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A CurtainUp Review

The Flatted Fifth

The Flatted Fifth, is the much praised New Group's funny and often poignant second offering of the 1996-97 season ( CurtainUp' s review of the New Group's last play This Is Our Youth). Playwright Seth Zvi Rosenfeld's story, directed by Jo Bonney, centers on a young Jewish film maker, played by Danny Hoch, whose inner city accent and and multi-cultural relationships are in marked contrast to what most people expect of the son of two schoolteachers. Sonny is what one of the other characters calls a Jewish Home Boy, white on the outside but with a black inner core.

The dramatic action spans two years, moving back and forth between New York and Israel. New York is where his relationship with his black girl friend, Ninya, (Nicole Ari Parker), the ex-wife of his ex-best friend Ray, (Jose Garcia), a Puerto Rican poet is nearing a breaking point. The trip to Israel, part of a program for young creative people to publicize their work in Israel, is loaded with unexpected meetings and confrontations. When Sonny meets Ray, the poet friend he hadn't seen for two years, he invites him to come along to Israel. Ray shows up at the airport with his new girl friend Balu, (Sarita Choudhury), in tow. A super-inquisitive security woman, (Rebecca Cohen Alpert) who metamorphoses into Rifka, an Israeli television interviewer from Hell and another Israeli named Schlomo, ( David Deblinger), tickle Sonny's unresolved feelings about his Jewish identity and his mother's death.

Rifka, the interviewer, fires off a barrage of statements cloaked ever so thinly as questions. Some of these, like "You must be aware that you can't be half Jewish" and sarcastic references to "the Steven Spielberg Jews" finally drive Sonny to ask "Who do I have to date to get off this show?" Schlomo ruffles Sonny's mind set about his Jewishness more gently but no less incisively. When Sonny asks him what he'd think about his marrying a non-Jew, he answers "I'd think you were breaking 5000 years of history." He cout;nters Sonny's declaration that The Wall (at which his mother told him to pray) has never "talked to him" with "it's a quiet wall."

Danny Hoch, who has made his name as a solo performer in the Obie award winning Some People proves himself an adept ensemble player. The ensemble consists of five other actors, all talented and attractive. The two multiple role players, Rebecca Cohen Albert and David Deblinger are particularly good. Her star turn as the hostile interviewer is one of the evening's standout scenes, and his oh-so-typical Israeli is equally on target. Considering the size constraints of the Intar stage, designer Kevin Joseph Roach has worked magic in evoking the mood and setting of the many scenes The lighting by Traci Klainer-McDonnell is also effective, especially in the way it casts the final image in an aura of hopefulness.

Before you interpret all the above as a win-win-win dramatic situation, a few caveats. Seth Zvi Rosenfeld is clearly a playwright who has something worth saying, and a talent for dialogue that blends humor with emotion. And The Flatted Fifth could be a very good play, instead of an enjoyable evening which in the final analysis leaves the audience with too many inconsistencies and loose endings. To name just a few:
  • The musical explanation of the title falls a mile short of clarity, especially since the horn that prompts the play's explanation seems irrelevant to anything else that is going on. If this title served as a really meaningful metaphor one could live with its being hard to pronounce and oddly unappealing. As it is, a name change would not be out of order.

  • While Sonny's choice of women to love is understandable, his attraction to his friend's women is less clear. One of these women, Balu--or Babaloo, as Sonny at first insists on calling her-- while an interesting and amusing addition to the cast of characters, never really evolves as a fully fleshed out person.

  • According to an article that came with our press kit, the playwright has apparently been rewriting throughout the rehearsals. If he keeps working on the script, he may get this right enough to make it the very good play it deserves to be.

    ©right February 1997, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp. Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from

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