Forgive…and Move On… in “Jews, Christians and Screwing Stalin”

“Jews, Christians And Stealing Stalin,” is a beautifully constructed play, written by Mark Lonow and Jo Anne Astrow, and directed by Mark Lonow, and is in essence, a light comedy about dark secrets; kitchen table Jewish humor, just as we face the holiest day of the calendar, Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement. It is a story of a quintessential New York Jewish family, ala Neil Simon, extremely dysfunctional and irascible, with conflicts abundant. The time is Rosh Hashanah, 1967. It takes place in a boarding house, with bizarre characters that inhabit the establishment. And great conflict always makes for great drama. The first, and most obvious conflict is between grandfather (at the top of the pyramid), Murray Grazonsky (John Pleshette); son David Grazonsky ( Travis York) and grandson Joseph Grazonsky (Hunter Milano). The son and father won’t speak to each other, and an inheritance dispute adds insult to injury. One very sentimental, compelling quote from David (York) was “My life is resting on the hands of my son… who hates me.” All Joseph has ever truly wanted was a father who never abandoned him and a complete family. The playwrights employ a most clever conceit, right from the start, introducing the grandfather (Pleshette), who very much alive onstage, is actually dead, the first shock to the audience. He very humorously introduces himself to the audience, preparing us for how the story will unfold. He adds, “and by the way, isn’t this set gorgeous? The producers spent a small fortune on it.” And indeed, it looks like an off Broadway lavish set design. He is always commenting on how his family treated him, in particular his relationship with wife, radical communist Bubby Minka (wonderfully played by Cathy Ladman). Minka first appears, lighting a cigarette, and extrapolating on the stress heaped upon her to run a ‘nut house,’ with a myriad of eccentrics. Creatively, almost in dream sequence recollection, just as a family member speaks about Murray, he suddenly appears, with a quirky retort. One example is the reference to Minka fudging by selling the stocks of Eastman of camera fame, so in retribution, Murray wishes to leave his estate to grandson instead. This powerful, poignant play has many such messages about atonement, apology, forgiveness, and retribution one would be apt to hear in the Yom Kippur liturgy. One gem of dialogue (among many) was “an apology for the past..and a promise for the future.” Of particular note is Sammi-Jack Martincak, as Joseph’s Southern belle girlfriend Caitlin, who enthusiastically totes and quotes from Rosten’s The Joys of Yiddish, so eager to please Bubbie Minka. She is polite and unoffending, until she can no longer take the obstreperous David (York), who antagonizes his son Joseph to no end. Adding levity to all the angst and conflict are the medley of original and ‘meshuganeh’ tenants: Lillie Feinstein (the charming Laura Julian); Mr. Goldman (Marty Ross); and Miss Koppelson (Sally Schaub). Alas, the Rosh Hashanah meal that the family so looks forward to, never happens, but Minka’s matzah balls are hard as rocks, so no loss there! Amidst all the chaos and conflicts, will there finally be resolution? Come see for yourself… at the Matrix Theatre. LA theatre-goers are lucky indeed to have such a production in town!

Through Sept 23
Saturdays 8 PM
Sundays 3 PM
Mondays 8 PM
Matrix Theatre
7657 Melrose Ave.
(323)960-4412
http://www.plays411.com/matzohballs

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About Bonnie Priever Curtain Up!

I am a theatre reviewer extraordinairre. I attend and cover theatres ranging from large to small venues, and every subject from musical theatre to dramatic presentations. Also please check out my reviews at www.examiner.com and www.tolucantimes.com my email is bonniedeb13@hotmail.com
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