Sunday, October 16, 2011

The God of Isaac by James Sherman

By Joe Straw

Isaac rolled out the red carpet for his mother. It’s the second worst thing an actor can do.  At least give it a week into the run, or until things settle down.

The first worst thing is inviting your Jewish mother to opening night.  What could have gotten into this guy?  Is he a meshugginer?

Actors want opening night to be special but yet here she is (introduced by him by the way) and she’s kvetching right back at him about his life and his unwillingness to even be curious about their religion.  The actors are aware she is out there and try not to break character. Still, she is a nuisance.  

Later, the patrons have had enough.  They ask her to be quiet.  And the situation was getting a little out of hand.  (Upon entering the theatre I had noticed a defibulator on the wall and wondered if that was going to be needed on this particular night.  Someone was going to lose it, and it wasn’t going to be a pretty sight.)

And then the ushers marched in to quiet her with no luck.  This was followed by security wielding batons. Still, she’s not leaving. Saying something about “her only son and her constitutional rights.”

When they heard “constitutional rights,” everyone backed away, hands off, and walked quietly backwards toward the lobby, and the show continued.

The right to free speech is a beautiful thing.   

The Lying Narrator.

You can’t believe everything you read from The Lying Narrator, still there was some truth to what he is saying.  

The God of Isaac written by James Sherman and directed by Darin Anthony at the Pico Playhouse in West Los Angeles, California through November 27th, 2011, is a lot of fun and performed by a tremendous cast.

The play is about Isaac Adams (Adam Korson) who seems to be part of a theatre group in Los Angeles in the 1980’s as referenced by the ‘80s music before the performance.  He has invited his mother M (Karen Kalensky) to be a part of this Los Angeles premier. (I don’t think I’m giving too much away as the mother is in the first scene sitting in the audience.)

Going back in time we get a glimpse of his early life in the Midwest.

Isaac is a writer whose eyes are not opened to the simplest things surrounding him.  An awakening, of sorts, happen when Jewish men want to perform Tefillin approach him. It is a ceremony that, at first glance, doesn’t have much of an effect on him. But the idea of awakening to his religious heritage is like an alarm clock with a snooze button.  And he keeps pressing, “Snooze”. 

Working as a journalist in Chicago, he falls in love with two ladies, Chaya (Jennifer Flaks) and Shelly (Corryn Cummins).  Chaya is a nice Jewish girl that he has known since they were children.  Shelly is a shiskse and a hot fashion model whom he has known for a short period of time. She is great in bed and he marries her much to the dismay of his mother.

Isaac forges on with his daily life not giving much consideration to the big picture.   He plows along not thinking until the next big event. And then an event awakens his senses and opens up in his mind.

The mental time capsule here is the 1978 proposed march by the Nazis Socialist Party of America in a heavily Jewish population of Skokie, Illinois.  This march was planned after the organization was denied the right to march in Marquette Park in Chicago. Frank Collin headed this organization and astonishingly enough was later found to have Jewish roots.

Still, Adams is awakened by the thought, that through his writing, he will take a spiritual journey that will define his life.   

Judaism defines me.

Isaac and Shelly set up household.  Shelly, coming home, mentions that she bought them a bed and “Jewed the guy down 200 bucks.”  Of course this doesn’t sit well with Isaac.

Looking at the both of them and their discourse about Oscar Myer non kosher salami, white bread and mayonnaise one thinks: “This ain’t gonna last.”  He is never going to convince her that rye or pumpernickel, and mustard are the perfect compliments to kosher salami for a Jewish man.

Still, Isaac searches for a truth he cannot find but, by the end, he becomes a whole mensch who understands a little more of the world around him.

Adam Korson as Isaac Adams is very good in the role but as one tries to make sense of the character, or the core of the character, one finds this is your average everyday kind of guy. Do we really come to theatre to see everyday average?  Korson is a very good actor, very likeable, but not giving the character a unique perspective. Imagination and inspiration is found in the process of making mistakes and more mistakes need to be made.  

Karen Kalensky as Mom was quite terrific.  Finding a way to make her scene on stage work would only add to an already terrific per performance.  Kalensky has a very strong voice and is an accomplished actor.  She is delightful to watch even in her quiet moments, sitting in the audience, watching the show. 

Peter Van Norden in various roles is probably one of the finest actors working in Los Angeles today.  The roots of all of his characters are very deep.  With each role, there is a sense the character has traveled thousands of miles to get to this moment.  Nothing is wasted.  His voice is commanding, and his actions are very specific. His scene as the tailor reinforces my belief that his work is tremendous and he is inspiring to watch.

Jason Weiss in various roles has a number of good moments.  He has a nice look and is capable of doing a number of impressions. Terry Malloy (On The Waterfront)  “I couldn’t been a mensch!” Tom Joad (Grapes of Wrath),  Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn (I didn’t quite get this), and the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz.

Jennifer Flaks as Chaya is very good and does a nice job as the Jewish girlfriend who tries to say in touch with Isaac.  When Isaac overlooks her as a suitable mate, she becomes the long-suffering girlfriend who decides to marry a nice Jewish man. She ends up divorced but still remains friends with Isaac. The long-suffering girlfriend, as part of the character, doesn’t work. Flaks needs to find ways to get Isaac to add elements to her character whether she gets him or not. Still, she needs to try.

Corryn Cummins as Shelly was fantastic. She has a number of things going for her most importantly her concentration. She understands being in the moment and can easily play with a character on stage as well as off stage.  Cummins has a very nice look and has an accomplished way of handling her self on stage. She succeeds with all characters that she portrays. She is wonderful to watch in every role she plays in this production.

Herb Isaacs, a very nice gentlemen whom I have had the pleasure of meeting, will be taking over Peter Van Norden roles from November 17-27.

James Sherman, the playwright, has written a fun play. There were some terrific moments, actually too many funny moments to count.   One realizes this play is about the spiritual awakening of a man who hasn’t come to grips with his Jewish heritage. 

One could argue the benefits of the movie references either adding to or taking away from the story. It works when it works but on this opening weekend it just didn’t jell. The references were a story off on itself and not relating to the rest of the play.  They were funny, but what did this all mean?

Darin Anthony did a fine job putting this all together. There were a lot of funny moments. Some things didn’t work but overall it was an enjoyable evening and I’m glad I went.  

Kurtis Bedord was the Set Designer that worked very well for the space. Sherry Linnell did a nice job as the Costume Designer.  Bill Froggatt was the Sound Designer and Raul Clayton Staggs, the Casting Director, did a remarkable job. 

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