Religious Conflict in the Bedroom at the Midtown Theatre Festival
Summer means many things to the New York theater community: epically long lines at the Delecorte for whatever Shakespeare in the Park production has the biggest names; the closing of many sleepy last-season hits; and of course the plethora of festivals packing Off-Off Broadway houses citywide. Like its downtown counterpart, the Fringe Festival, the Midtown International Theatre Festival is an annual mixed bag of genres, styles and subject matters.
An MITF newbie myself, I settled on three of the productions in this year’s line-up. “The King of Bohemia,” a clear labor of love by writer/producer/star Jeff Boles, told the disjointed story of Franz Kafka’s rise to stardom in 1920’s Prague and his relationship with Max Brod (Boles), while “The Gospel According to Josh,“ written and performed by Joshua Rivedal, recounted one boy’s dream of becoming an actor, despite his strict Christian upbringing.
Finally there was the verbosely-titled “Can I Really Date a Guy Who Wears a Yarmulke?”, written by Amy Holson-Schwartz and performed by an ensemble cast at the swanky Theatre Row, a new venue for select shows at this year’s festival. It tells the story of 20-something Eleanor (Catherine LeFrere) who, having just exited a bad relationship and returned from her Birthright-sponsored trip to Israel (which she hated), begins dating Aaron (Jason Liebman), a smart, sexy doctor.
The only problem? Aaron is Jewish. Really Jewish. Yarmulke-wearing, Shul-attending Jewish. For new-age atheist Eleanor, this is too much. Though raised Jewish herself, Eleanor cannot seem to come to terms with Aaron’s religiousness, throwing a wrench into their otherwise wonderful relationship.
In America today, it is understood that religion is a necessary part of life for some, and merely an option for others. Aaron and Eleanor, though cut from the same blue-and-white cloth, exist on either end of that spectrum. The question then arises, how do two people navigate such a fundamental difference in their relationship? What if they have children? Whose side will they be on? The discussion could go on forever, and still remain a stimulating one.
Which is why this production, directed by Jay Falzone, is so disappointing. Though I’m sure it has the best of intentions, there are too many superfluous scenes, clichéd conversations and inconsistent performances for the production to really say anything insightful. Though LeFrere and Liebman have nice chemistry and a believable compatibility, they are consistently derailed by scenes cut short, and dialogue that leaves much to be desired.
Though the show runs only 90 minutes, it seems longer, perhaps because it is padded with strange mini-subplots, like a string of door-to-door religious representatives who waltz into Aaron’s apartment at the most inopportune times, or the upcoming Thanksgiving-themed wedding of Aaron and Eleanor’s best friends. And through all of this, the neat bow that ties the story together seems too easy, too obvious. It’s a provocative subject wrapped in a very tame play.
Yet this show has potential. It touches on a very modern issue prevalent in relationships today. As the hearts and minds of young people become increasingly diverse, the question remains: How different can your opinions be for your partnership to work?