N.J. THEATER REVIEW
Playwright's Theatre, in Madison, has spent almost a quarter century with the stated mission of "developing the dramatic imagination." That usually means new works, new playwrights and the professional directors and actors to best develop them.
The latest production is "Two Jews Walk Into A War ...," written by Seth Rozin. It is a co-production (with New Jersey Repertory Theatre in Long Branch) and is being presented as part of the National New Play Network in what is being termed a "rolling world premiere." Apparently that involves productions both in New Jersey and Florida (with different directors and casts.). I have no idea what the up-coming Sarasota staging might be like, but it's not going to rival what is being staged in Madison right now.
Playwright Rozin has labeled his one-act (about 88 minutes) work "a vaudeville." That terminology might be misunderstood. It is funny, yes. And indeed it is staged in a series of blackouts. But that's about it. The show has only two characters and is based solidly on real events. After burying their mutual friend, Yakob in war-torn Kabul (Afghanistan), Zeblyan and Ishaq are now the last two Jews in the area — and they don't like each other very much. Nevertheless they realize that the job of repopulating the Jewish sector is up to them. And for that they will need a Rabbi and for that they will need a Torah. The only known copy has already been destroyed by the Taliban, but luckily Ishaq knows the entire text by heart (including the punctuation) and just as luckily Zeblyan has penmanship skills (plus used butcher paper as parchment.)
In the hands of veteran actors Reathel Bean and John Pietrowski the process of inscribing the text becomes not just funny as they argue about virtually every detail of the process, including the meaning of individual verses, but moving as well as each man is forced to reach deep within himself -- all against the sights and sounds of a continuing war and the realization that each of them is part of a despised minority.
If the actors, or indeed the director, James Glossman, allowed themselves the luxury of playing for laughs, the evening would quickly fail. Instead it is played with understated reality and hope. And in any other hands but Bean (who plays Ishaq with elegant determination and erudition) and Pietrowski (who finds insights into Zeblyan's character that raise him from a plodding scribe to moments of inspired greatness) the evening might well slide to gentle amusement. The pair keep it on the razor-edge of excitement.
The show has drawn such support that already it has extended for a weekend and now closes Feb. 13.
"Two Jews Walk Into A War" continues at Playwright's Theatre, 33 Green Village Road in Madison through Feb. 13. Performances: Fri. & Sat. eves at 8 p.m.; Sun. mats. at 3 p.m. (973) 514-1787 Ext. 10. www.ptnj.org