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Posts Tagged ‘new jewish theatre’

Life Sucks
by Aaron Posner, adapted from Anton Chekhov
Directed by Edward Coffield
New Jewish Theatre
May 23, 2018

Jan Meyer, Christopher Harris, Jeff Cummings
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

Life Sucks is the title of New Jewish Theatre’s latest production. It’s also the most uttered line in the play. It’s a phrase that inspires much pondering, arguing, and philosophizing among the characters in playwright Aaron Posner’s re-imagined, modernized version of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. As staged at NJT, it also provides an excellent showcase for some excellent local performers.

The story here is essentially a fourth-wall breaking, sort of but not always linear version of the Uncle Vanya story, but with more of an emphasis on broad comedy with focus on the characters’ internal conflicts more than on the actual plot. In fact, at least one key plot point of Chekhov’s Vanya is essentially treated as a throwaway element in this play. Here, the characters talk to the audience and try to work out their various existential crises. The characters are also modified to varying degrees from Chekhov, with some having different names. It’s essentially a series of vignettes and confrontations, with occasional moments of the whole cast assembling to speak to the audience or to a particular character. Sonia (Katy Keating) outlines the relationships. Vanya (Christopher Harris) is her uncle, and Babs (Jan Meyer) is sort of her aunt, and the three live together in what was Sonia’s mother’s house. Sonia’s father, The Professor (Greg Johnston) is an aging, self-important academic who rarely visits and is insecure in his relationship to his third wife, Ella (Julie Layton). Ella, for her part, is boggled by the fact that almost everyone in the play seems to be in love with her, especially Vanya and his old friend Dr. Aster (Jeff Cummings), with whom Sonia has long been enamored. There’s also Pickles (Michelle Hand), another sort-of aunt who still grieves a long-ended relationship and also is attracted to Ella. The framework plot of Uncle Vanya is here, but its the characters and their views of life, relationships, and their own personal crises that take precedence here, and although there are some poignant moments, it’s essentially a comedy.

The script is engaging, with emphasis on character relationships, fantastical elements, witty dialogue, and a lot of contempory pop culture references.  It’s an intriguing take on the source material, and since character is key here, the casting is also important. All six players here are strong, embodying the archtypes of their characters well. Keating is an especially relatable Sonia, and her relationship with Harris’s emotionally effusive Vanya is especially poignant. The structure of the script is such that all the characters are given moments to shine, from Layton’s excellent reflection on what it’s like to be pursued and idealized by so many people, to Johnston’s reflections on aging, to Hand’s yearning for people to see past her quirks, and more. Cummings, as the amiable but somewhat aimless Aster, and Mayer as the more world-wise Babs are also excellent. The sense of cohesive ensemble chemistry, in fact, is a real highlight of this production.

The production values here are nothing short of stunning. Peter and Margery Spack’s set is colorful, detailed, and whimsical, representing Sonia’s house and backyard in a literal way but also with some more fantastical touches. The costumes, by Michele Friedman Siler, suit the characters well. There’s also excellant evocative, atmospheric lighting by Maureen Berry. Overall, the play seems to take place at once in the “real world” of the characters but also at the same time in their heads and in an “out of time” space, and all the technical elements here help to set and maintain that effect, augmenting the strong performances of the cast.

The questions raised in Life Sucks are ones with which many audience members will relate–questions of identity, relationship, and purpose in life. It’s a clever, sometimes a little pretentious but still witty and entertaining piece with some truly wonderful performances. It’s a memorable way to close out New Jewish Theatre’s 21st season.

Katy Keating, Jeff Cummings, Jan Meyer, Christopher Harris, Greg Johnston, Julie Layton, Michelle Hand
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

The New Jewish Theatre is presenting Life Sucks at the Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio Theatre at the JCC’s Staenberg Family Complex until June 10, 2018.

 

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New Jerusalem:
The Interrogation of Barch de Spinoza at Talmud Torah Congregation
Amsterdam, July 27, 1656
by David Ives
Directed by Tim Ocel
New Jewish Theatre
April 21, 2018

Jim Butz, Greg Johnston, Rob Riordan, John Flack
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

New Jewish Theatre’s latest production is a thought-provoking, surprisingly timely one, considering it’s 17th Century setting. It’s also something of a departure for the playwright, at least from my own experience of his work. Still, it’s an intriguing, extremely well-scripted play that raises a lot of questions and boasts a particularly excellent cast.

David Ives is known for witty, intelligent and somewhat outrageous comedies–mostly, but not all adapted from plays by 18th and 19th Century playwrights, although sometimes he has veered into darker subject matter as in Venus In Fur. I’ve seen several of his plays in production in St. Louis and have greatly enjoyed them. This play is different, though, in tone as well as subject matter, from most other Ives plays I have seen. While New Jerusalem certainly has its witty moments, it’s more of a straightforward drama than anything I’ve seen by this playwright before. It is set in the past, though, and shines the light on an important figure in philosophy, and on a pivotal moment in his life. Baruch de Spinoza (Rob Riordan), known to his friends as “Bento”, is an active member of his synagogue in Amsterdam, although the local authorities have been unhappy with some of the philosphies he has been lately espousing. Viewing this as a disruption to society, city official Abraham van Valkenburgh (Jim Butz) brings charges against Spinoza and demands that his congregation leaders, Gaspar Rodrigues Ben Israel (Greg Johnston) and Rabbi Saul Levi Mortera (John Flack), do something about Spinoza’s troublemaking philosophies. More specifically, he seeks to have Spinoza excommunicated from the congregation. Mortera and Ben Israel, who have known Spinoza for years and view him as a beloved friend, are initially supportive of Spinoza, but as other accusers and witnesses are brought forward, including Van Valkenburgh’s nephew, Simon de Vries (Will Bonfiglio), who has been a close friend of Spinoza’s but has been secretly spying on him. There’s also Spinoza’s half-sister, Rebekah (Jennifer Theby-Quinn), who has her own reasons for accusing and disliking her half-brother; and the daughter of Spinoza’s landlord, Clara van den Enden (Karlie Pinder), who has a semi-romantic attachment to Spinoza despite their religious differences (she is a Christian). Through the course of the play, Spinoza boldly, unapologetically defends his beliefs but deals with the emotional consequences of the conflict with his friends and accusers. He also challenges the system that seems to subordinate the Jewish community in Amsterdam and favor the Christian church, as well as the concept of religious influence on government, and government’s role in dictating what a person believes and the expression of those beliefs. The play also expertly portrays the interpersonal and emotional conflicts and sometimes divided loyalties between the characters.

The casting here is impeecable, led by Riordian in a dynamic, impressive performance as the witty, stubborn, and concientious Spinoza. His presence and chemistry with the rest of the cast are excellent, and he makes an ideal central figure in this production. There’s also strong work from Butz as the intractable van Valkenburgh; Flack as Spinoza’s increasingly disillusioned mentor, Rabbi Mortera; Bonfiglio as the conflicted Simon; and Theby-Quinn as the confrontational Rebekah. Johnston as Ben Israel and Pinder as Clara are excellent, as well. The various conflicts and issues are humanized very well in this play, represented by these very well-drawn and expertly portrayed characters.

Technically, this play is strong as well, as is usual for New Jewish Theatre. Director Tim Ocel has staged the play in the round, with Peter and Margery Spack’s set representing a “dock” or “ring” of sorts, as the audience is included as spectators to the trial. There’s also effective lighting by John Ontiveros. The costumes by Michele Friedman Spiler are suitably detailed, as are Margery Spack’s props. There’s a strong evocation of time and place in this play, putting the audience right into the story in an effective way.

Unfortunately, due to travel, I was unable to attend New Jerusalem until the night before it closed, so there aren’t any more chances to see it. I was glad to be able to catch it, however.  It’s a thoroughly compelling play, raising issues that are particularly relevant in today’s political climate, and the performances are especially memorable. It’s another top-notch production from New Jewish Theatre.

John Flack, Rob Riordan
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

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The How and the Why
by Sarah Treem
Directed by Nancy Bell
New Jewish Theatre
January 25, 2018

Sophia Brown, Amy Loui Photo by Eric Woolsey New Jewish Theatre

The How and the Why, the newest production from the New Jewish Theatre, is a story about relationships, about science, and about women. A one-act, two-woman show, Sarah Treem’s play is a strong showcase for two excellent local performers. It’s also an in-depth look at life through the eyes of two women at different stages of life who are inextricably tied to one another in more ways than one.

As the story begins, award-winning evolutionary biologist Zelda Kahn (Amy Loui) sits in her office, alone, but she’s not alone for long. Soon, young graduate student Rachel Hardeman (Sophia Brown) arrives, and it appears that this may be a student-teacher meeting, but it’s more than that, as is evidenced by the obvious mixture of curiosity and awkwardness upon their initial meeting. Rachel has submitted a paper for presentation at a major conference of which Zelda is on the board, but that’s just the beginning. Through the course of the production, the two women gradually get to know one another, and we the audience learn about them in the process. That’s the basic premise, but a lot of ground is covered here in terms of establishing this relationship and revealing the differences and similarities between these two women at two different stages of their lives and careers. The playwright does a good job of making this situation credible, even though some of the plot may seem implausible. The play covers issues of science, family relationships, love and romance, dependence and independence, personal and professional priorities, goals and compromises, and more. It’s a somewhat sweeping range of subject matter made personal through these two well-drawn characters and their building relationship.

The characters are the story here, in a major sense, so ideal casting is essential. The performers here are both remarkable, not only convincing as individuals but also believably conveying an initially awkward but obviously important, growing relationship as these two women try to figure out how to relate to each other, as well as working out important choices in their own lives. Loui convinces as the older, sometimes wiser but sometimes regretful Zelda, projecting an air of confidence along with a real sense of vulnerability. She is well-matched by Brown, who gives a determined, earnest, occasionally angry and equally vulnerable portrayal of Rachel. This is a compelling story, but it’s made all the more real by the sensitive, strong performances of its leads.

Technically, the show is also impressive. Peter and Margery Spack’s two-sided set represents Zelda’s well-appointed office and then, later, a turntable revolves to reveal an equally detailed dive bar set. The whole set is also surrounded by representations of planets, shimmering and illuminated by Michael Sullivan’s excellent lighting. The costumes by Felia Davenport suit the characters appropriately, as well.

This production is notable in that it’s so focused on women. The playwright, the stars, the director and several of the designers are women, and a major focus of the story is the experience of what it’s like to be a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field, examining issues of science that are particularly centered around women. It’s also about an intriguing, thoroughly believable relationship, and as the title suggests, the “hows” and “whys” of life. It’s a fascinating story, thoughtfully staged at New Jewish Theatre.

Amy Loui, Sophia Brown Photo by Eric Woolsey New Jewish Theatre

The New Jewish Theatre is presenting The How and The Why the Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio Theatre at the JCC’s Staenberg Family Complex until February 11, 2018

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A Jewish Joke
by Phil Johnson and Marni Freedman
Directed by David Ellenstein
New Jewish Theatre
December 2, 2017

Phil Johnson
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

New Jewish Theatre’s latest production, A Jewish Joke, is advertised with the tagline “A Drama About Comedy”. A one-man show starring one of the show’s playwrights, Phil Johnson, it’s a compelling drama. Looking at an important historical subject through the very personal lens of one comedy writer’s perspective, this show has an important story to tell, and for the most part, it tells it well.

The show takes place in the office of LA-based comedy writer Bernie Lutz (Johnson), who is getting ready for a the star-studded premiere of a new movie he’s written with his writing partner, Morris. Bernie and Morris have been on a roll of impending success lately, working on scripts for NBC as well as movies for stars Danny Kaye and the Marx Brothers. Bernie tells us stories about how he got into show business and about how he met Morris, as well as stories about his wife, Ellie, and various other writers including one he refers to as “Jimmy the Nice Guy”. He also talks about, and demonstrates with his jokes, the Jewish influence on American comedy writing. The atmosphere in Hollywood is hopeful for Bernie, but also somewhat tense, as suspicions abound concerning associations–either real or perceived–with the Communist party and related political movements. It’s the height of the “Red Scare” era of history, and merely being implicated as having Communist leanings is enough to ruin a career. In the midst of Bernie’s stories and jokes that he reads off of cards from a file box, we find out through a series of telephone calls that Bernie’s and Morris’s names have turned up on a list of suspected Communist sympathizers, which quickly puts their upcoming projects, including the glitzy premiere, in jeopardy. Through a series of phone calls and stories, we learn more and more of Bernie’s situation, and Morris’s, and the difficult and scary dilemma with which Bernie is confronted.

The show is presented well, with good production values and direction from David Ellenstein, costumes by Peter Herman, lighting by Nathan Schroeder, props by Laura Skroska, sound by Matt Lescault-Wood, and an engaging  performance from Johnson as Bernie. Mostly, this play functions as a personalized form of something many watching will only have read about. It’s a topic that still resonates today in several ways, but essentially as presented here, this is an intriguing period piece.

One-person shows depend so much on their central performance, and also a script that fleshes out the off-stage characters in a way that makes the audience “see” them even when they don’t actually appear. The biggest issue with this story is that I don’t feel satisfied hearing about these people solely from Bernie. The structure of the show revolves so much around telephone calls that a lot of the time is spent just waiting for the next one as Bernie rattles off more jokes, some of which are funny and some of which fall flat (maybe because I’ve heard them before). Johnson gives a fine, if sometimes overly flustered, performance as Bernie, but I kept wanting to see more characters than just him. I especially wanted to see his writing partner, Morris, make an appearance. In one way, that’s a good thing since the characters and situations are so well-defined by the script, but in another I’m not so sure because in a one-person show, the lead actor should be able to carry the stage without having the audience wish for more characters to appear.

A Jewish Joke tells a story that’s important not to forget. It anchors that story around its key central performance, and for the most part, that works, although I do find myself wondering if perhaps a different actor could make this story even more compelling. Still, Johnson introduces us to Bernie and makes this story personal in a convincing way. There’s only one more weekend to see it, and it’s worth checking out.

Phil Johnson
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

New Jewish Theatre is presenting A Jewish Joke at the Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio Theatre at the JCC’s Staenberg Family Complex until December 10, 2017.

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Tuesdays With Morrie
by Jeffrey Hatcher and Mitch Albom
Directed by Annamaria Pileggi
New Jewish Theatre
October 5, 2017

Andrew Michael Neiman, James Anthony
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

 

The first production of New Jewish Theatre’s 21st season is the stage adaptation of Mitch Albom’s popular book Tuesdays With Morrie. It’s a two-man show, bringing to the stage two excellent local actors, continuing NJT’s tradition of excellent casting. I hadn’t read the book or seen the play, and I’m glad this has been my introduction to it.

The story is autobiographical, depicting the friendship between author and sportswriter Mitch Albom (Andrew Michael Neiman) and his former university professor, Morrie Schwartz (James Anthony). Mitch narrates the story, starting with how he first met and got to know Morrie at Brandeis University in the 1970s, but then lost touch after Mitch graduated and he threw himself into his career. After 16 years of no contact, Mitch finally sees Morrie on TV, being interviewed on Nightline. It’s through this program that Mitch learns of Morrie’s diagnosis with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Mitch then calls Morrie, who actually remembers him, and the phone call eventually leads to a visit, which becomes a series of visits in which Mitch gets reacquainted with Morrie as Morrie’s illness progresses. Over the course of a few months, Mitch and Morrie become close again, and Mitch learns a lot from Morrie about what really matters in life. We also see the devastating effects of Morrie’s condition, as the once energetic professor finds himself unable to perform basic everyday tasks, and Mitch has to help him more and more during his visits. It’s a vivid depiction of two men and their remarkable friendship as both of them learn to deal with issues of life, mortality, and priorities in different but highly personal ways.

It’s a moving story already, but what really makes this production is the casting. Neiman and Anthony are both excellent in their roles, with Neiman convincingly portraying Mitch’s journey from a workaholic who buries his emotions in his job to being forced to care about Morrie and his situation and reconsider his own outlook on life. Anthony, especially, is superb as Morrie, an intelligent, witty, and vital man who has to come to terms with his own physical decline and his impending death. It’s a remarkable performance, achingly realistic as Morrie’s motor functions first falter, and then gradually fail, while Morrie still maintains his passion for life and his concern for Mitch and everyone else around him. The later scenes in the play may be difficult to watch, as Morrie’s decline is more and more evident, and as Neiman and Anthony portray the increasingly close friendship between these two men as the inevitable approaches.

The production values here, as usual, are first-rate, with a detailed and imaginative set by Cristie Johnston that focuses on a large, leaning bookcase, and also effectively utilizes a turntable at a key point in the production. The sense of movement and passage of time is effectively achieved through the staging, as well. There’s also excellent work from lighting designer Michael Sullivan, costume designer Michele Friedman Siler, props master Sarah Azizo, and sound designer Amanda Werre, as all the technical elements work together to help bring the audience into Mitch and Morrie’s world.

Tuesdays With Morrie is an emotional play, portraying a full range of feelings and moods from humor to drama to heartrending sadness, to ever-persistent hope, as personified by Morrie and his relationship with and influence on Mitch. It’s an expertly staged and acted production that’s likely to bring laughter as well as tears. It’s a thoroughly believable portrayal of a genuinely affectionate friendship, as well as the depiction of terminal illness and the process of grief. It’s another memorable production from New Jewish Theatre.

Andrew Michael Neiman, James Anthony
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

New Jewish Theatre is presenting Tuesdays With Morrie at the Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio Theatre at the JCC’s Staenberg Family Complex until October 22, 2017

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4,000 Miles
by Amy Herzog
Directed by Edward Coffield
New Jewish Theatre
May 11, 2017

Chris Tipp, Amy Loui
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

4,000 Miles closes out New Jewish Theatre’s 20th season. Essentially a character study with a slight but intriguing plot, this play emphasizes relationships and lets its audience gradually learn about the characters, as those characters gradually learn to discover truths about themselves. It’s also a strong showcase for its excellent cast.

The story starts abruptly, as Leo (Chris Tipp) arrives in the middle of the night at his grandmother’s apartment in New York’s Greenwich Village after a cross-country bike trip. The grandmother, Vera (Amy Loui), is surprised but concerned because nobody had heard from Leo in a while, and she insists he stay the night. At first, Leo says he’s not going to stay long, and Vera doesn’t expect him to, but the days go by, and he doesn’t leave, and over the course of the play we learn more about these characters as they learn to depend on one another in different ways, as the story of Leo is actually here gradually unfolds. The story focuses primarily on the young Leo and the feisty, 91-year-old Vera, although other characters do figure into the story as well, including Leo’s girlfriend from back home who goes to college in New York, Bec (Rachel Fenton), with whom he has a complicated relationship.  There’s also Amanda (Grace Langford), a young woman Leo brings home one night, and whose interactions with him reveal even more about his character and his motivations. Mainly, though, this play is about Leo and Vera, and what we learn about both characters and the issues they deal with that are shown as they spend time together. Issues of challenged idealism, loneliness, loss of friends and loved ones, and the simple power of personal relationships are key elements of this play. It’s an intriguing story, but this is more about the characters than the story really, and the end is even more abrupt than the beginning.

The performances here are the true highlight of this show. Loui is obviously playing much older than her actual age here, which makes her portrayal all the more impressive in its sheer credibility. It’s easier for a younger performer playing older to exaggerate mannerisms or speech patterns, but Loui doesn’t do that here. In fact, she does an excellent job of making me believe she really is 91. She also brings a believable mix of feistiness and reflection to the role. Her Vera is immensely likable, and her interactions with Tipp are the best part of this show. Tipp, as the initially enigmatic Leo, brings sympathy and charm to his role. His sense of regret is clearly evident in his portrayal, as is his admiration and affection for Vera.  There are also strong performances from Fenton as the conflicted Bec, and Langford as Amanda, who makes the most of her short time on stage. Annie Barbour also effectively and poignantly contributes her off-stage voice as a key character who learn about primarily through stories told by the onstage characters.

The play’s setting of Vera’s older, rent-controlled Greenwich Village apartment is well-realized here in the detailed scenic design by Marissa Todd. This looks like a real place where a real person lives. Michael Sullivan’s lighting appropriately illuminates the space as well as helping to set the mood for the various moments in the story, and Zoe Sullivan’s sound design is strong as well. The performers are appropriately outfitted by costume designer Michele Friedman Siler, with various small elements in the costuming lending insight into the characters. Laura Skroska’s props also contribute well to the story. My only minor quibble is that Leo’s bicycle looks entirely too clean and shiny at the beginning of the play, when Leo is supposed to have just arrived from a trip across the country. That really is a small issue, though. Otherwise, the technical elements of this play contribute well to the telling of this story.

4,000 Miles is a story of relationship mostly, and regrets and fears, and of the lives that lie ahead for people and the lives and people they’ve left behind, and how those people and experiences can stay with a person whether they are 21 or 91 or somewhere in between. It’s a superbly acted story with a good balance of drama and humor. The ending is a bit strange, as if it stops in the middle of the story, and I’m sure that’s deliberate but I’m not entirely sure if it works. Still, this is a play about the people, and about their connections and interactions and how those relationships shape and influence them. It’s an engaging, intriguing show, and the experience here is worth the trip.

Chris Tipp, Rachel Fenton
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

New Jewish Theatre is presenting 4,ooo Miles at the Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio Theatre at the JCC’s Staenberg Family Complex until May 28, 2017

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Never the Sinner
by John Logan
Directed by Rick Dildine
New Jewish Theatre
March 16, 2017

Pete Winfrey, Jack Zanger
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

Never the Sinner is a highly disturbing play. It’s also extremely fascinating. On stage now in a riveting production from New Jewish Theatre, John Logan’s play about the infamous crime duo of Leopold and Loeb is one of those shows that isn’t easy to forget. It will certainly get audiences talking, and thinking.

A well-known “thrill kill” murder case of the 1920s, the murder of 14-year-old Bobby Franks at the hands of young, rich, and intelligent college students Nathan Leopold (Jack Zanger) and Richard Loeb (Pete Winfrey) shocked Chicago and the entire nation.  The play follows their story particularly focusing on their relationship. The director’s note calls it a “love story”, and I guess you can think of it that way, but this is one twisted sort of love story. The relationship as portrayed here appears more as a fascination, a mutual enthrallment, a mixture of admiration, self-satisfaction, and encouragement of the most dangerous impulses in service of that enthrallment. These two bask in the glow of their own perceived prowess as Nietzsche-inspired “supermen” who are aren’t bound by the rules of society. The play cuts back and forth between the trial itself and various moments in the development of Leopold and Loeb’s relationship, including the planning and carrying out of their grisly crime. Also featured in the story is the duo’s defense attorney, the world-renowned Clarence Darrow (John Flack), who looms as a non-speaking presence through most of the first act before becoming a major figure in Act Two. There’s also the determined Robert Crowe (Eric Dean White), the State’s Attorney who is prosecuting the case, who argues for the death penalty for the pair while Darrow argues against it. Also featured are Will Bonfiglio, Maggie Conroy, and John Reidy in a variety of roles, most prominently as a trio of reporters who recite headlines about the case and other events of the day, as well as interviewing the major players in the trial. The structure is mostly non-linear, but there’s a definite structure and purpose that takes shape as the play progresses.

This is a strange play to watch, because it’s about a horrific crime and two unapologetic perpetrators who alternate between glorying in their own self-importance, obsessing about their relationship, and occasionally second-guessing their own actions and even threatening to turn against one another. It’s an odd situation to be in as a member of the audience, being thoroughly disgusted with the events that take place, but oddly fascinated with these characters and their unusual relationship. It’s disturbing but also interesting, with dynamic staging and some truly impressive performances by Winfrey, Zanger, Flack, and White. Winfrey, as the outgoing, gregarious Loeb, and Zanger, as the more intense, less social Leopold, command the stage whenever they are on it, and their chemistry is strong. The spell these two hold one another under is clear and obvious in all of their scenes together, and they are compelling to watch. Flack as Darrow walks with hunch and shuffles with determination, bringing a strong presence to the part of the firebrand lawyer, his eloquent and challenging closing speech being a highlight of the play, and his sparring with the excellent White as the single-minded Crowe is  excellent, as well. Bonfiglio, Conroy, and Reidy also do well in a succession of roles, with Conroy’s turn as one of Loeb’s girlfriends and Reidy’s role as the judge in the trial among their most memorable appearances. It’s a strong cast all around, being driven by director Rick Dildine’s fast-paced direction and conveying the sharp, memorable language of Logan’s script with energy and clarity.

The action takes place on a stylized set by Peter and Margery Spack that has the audience seated on either side of the performance space and surrounded by pictures of birds on the walls. The stage is divided into three basic areas with the middle showcasing much of the action, with the courtroom on one side and an office/study area on the other side, with moveable set pieces and furniture that are arranged by the actors as needed. The costumes by Michele Friedman Siler and meticulously detailed and period specific, reflecting Leopold and Loeb’s privileged backgrounds, Darrow’s careworn attire, and more. There’s also excellent work from lighting designer Maureen Berry, props master Margery Spack, and sound designer Michael Perkins. The world of the play, Chicago in the 1920’s is well-realized, setting the proper background for the action.

There’s so much going on in this play, in the interplay between Leopold and Loeb, the wrangling of their lawyers, the representations of the times, and more. Playwright John Logan has made a highly personal story out of an infamous murder case, and a fascinating and occasionally frightening character study as well as a study of the era itself. It’s a challenging, intensely dramatic production and a showcase for some incredible performances. It can be intensely disturbing, but also intensely thought-provoking. It’s a strange play to categorize–a crime/thriller/courtroom/psychological/love story, and it’s sure to leave its audience thinking.

John Flack, Pete Winfrey, Jack Zanger, Eric Dean White
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

New Jewish Theatre is presenting Never the Sinner at the Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio Theatre at the JCC’s Staenberg Family Complex until April 2, 2017.

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