Friday, May 14, 2010

Theater briefs: 'The Quarrel' and 'Raised in Captivity'

Chaz Mena and Avi Hoffman‭ ‬in The Quarrel.


By Hap Erstein


Some theater reaches for spectacle,‭ ‬but what the theater does best is traffic in dialogue and ideas.‭

Words and the emotions behind them are in the spotlight in a brief,‭ ‬intermissionless play at GableStage,‭ ‬The Quarrel,‭ ‬by David Brandes and Joseph Telushkin,‭ ‬which chronicles a chance reunion of two men who were childhood friends.‭

In‭ ‬1948,‭ ‬in Montreal’s Mount Royal Park,‭ ‬published poet Chaim Kovler‭ (‬Chaz Mena‭)‬,‭ ‬in town for a public reading,‭ ‬sees Rabbi Hersh Rasseyner‭ (‬Avi Hoffman‭) ‬preparing to pray,‭ ‬and they warily embrace one another.‭ ‬As they catch each other up on events,‭ ‬they consider how their lives have spun in different directions,‭ ‬separated by the brutality of the Holocaust,‭ ‬which had a profound,‭ ‬opposite effect on their commitment to Judaism.

Both lost their families in the death camps,‭ ‬which led Kovler to a secular life and lack of faith,‭ ‬while Rasseyner grew even more devout.‭ ‬As they circle each other,‭ ‬both literally and verbally,‭ ‬they peel away layers,‭ ‬unraveling their pasts and the central perceived betrayal that left a gulf between them.

Fortunately,‭ ‬The Quarrel is more about the limits and resilience of friendship than the value of religion,‭ ‬and neither man is seen as wrong or right.‭ ‬The densely bearded Hoffman gives a performance of delicacy and authenticity,‭ ‬but the revelation is Mena,‭ ‬whose inflections and manner are on target,‭ ‬though more of a personal stretch.‭ ‬Artistic director Joseph Adler may have had a distinct effect on his performers,‭ ‬but the results are a simple,‭ ‬deft staging that is powerful,‭ ‬but seemingly effortless.

THE QUARREL,‭ ‬GableStage at the Biltmore Hotel,‭ ‬1200‭ ‬Anastasia Ave.,‭ ‬Coral Gables.‭ ‬Continuing through May‭ ‬23.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬$37.50-$42.50.‭ ‬Call:‭ (‬305‭) ‬445-1119.

‭* * *

It is called New Theatre,‭ ‬and its main focus is on developing and presenting new scripts,‭ ‬but lately,‭ ‬some of this Coral Gables company’s most effective efforts have been with such established,‭ ‬even classic,‭ ‬plays as Tennessee Williams‭’ ‬The Glass Menagerie and Peter Shaffer’s‭ ‬Equus.

Nicky Silver’s‭ ‬Raised in Captivity first met audiences in‭ ‬1995,‭ ‬and is probably too quirky to withstand comparison with those other two works,‭ ‬but it captures a handful of neurotic lives with a knowing comic touch and is never less than entertaining,‭ ‬even when its tone shifts confound some of the New Theatre cast.

At the center of Silver’s theatrical maelstrom is a pair of distant twins,‭ ‬unsuccessful writer Sebastian‭ (‬an increasingly unhinged John Mazzelli,‭ ‬who bears a resemblance to Silver‭) ‬and his similarly unstable sister Bernadette‭ (‬comically high-strung Katherine Amadeo‭)‬,‭ ‬married to a dentist who would rather be painting.‭ ‬Grief,‭ ‬Silver-style,‭ ‬strikes before the play begins when the twins‭’ ‬mother is killed by a errant shower head.‭ ‬Add to the mix a convicted murderer‭ (‬Lorenzo D.‭ ‬Gutierrez III‭) ‬on whom Sebastian is fixated and Sebastian’s patient-but-only-to-a-point psychologist‭ (‬Barbara Sloan,‭ ‬who flips from silent to motor-mouthed‭)‬,‭ ‬and you have the ingredients for an odd comic stew.

Audiences are advised to take momentary pleasures from‭ ‬Raised in Captivity when they can,‭ ‬for those waiting for the play to add up to much will wait in vain.‭ ‬Nor is it clear from the direction by Ricky J.‭ ‬Martinez how we are to take the darker,‭ ‬more naturalistic second act,‭ ‬but face value does not seem a viable option.‭ ‬Still,‭ ‬those willing to strap themselves in for the ride will be rewarded with numerous comic jolts and some head-scratching twists.

RAISED IN CAPTIVITY,‭ ‬New Theatre,‭ ‬4120‭ ‬Laguna St.,‭ ‬Coral Gables.‭ ‬Continuing through Sunday.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬$35-$40.‭ ‬Call:‭ (‬305‭) ‬443-5909.‭

1 comment:

Charla, A Chat With José Martí said...

Thanks for the kind write-up, Hap!
I miss doing this play so very, very much. I have much in common with Chaim, believe it or not.

Peace, Shalom, Paz,
chaz mena