Talkin’ Broadway Review by John Lariviere

The Gablestage, in association with The Sue & Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies, U.M., presents the Southeastern premiere of the play The Quarrelby David Brandes and Joseph Telushkin. The Quarrel is based on the Yiddish story My Quarrel with Hersh Rasseyner by Chaim Grade (1910 -1982), who is considered one of the foremost Yiddish writers of the modern era. The Quarrel describes the chance meeting of a Holocaust survivor with an old friend from the mussar Yeshiva. The narrator (Chaim Kovler) has lost his faith, while the friend (Hersh Rasseyner) has continued to lead a pious and devoted religious life. The former friends debate the place of religion in the postmodern world.

The Quarrel 3Set in the early fall of 1948, The Quarrel takes place in the Mount Royal Park in Montreal, Canada. There the random meeting of old friends Hersh Rasseyner (Avi Hoffman) and Chaim Kovler (Chaz Mena) starts a day filled with recollections of their shared past, and discussions of the divergent paths their lives have taken since they last saw each other. The closeness the two men once shared in their common religious belief system seems gone, and they struggle to find a mutual sense of understanding and respect for one another. Their story does not focus on the sadness of their Holocaust experiences, but how the essence of their religious beliefs allows them to process these experiences in their new lives. Hersh embraces his faith with strength and conviction, while Chaim has put his own faith aside. The script avoids the two men arguing about the technicalities of their different religious beliefs, and leans toward them arguing about their friendship instead. As many relationships are damaged over differences in religious, political and lifestyle choices, the appeal of this story is universal.

Avi Hoffman’s portrayal of Hersh Rasseyner is heartfelt and true. He shows a kindness that allows his convictions to pour forth without the declarations sounding judgmental or harsh. His character’s connection to his faith is so strong that it seems like many moments are also personal truths for the actor. Chaz Mena as Chaim Kovler matches Hoffman’s ardent portrayal with one that is smooth and emotionally detached (save for one brief moment) from the subject of religion. This works well, as again the focus remains on the friendship, and one can sense his character’s detachment is a defense mechanism. The dialogue between the two actors shows excellent pacing and timing, and avoids milking the audience for response. The role of Joshua, played by Mark Della Ventura, stops rather than furthers the action in his brief appearance on stage. He is clearly out of his league with two such seasoned actors, and looks petrified on stage. Most of the play involves just the two main characters, and this production is well acted by Hoffman and Mena, and very cleanly directed by Joseph Adler.

Chaim Grade was born in what is now Vilius, Lithuania. He received a secular as well as Jewish religious education, studying for several years with one of Judaism’s great Torah scholars, Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz, the Chazon Ish. In 1932, Grade began publishing stories and poems in Yiddish, and in the early 1930s was among the founding members of the “Young Vilna” experimental group of artists and writers. During WWII Grade fled to the Soviet Union and lived briefly in Poland and France before relocating to the United States in 1948. His postwar poetry is primarily concerned with Jewish survival in the wake of the Holocaust. Among his novels, novellas, short stories and poetry are works such as The Sacred and the Profane, The Yeshiva and Mayn Krig Mit Hersh Rasseyner.

The Quarrel will be appearing at The GableStage through May 23, 2010. The GableStage is located in the eastern section of the Biltmore Hotel, at 1200 Anastasia Avenue, in Coral Gables, Florida. Valet parking is available, or free parking is available in the Biltmore parking area west of the hotel. Performances are 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are normally $42.50 Friday-Saturday and Sunday matinee, $37.50. For tickets and information you may reach them at 305-445-1119 or on line at The GableStage, formerly known as the Florida Shakespeare Theatre, is a professional theatre presenting classic and contemporary theatre year round. They are members of the Theatre League of South Florida, the Florida Cultural Alliance, the Theatre Communications Group, and the Dade Cultural Alliance. The GableStage hires local a nd non-local Equity and non-union actors and actresses, and is involved with the educational community in promoting educational theatre programs.

Please follow and like us:

Summer Shorts, 2010–Miami Herald Review, 6/7/10

Annual fast-paced Summer Shorts Festival runs hot, cold

City Theatre’s annual Summer Shorts Festival, the event that signals summer for any theater-crazed South Floridian, has just kicked off its 15th edition at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.
Both the eight short plays in Signature Shorts and the seven in the R-rated undershorts offer the mixed-bag experience of festivals past: Some shows will make you flip, while others flop. True, the “agony” of a weird/flawed play doesn’t last long, and there’s usually something moving or hilarious just minutes away. Still, you’d think that picking 15 gems from 1,200 submissions might be a little easier than it seems to be.
Among the pleasures of Summer Shorts is watching a top-notch acting ensemble. Chameleonic actors do best in this quick-change format, and this year’s standouts are Stephen “Mr. Summer Shorts” Trovillion, David Hemphill and Chaz Mena among the men; Laura Turnbull and Elena Maria Garcia among the women. Erin Joy Schmidt, Scott Genn and Breeza Zeller also have some touching or funny moments, but their fellow actors make more of better roles.

The multicharacter hits in Signature Shorts are the opening play, Jay Rehak’s The End of a Perfect Game, about a pitcher (Genn) having an existential crisis at the end of the seventh game in the World Series; the reprise of Rich Orloff’s Matterhorn, about a couple (Trovillion and Garcia) parsing their marriage while waiting in line at Disneyland; and the closing black-comic piece Not a Creature Was Stirring by Christopher Durang, in which Trovillion plays a tyrant-father to Turnbull’s housewife with a dark side.
Two intense solo pieces are also memorable. Trovillion plays a teacher who relates the story of a childhood tragedy in Dan Dietz’s Lobster Boy; initially in pure lecture mode, he pushes into emotion at just the right moment, carrying the audience along with him. In Bridget Carpenter’s Euxious, the compelling Turnbull portrays a mom and way-stressed executive being questioned after an accident involving a mysterious phone call that takes the play to an other-worldly place.
Susan Westfall’s Look at Me, about a troubled veteran (Genn) and the wife (Zeller) determined to reignite their passion, is hampered by less-than-riveting performances from both actors. And both Gregory Hischak’s Poor Shem (about a guy done in by a copying machine) and John Olive’s Iddle Minglish (about a pair of communication-challenged guys spat into a strange dimension — or something like that) are reminders of how very strange absurdist theater can be.
The bawdy, adults-only undershorts starts off with a bang — specifically, Michael Elyanow’s Banging Ann Coulter in which a monstrous version (Turnbull) of the hate-spewing conservative babe is portrayed as a gal who gets it on with one and all. Other pieces have their moments, thanks to the actors: Hemphill as an on-the-make college loan advisor in Bekah Brunstetter’s Daddy Took My Debt Away; Mena as a cheater who can’t believe his mistress (Turnbull) is cheating on him in Susan Cinoman’s Beds; Hemphill and Genn as Sizzler employees whose love of extreme experiences eventually leave both of them naked (except for gigantic fake penises) in Rolin Jones’ Extremely.
Not so hot are Joshua James’ F**k You!, in which actors repeatedly hurl the title phrase at the audience, and Laura Eason’s It Was Fun While It Lasted, an oddity that squanders the considerable talents of Mena and Schmidt.
But the second-to-last piece in undershorts is so worth waiting for: In James’ The Pap, Garcia and Hemphill play experienced patient and brand-new gynecologist, and though they keep their acting real, the two offer a master class in how to milk every imaginable laugh from observing a woman in stirrups with nary a horse in sight.

Christine Dolen is The Miami Herald’s theater critic.

Please follow and like us: