OFF-BROADWAY BA’AL TESHUVA

By Miriam Colton

Published December 19, 2003, issue of December 19, 2003.

Shelly Bisser may or may not be an innocent, but she is certainly a victim. Overlooked by her domineering father, abused by her first husband and grasping for a career, Shelly struggles with life and, in the process, discovers her Jewish identity.

“One Innocent Woman,” playing for a limited time at the Theater for the New City, is a dark comic satire about a woman who has been praised throughout her life solely for her looks. (She goes on a job interview only to be turned down for the job and instead offered a blind date with the interviewer’s single cousin.)

The five-act play is fast and furious, with four actors playing more than 60 characters in Shelly’s life, chronicling her high school and college days, an abusive first marriage, divorce and single motherhood. After hitting rock bottom, Shelly appears in the final act in a long skirt, having become a ba’al teshuva (a newly Orthodox Jew), and is in the midst of finding true love.

“The play is about the perpetration of victimhood by society,” said Spencer Chandler, the show’s director. “We want the audience to feel [emboldened] to take ownership of life, whether male or female, Jewish or non-Jewish.”

The two-hour play is written by the young playwright Matt Okin, himself a ba’al teshuva. But one shouldn’t be tempted into thinking that “One Innocent Woman” is specifically geared toward a religious or Jewish audience. “Shelly chooses to enter the religious life, but that doesn’t necessarily solve her problems,” Okin explained.

“One Innocent Woman” is not Okin and Chandler’s last foray into staging shows about newcomers to Orthodoxy. The two are gearing up for a three-month run, starting next month, of their new play, “A Match Made in Manhattan, the Interactive Jewish Wedding Experience,” at Levana’s kosher restaurant in New York. Inspired by the popular interactive “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding,” “A Match Made in Heaven” incorporates the audience into the wedding of a punk-rocker-turned-ba’al teshuva and a fervently Orthodox girl from Brooklyn.

Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave.; through Dec. 28; Wed., Thu. and Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun. 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.; no performances Dec. 24 and Dec. 25; $10. (212-254-1109 or www.theaterforthenewcity.net)



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