Certainly, religion provides a source of humor and sets up a potentially serious conflict; but all religions, and even atheism, can be the source of humor. In "Kosher Lutherans," the presence of a difference, rather than its specific difference, is what's most important to the story. As a reviewer with no previous knowledge of the show, I will admit that this point was, initially, a curveball for me.
Hannah and Franklyn are struggling to uphold their image of perfection almost as much as they struggle to conceive a child. And, at least in this reviewer's opinion, their beliefs surrounding those two facts are much more central to the story than their religion.
By casting Julie Layton and Richard Strelinger as Hannah and Franklyn, HotCity Theatre ensures a very likeable, engaging, and sympathetic couple. Strelinger's Franklyn has a few secrets of his own, and he does a fantastic job of presenting varying levels of emotional discomfort and moral distress.
Though it is easy to question some of the character's choices, Strelinger embodies them with a natural familiarity and ease; his rationalizations are comically effective. Layton's Hannah is a bit more reserved, and seems more concerned about keeping a calm, pleasant demeanor than in resolving any of the couple's issues. In the most complimentary sense, the resulting tension between the two actors builds almost without notice until, suddenly, it cannot be ignored.
At times, Layton's reactions are a bit forced and slightly overdone; yet even these moments seem genuinely connected to the character. It's as if Hannah is so uncertain of her own feelings that they flood her face in a series of distortions, making her small breakdown at the end of the first act all the more convincingly controlled. As an audience member, I was initially disappointed that the second act occurs nine months later. Part of me wanted to see Layton's character confront and work through her uncertain pain and disappointment, not just show the after effects of such.
As the couple's best friends, Martha and Ben, Nicole Angeli and Jerry Russo provide a stark contrast to Layton and Strelinger. Angeli's harping, almost shrewish, Martha certainly equals Russo's loud, overbearing Ben, but I found each character to be rather one-note. Their antagonism and aggressive behavior was a bit tiresome, and even after their reconciliation in the second act I wished they could find more nuance and levels in their characterizations.
Beth Wickenhauser rounds out the cast nicely as the culturally naïve but ultimately open-minded prospective birth mother. There were a few moments when I questioned how realistic her character was drawn, but Wickenhauser's cheerful, upfront delivery enabled me to suspend my disbelief.
The staging was effective, the costuming appropriate, and the well-appointed set created a very believable environment for the couple. The script was filled with witty, glib dialogue that provided plenty of comic situations and material for the cast. At times, however, I felt that there was something missing; I suspect that "something" can be traced to the script rather than the technical or performance aspects of the production.
Throughout it all, "Kosher Lutherans" is laugh out loud funny, and director Marty Stanberry and the cast do an excellent job of mining every bit of humor. The script is ultimately bright and hopeful; a celebration of human resilience and our ability to adapt that makes for a very enjoyable show.