Friday, December 28, 2007

New Jerusalem

I'm such a fan of David Ives that I rushed out to see the very first preview of his new play, New Jerusalem, and although there was some of that increasingly common line flubbing, I'm happy to report that this is a great new comic drama. Ives is a master of writing other people, and what he did for Twain's farce (or for the adaptations for the Encores! series) he's now doing for a great philosopher, Spinoza, communicating his thoughts with such clear strokes that it makes you want to rush out and buy a treatise or two. The play would be stronger to cut down on the gratingly comic half-sister, Rebekah (Jenn Harris) and the bland, shiftless friend cum traitor Simon (Michael Izquierdo), as their "revelations" at the end of the play aren't earned or justified, but it hardly matters so long as Jeremy Strong remains so breathlessly animated as Spinoza. The "interrogation" is casually directed by Walter Bobbie so as to make the audience the actual onlookers, and while this leads to some sloppy blocking, it actually works to help make the overacting seem more plausible -- this is, after all, one of the first trials that's a real circus, and it makes the proselytizing all the more engaging when it's spoken directly to you. Beneath the radical ideas about religion, faith, and humanity's place in the universe, there's also a neatly tragic tale of the father-figure forced to turn on his "son," and Richard Easton, who warms up to the role in the second act, is appropriately pained when he sadly announces "You've turned the stars into wandering dust." This show will get better by the time it actually opens in '08, and I urge you to check it out: Fyvush Finkel and David Garrison both also give solid, albeit stereotypical, performances as (respectively) a Jewish parnas and a Christian politician.

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