Monday, June 30, 2014

The Religion Thing @ The Cell Theater

“The Religion Thing”, by Renee Calarco, directed by Douglas Hall, fell flat as a message medium and as a provocative catalyst for post-theater dinner gab, notwithstanding the relevant subject matter of interfaith marriage and more significant- the measure by which we define ourselves. It is a shame too because who of us cannot relate to the internal conflict of seeking our own bliss while also subjecting ourselves to cultural traditions and the difficulty in integrating the two?

The play performed at The Cell as a Project Y production opens with Glick’s (Curren Connor) stand-up monologue about the Amish rite of passage, Rumspringa. In so doing, we are led to believe this show will be a comedy where we poke fun at our religious traditions. His rightful conclusion that most adolescents return to be baptized into the faith foreshadows the interfaith marriage couple’s own struggle and eventual reconciliation of the distinct faiths they were born into, with the lives and partners they chose as individuals. However, its lack of meat made the tradition seem trivial as opposed to what it is: an honest struggle to choose a life path despite parental programming. Further, it would have more adequately been compared to Catholic confirmation or Bar/Bat Mitzva , and not to the grown-up turmoil of marriage and divorce.

Still thinking this to be a comedy, the next scene set in the swanky living room of Mo (Katherine McLeod) and Brian (Jamie Geiger) who are hosting Patti (Danielle O-Farrell) and Jeff (Andrew William Smith) revealed the central conflict in the play: Are we the sum of our choices and experiences, or are we who we choose to be and experience henceforth? Katherine does a sufficient job portraying the typical Type A, nearly 40 woman who was told and believed that she could have it all. And Jamie, whose portrayal of a 40 something, non-religious Jew living in an age of entitlement and indecision is certainly the most authentic of all the actors. Danielle and Andrew have zero chemistry together and I felt like I was watching a high school performance whenever they were on stage. It was confusing as an audience member if this was due to nervous actors, an inability to reach emotional depth, or the awkwardness of the unlikely pairing. After the scene, I was left wondering if the big reveal that Jeff is, was, might still be gay (what does that mean?) was more about it being Pride Week in NYC than anything relevant to a comedic play about interfaith marriages.

If we are to surmise, as the play intends that we can choose our path and that it can be the integration of all our individual conclusions about ourselves, it ought not to have been an issue that Jeff had chosen a woman as a life partner rather than a man regardless of why. And if it’s not a choice, why was it even placed in the construct of the interfaith challenges? Where were the Atheist and the Muslim and the potential fight over something meaningful like circumcision? Is it because that scenario lacks comedic implications?

Knowing what I know now would I still go see it? Yes. The venue is interesting and lends itself to layers of staging and direction. The tech was on cue which I appreciate as I feel that sound and lighting are part of the framework that provide structure whence the actor may shine. Further, Project Y is to be applauded for even attempting to broach the topic that has somehow been relegated to gauche in polite society despite it addressing the most fundamental aspect of being human- questioning the meaning of one’s life and place in the world. In closing, the use of Yael Ben-Zion’s photographic art displayed throughout deserves more than just a cursory glance and may provide for dessert dialog.

Review By: Michelle Seven
Photos By: Colin Hovde

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