortion, suicide, guilt, shame, the Catholic Church – it’s got them all.  So if you’re in the mood to see another quintessentially Irish two-hander addressing those timeless subjects, by all means get thee to 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan where Fishamble: The New Play Company is staging the US premiere of Eva O’Connor’s Maz and Bricks.

Surely you could do a lot worse.  The playwright (who also plays the role of Maz) may have been overly ambitious in the number of subjects she chose to take on in a single work of only 80 minutes duration but her enormous talent as both playwright and actress more than make up for any such shortcoming.  Her writing is as much poetry as prose and she employs her rhyming and rhythmic style effectively in portraying her characters’ vulnerabilities and sensitivities.

Ms O’Connor is superb as Maz, a staunch pro-choice campaigner, who meets Bricks (Ciaran O’Brien) on a tram in Dublin as she is en route to a pro-choice rally and he is going to pick up his four year old daughter to take her to the zoo.  Mr O’Brien is as terrific as Bricks as Ms O’Connor is as Maz notwithstanding the fact that, superficially at least, Bricks is about as different from Maz as one can possibly be: he doesn’t really care one way or another about abortion and, while Maz may have been traumatized by her early sexual experiences, his sole interest in life (other than his daughter) would seem to be bedding any woman who might be available.  And yet there is chemistry between them and by play’s end, by which time the two have spent a day on the tram and wandering through the streets of Dublin, we come to realize just how much more they (and, by extension, all of us) might really have in common than we ever thought.