“Jericho” – A New Play by Jack Canfora, at 59E59 Theaters

I attended a performance of “Jericho” a few days ago, then was surprised to see a review in The New York Times the following morning.  Was I attending the official opening?  If so, I wasn’t aware of it, and perhaps the critic from The Times had attended an earlier performance.  In any event, I agreed with the review.  This is a very interesting and thought-provoking play.

Jack Canfora is the author, Evan Bergman the director.  The production at 59E59 is under the auspices of The Directors Company.  The play is set in the NY suburb of Jericho and in Manhattan circa 2005.  On the surface, one might see this as just another dysfunctional Jewish family drama, but it is more, goes deeper, and starts with stereotypes but gets beyond them.  The widowed matriarch of a Jewish family, Rachel is preparing to welcome her two sons – one with wife, the other with new girlfriend – to her annual Thanksgiving dinner in the house in Jericho where the boys grew up.  Of course, all is not well in either son’s relationship, either with his mother or his wife or girlfriend, or there wouldn’t be a play in it, right?  And I don’t want to be handing out plot-spoilers here, so I won’t say more about the plot.

The acting is superbly done.  I was particularly taken with Noel Joseph Allain, the married son who has become more involved with Judaism to what would appear extreme lengths, by the standards of his mother, his wife, and his brother.  Allain gives a subtle performance, to the extent that one has difficulty pinning down his character, but that is part of the allure of the play.  Jill Eikenberry plays the mother, not quite a stereotypical Jewish guilt-tripping mother, but the spinner of plots that will be familiar with anybody who knows this genre.  Andrew Rein plays the other son, whose non-Jewish girlfriend, played by Eleanor Handley, is in many ways the central figure of the play, as the only one with the distance to be a somewhat objective observer of what is going on.  Kevin Isola plays a psychiatrist, but more than a psychiatrist, in his interactions, real or imaginary, with his patient, the girlfriend.  And Carol Todd plays the wife of the older son, trying to cope with the drastic changes in their relationship brought on by his increased affinity to Judaism (and Israel).  Oh, and 9/11 and its impact on members of the NYC community plays a role in this story as well.

From this description, it might sound like this is a play that would mainly be of interest to Jews, particularly New York Jews, but I think there are universal themes being played out that can capture the interest of just about anybody.  This one is definitely worth a visit.

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