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A CurtainUp Review

". . .I'm the Ben and Jerry's of guilt. And when it comes to Alec and I. . .there are some things it should be impossible to recover from"— Beth to Dr. Kim, the therapist who in her delusional state, looks like the husband she lost to 9/11.
L-R: Carol Todd and Jill Eikenberry
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Smart writing and provocative subject matter are propelling Jack Canfora's Jericho to a healthy life. My press release for the latest production in Theater B at 59E59 lists Jill Elkenberry as the star. But while Elkenberry is the most familiar name in the cast list, Eleanor Handley plays the main character. She delivers a fine performance, while Eikenberry is somewhat miscast as the play's most stereotypical character, a bossy Jewish mother.

Canfora's dramatic exploration of how people deal with overwhelming personal and collective traumas is stuffed with more issues than the turkey served by Rachel (Elkenberry) during an explosive Thanksgiving dinner scene. The people around Rachel's dinner table are all family except son Ethan's (Andrew Rein) new girl friend Beth the widow of 9/11 victim haunted by remorse about her last words to him. Ethan's brother Josh (Noel Joseph Allain) who did survive is also haunted by the way he exited.

To add to the fraught festivities, Josh's survivor guilt has turned him into a super observant Jew determined to move to Israel, even though it has imperiled his marriage to Jessica (Carol Todd). To heighten the potential for tension, Beth though apolitical makes no secret of being half Palestinian. And, oh yes, the Jessica-Josh marital split does not fit in with Rachel's plan to have them take over her Jericho home when she moves to Florida.

Not satisfied with this abundance of inter-connected problems and issues, the resourceful playwright has added Beth's shrink 47-year-old Dr. Kim, a Korean woman. However, in the several scenes Beth/Dr. Kim scenesthe therapist we see is actually the one the delusional Beth sees — a younger man who looks exactly like her dead husband Alec (Kevin Isola). This psycho-fantasy also allows Isola to actually show up as Alec's ghost, and literally substantiates my early description of Beth as being "haunted" by Alec's death.

The Dr. Kim/Alec character adds a surreal aura to this story about the the fallout of an all too real tragedy. It helps the audience to forgive the structural contrivance of having everything that could go wrong at a family get together do so. Fortunately, Canfora is also a good enough writer to make all these contrivances entertaining and often funny , despite the seriousness of the 9/11 trauma that drives the plot. The quote at the top of this review is just one of numerous snappy one-liners.

But call me a cockeyed realist, when I wonder why for all the airing of psychological issues that, except for a brief mention of Beth's job, we have no idea what any of these people do when they're not arguing. A bit of detail would be especially pertinent for Josh. One can assume that he was working in one of the towers, but was it at something that would make his move to Israel feasible? Except for retirees, Americans don't just move to Israel without some skills useful to the Israeli society.

The playwright has tried to make Josh and Ethan's mother a bit different from the stock Jewish mother always ready to serve lots of home cooked food. The stove in Rachel's Jericho, Long Island kitchen is used only to heat up the turkey and trimmings ordered from a restaurant. However, as Simon Saltzman noted when he saw Jericho in New Jersey, it's virtually impossible for a Jewish mother character to avoid conforming to the stereotype. Perhaps casting Jill Eikenberry in this role was intended to overcome this impossibility. While she does her best to break the mold, Eikenberry comes off as too remote to be either the schmaltzy style mother or a more believably sophisticated new model.

As he did in New Jersey, Evan Bergman skillfully maneuvers the actors through the various scenes. Eleanor Handley brings all the quirky conflicted emotions called for to her portrayal of Beth. . Andrew Rein and Carol Todd, the only holdovers from the New Jersey production, are again outstanding as the easy-going Ethan and Josh's distressed wife Jessica. The latter's meltdown scene, fueled by wine and rage at the husband she feels she lost to 9/11 even though he survived, is a highlight. Noel Joseph Allain's uncompromisingly intense Josh is the play's hardest to like character though you do end wishing him well.

The small Theater B stage is again dominated by Jessica Park's metaphoric set, a mounting of detritus that evokes the dark and dismal aftermath of 9/11. Some of the chairs and tables that are part of this backdrop are also used to furnish the various scenes. Having the actors themselves move the props needed for their next scene heightens the visual metaphor of people trying to retrieve something to go on with their lives. It's a clever and stylish touch though after a while this all too visible stage business is more distracting than movingly evocative.

Like Joshua Harmon's recently opened smart black comedy Bad Jews , Jericho confirms that usually happy events like Thanksgiving are as likely to set off familial fireworks as a funeral. With Thanksgiving practically, here's hoping your holiday will be all good things to eat, and no confrontations.

To read Simon Saltzman's review of Jericho in New Jerseygo here .

By Jack Canfora
Directed by Evan Bergman
Cast: Eleanor Handley (Beth), Kevin Isola (Dr. Kim/Alec), Andrew Rein (Ethan), Noel Joseph Allain (Josh), Carol Todd (Jessica), Jill Eikenberry(Rachel).
Scenic Design: Jessica Parks
Lighting Design: Jill Nagle
Costume Design: Michael McDonald
Sound Design: John Emmett O'Brien
Fight Director: Brad Lemons
Stage Manager: Katherine S. Fergerson
Running Time: 2 hours plus 15-minute intermission
59E59 Theaters
From 10/04/13; opening 10/10/13; closing 11/03/13
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at October 8th press preview
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