Family business

Next Year In Jerusalem

By Dana Leslie Goldstein
Directed by Len Duckman
Theatre Asylum
Pulse Ensemble Theatre
432 W. 42nd St. (501-6448)
Equity showcase (closes April 25)
Review by Matthew Calhoun

Next Year In Jerusalem tells the story of two sisters - both, in very different ways, growing in the shadow of their heroic but rigid father, Abraham. Rachel is dutiful and strong but suffers inwardly, while Faustine is rebellious and wild, but still craves the parental approval she will never have.

Catherine Dowling as the older sister, Rachel, performed creditably, bringing out the strength and inner unhappiness of the character. The nuance of Rachel's shyness, however, which is an important part of her story, was not sketched in by the actress.

Maryellen Rowlett as the younger sister, Faustine, a salesperson and modeler of lingerie, turned in a colorful and appealing performance. The actress was at ease with her body and had no problem showing sex appeal, as well as passion and pathos.

Lee Beltzer as Abraham, the family patriarch, showed the character's hard edge and found moments of softness, but his portrayal lacked variety.

This family drama never slips into stereotype and only rarely into sentimentality, but, like the Mendel family it tells of, it survives some structural weaknesses. Rachel and her husband, Lee, have a yelling match early on, but in their climactic scene he is begging her to yell and curse at him, because she never expresses anger. The flashbacks between Abraham and his wife, Anna, did not seem integrated into the flow of the play. For example, when Abraham, in old-man costume and make-up, became Abraham a young man, kissing his wife, he was still in old man costume and make-up, while she appearsed young, and the kiss jarred the sense of time. Martha Kayte, as Anna, seemed out of her element in these scenes and, although Abraham describes her as "his destiny, his soul," the two characters never seemed comfortable with each other.

Darius Kashani, as Ari, Abraham's lawyer and Faustine's love interest, gave a finely tuned, polished performance. Tara Sands, as the granddaughter Abraham dotes on, was personable but not inspired. The best performance of the evening was turned in by Joseph J. Menino, in the supporting role of Lee, Rachel's husband. Menino operated with compelling control on several levels at once, showing, through the skilled use of persona and the stripping away of persona, a complex portrait of a rather normal human being, weak, competent, needy, caring, afraid, lost, yet coping. The last scene between Lee and Rachel, when he rips the cover off himself and shows raw nerves and then, upon the entrance of his daughter, pastes back on the mask of fatherhood in order to protect her from his pain, was riveting.

The lighting and costumes, by Linda Ross, were undistracting. There was not enough distinction in Jennifer Varbalow's sets between the various settings: a bigger venue and budget, or craftier writing, would have helped. Mr. Duckman's direction was not show-offy, and served the play well except when, for mysterious reasons, certain pairs of actors simply did not feel at home on the same stage. Ms. Goldstein's Next Year In Jerusalem is a very moving play which, in spite of some flaws, maintains its humanity throughout.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1998 Matthew Calhoun