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God's Donkey (A Play on Moses)

by Rich See

Looking for something that's irreverent and funny; yet maintains some historical, political, and emotional significance? Theater J may have just the play for you. It's kicking off its season with the witty and entertaining God's Donkey (A Play on Moses). Co-produced with the Traveling Jewish Theatre, this modern retelling melds an on-stage musician with a smidgen of puppetry and a helping of blues, rap, and Klezmer music to create a vivid and colorful Ramses II era Egypt.

The title "God's Donkey" refers to Moses' agreement with Yahweh "to carry the people of Israel on my back." And this innovative piece covers the entire Moses story with Aaron Davidman and Eric Rhys Miller portraying all the main characters, while Daniel Hoffman provides the musical accompaniment that sets the tone so well.

In the opening scene, as Hoffman walks about the stage playing the violin, Davidman and Rhys Miller seemingly climb over a sand dune and morph into two slaves who begin to argue about the plight of the Israelites and the disappearance of all the new born sons. With that discussion, the journey commences with a touching depiction of Moses' birth and then quickly moves into a rap introduction to Pharaoh's daughter who's got a "Hebrew thing" when she discovers the infant Moses amongst the reeds along the Nile. The production melds the entire Moses saga from a humorous recreation of the burning bush, to a meeting with the sunglass wearing Yahweh, to the ultimatum to the Pharaoh (ingeniously created with a puppet mask) to the flight to freedom through the Red Sea, and then finally to Moses' death when Yahweh carefully places him on his own back and carries him away.

Eric Rhys Miller's blues-loving Yahweh is smooth and unflappable as he shows Moses that the creator owes no explanations to anyone. Meanwhile, Aaron Davidman portrays the stuttering Moses with a level of confused humbleness that makes you wonder what you would do in his shoes. His alternating moments of anger, despair, and, finally, surrender are quite stirring. Together the duo bring a well honed sense of timing to both their comedic depictions, as well as the more serious moments within the script.

Director Corey Fischer, who co-wrote the piece with Davidman and Rhys Miller, has created a tightly wound production. His actors allow each nuance of the writing to filter into the audience's psyche before segueing into the next portion. Designer Richard Olmsted's colorful lighting and set pull us into an abstract world that thrusts your imagination into the story. The use of textiles to recreate the burning bush and Nile are wonderful. Lauren Kaplan's costuming choices of everyday clothes, accessorized by scarves and head wear, is a great way of placing the story in a modern conceptual mindset. And it is this modern positioning of the storytelling that ultimately shows the relevance of the piece. As he is shown, by Yahweh, the land which the Israelites will be given, Moses protests that he can see smoke and homes. He unsuccessfully pleads with the creator that they can't be given this land, since there are already people who reside there. To which, Yahweh ultimately responds " ...I create peace...and I create war." And thus the production highlights how the reality of today is created by the religious beliefs and history of yesterday.

God's Donkey (A Play on Moses)
by Aaron Davidman, Corey Fischer and Eric Rhys Miller
Music by Daniel Hoffman
Directed by Corey Fischer
with Aaron Davidman, Daniel Hoffman, and Eric Rhys Miller
Set and Lighting Design: Richard Olmsted
Costume Design: Lauren Kaplan
Puppet Design: Corey Fischer
Running Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes with no intermission
A production of Theater J and Traveling Jewish Theatre
Theater J, Washington DCJCC, 1529 16th Street NW
Telephone: Tickets 1-800-494-TIXS, Info 202-777-3229
WED, THUR, & SUN @7:30, SAT @8, SUN @ 3; $21-$35
Opening 10/30/03 closing 11/23/03
Reviewed by Rich See based on 11/02/03 performance

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