For the second time in less than a year, St. Louis audiences have the opportunity to see Matthew Lopez's "The Whipping Man," a fine script that has now received two excellent productions. The Black Repertory Theatre put it on in 2013 to great acclaim, making many "Best Of the Year" lists and receiving several Critics' Circle Nominations. New Jewish Theatre's version that opened last night (Jan. 30) matches that level of excellence, and due primarily to directorial choices, occasionally surpasses it.
‘There are stars whose radiance is visible on earth though they have long been extinct. There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world though they are no longer among the living. These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark. They light the way for Mankind.’ –Hannah Senesh
It occurred to me watching “The Good Doctor” this time that its eight vignettes both riff on sketch comedy shows like Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows" where playwright Neil Simon got his start, and are extended jokes. They all have a setup, middle and a punch line or “punch situation” of one kind or another.
What if you were foolish, and yet thought you were smart? Now extend that to everyone you know, all laboring under same delusion. Add music, color, costume, and a talented cast, and you have the world of "Shlemiel the First."
I think I'm not giving anything away when I suggest that when in a play set in Spain in the 15th century the Inquisition examines a priest who has married a Jewish woman and who is himself a Jew, that examination is not likely to end happily for the priest.
What happens when an immigrant Jewish accountant from St. Louis falls in love with a Missouri country girl? You get gefilte catfish, matzo balls made of cornmeal, and a unique love story that has charmed millions and made the world see that Lebanon, Missouri, is a town of far greater depth of spirit than most people realized.
The New Jewish Theatre’s production of Neil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers is a delight from beginning to end. It isn’t a perfect play, but under the sure direction of Doug Finlayson and the abundance of talent on stage and behind the scenes, it is rendered as a lovely and relatable story of family with all that word emotions that powerful word connotes.
It occurs to me now and then that creating theatre is a kind of magic trick. The performers are the magicians and the patrons pay to be transported to another world, a different kind of life “for an hour, two hours,” says Jacob Shemerinsky, acclaimed actor in the Yiddish Theatre.
Leo Greshen (Peter Mayer) sets up a kind of private Yom Kippur on Benny Silverman’s (Bobby Miller) lavish deck overlooking Malibu. But while it’s clear from Miller’s performance that Benny was once a great comic actor, he’s not much of a Jew.