ALL AFLUTTER Trying to sort out faith and family.
While at this point in the season we are regularly deluged with plays set on or around Christmas, there's not usually a whole lot of holiday fare out there for Jews. That changed over the last two Decembers, when Acorn Productions staged first a trio of plays about Eastern European Jewish life, and then The Wandering Beggar, adapted for the stage by Howard Rosenfeld from Simon Solomon's classic 1931 book about humble, honest Simple Shmerel, who proves wiser than the rabbis. This year, Acorn carries on the tradition by staging the world premiere of The Legend of the Golem, a new play (written and directed by Michael Levine) in which one doubting son of Israel experiences a rebirth of happiness and faith.
In the fictional Polish town of Grotski, in the 1920s, the family of struggling tailor Reb Nathan (Josh Brassard) is beset by tensions. Reb Nathan wonders if he should give up his hand-sewing and learn to work the new industrial machines, so that he can increase his efficiency and finally bring home the meat that his wife Shoshe (Brenda Tubby Chandler) craves. The embittered Shoshe is sick of eating bread all the time, and frustrated with their daughter Liesel (Kara Haupt) for caring more about her goyish boyfriend Ludwig (Tristan Rolfe) and the new German philosophers (like experience-it-to-believe-it Kant) than about learning how to make matzoh and keep house. She is especially upset with Reb Nathan for his recent absence at minyan prayers, and really rides his tuchas about his seeming loss of faith. And Reb Nathan, poor, unhappy, and hen-pecked, questions what seem like the impossibly pre-modern stories and rituals of the faith into which he was born.
Luckily, fate intervenes, in the form of a stranger named Moshe (Hal Cohen) who interrupts a very awkward Seder (attended as it is, much to Shoshe's chagrin, by the eager-to-learn Ludwig). Moshe takes him to the attic of the shul, and urges him to recall the legend of the titular creature, made from clay and animated to help save the Jews. The Golem, Moshe advises, can also help save a Jew, i.e., Reb Nathan himself. It's not quite a correct analogy to call what follows a Jewish Christmas Carol or It's a Wonderful Life — Reb Nathan's rebirth is explicitly religious, and it takes place around Passover, rather than during the winter months — but that's the overarching sentiment of his renaissance.
Levine tells the story on a simple set, with the exaggerated tone and types of fairy tales: Brassard's Reb Nathan is the archetypal long-suffering husband, with plenty of comically besieged rolled eyes and gestures; Chandler's Shoshe is a classic kvetching wife; and Haupt's Liesel is the quintessential young girl common across cultures: giddy with love, petulant in the face of her parents' rules. As Ludwig, the outsider by which non-Jews can learn a bit about Seder and other Jewish rituals, the skinny Rolfe is sweetly candid and curious. Cohen has a lot of fun as the mysterious Moshe, whom he plays with a luxuriously uncouth love of eating anything thrown his way, and as the Golem himself, the already lanky David Handwerker towers entertainingly in huge platform shoes, an adorable grin often lighting up his clay-colored face.