Thursday October 19th 2017

“The God of Isaac”

”You don’t have to be Jewish”! That is the first thing I might say about James Sherman’s “The God of Isaac” now in a revival at the Piven Theatre in Evanston. Presented by Grippo Stage Company, this touching story takes place in Skokie during the 1977 period where the Nazi party asked to hold a march in this northern suburb. The original version of this play was directed by Dennis Zacek at the old Victory Gardens Theatre in 1985, and guess what? Ah, you guessed! He directed this version as well. What makes this version even more special is that the lead role, Isaac Adams (which in reality is playwright Sherman’s semi-autobiographical look at his own life) is being played by T. Isaac Sherman, his son! I told you this was special.

The story involves the search by a young Jewish man (Sherman) seeking answers about his own identity and what it means to be Jewish. Should he get involved? Should he learn more about why he might get involved? Who is he? Is he really a Jew, considering his family never did anything really Jewish? What things do Jews do that others do not, and which type of Jew is the right type (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform-God knows, which is better and why)!

I certainly do not want to reveal any special little secrets about how Sherman handles this search for the truth, but will let you know that there are a few surprises in the presentation. Cleverly, Sherman uses old movie scenes to make some of his points as he takes us into places where Jews tread lightly. In his case, Isaac grew up in Skokie and his first love and probably true sould-mate was a girl named Chaya (played by Jolie Lepselter) who marries a well-to-do Jewish man and moves to a non-Jewish suburb only to see her very Jewish life turned upside down. Isaac, on the other hand, marries Shelly ( the adorable Annabel Steven), a first-class “Shikse” ( non-Jewish girl) and while they had agreed on  a certain life-style, decides during his search, that she needs to convert. This causes many turbulent times in their lives. Both of these ladies do take on some other roles during this two act (almost two hours).

There is also an ensemble of two male actors who take on a myriad of parts. Brian Rabinowitz and Charles Schoenherr play Rabbis ,tailors, JDL leaders, Hasid Jews and many other roles including characters from “The Wizard of Oz” (the two above mentioned ladies do as well). There are many cute scenes where the ensemble brings us what ifs from movies such as “My Fair Lady”, “Huck Finn”, “The Grapes of Wrath”, “On The Waterfront” in addition to “The Wizard “. In each case, the words have been changed to mean something regarding Jews or Jewishness. These are all done with respect for the religion.

The play is deep and emotional. There is a great deal about Jewish mothers and of course, there is Mrs. Adams (a dynamite performance by Anita Silvert), who is indeed the perfect “Jewish Mother”. Only a son like Isaac could love this woman as he does. The Piven Theatre, for those of you who have never been there ( shame on you!- how’s that for some Jewish guilt?), is a very intimate space, so the audience is very close to the stage. The set (Abigail Reed) is very simple and the lighting (Michael Rathbun) just as simple. In fact, most of the technical aspects of the show are very easy to overlook as it is indeed the story that we are here for and the actors do make Sherman’s words come alive.

Due to the intimacy, I ask all patrons to truly listed to the announcement at the start of the play. PLEASE TURN OFF your cell phones. Oh, yes, once again, one of the audience members, sitting in the front row, thought that message was for the rest of the audience. Surely, they did not mean her!

Guess what folks! The message is for all!

“The God Of Isaac”  will continue at Piven Theatre located in The Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes (just east of Ridge Ave) in Evanston thru August 27th with performances as follows:

Fridays  8 p.m.

Saturdays  3  and  8 p.m.

Sundays  3 p.m.

Tickets are $39 (open seating) and can be purchased by calling 1-800-838-3006 or by visiting www.grippostagecompany.com

have a group ? Call 773-322-7296 or em@emhchicago.com

There is plenty of free parking in the area and the “L” stops at Noyes. There are some dining spots in the area and just a few blocks away, we enjoyed a great dinner at Ten Mile House at 1700 Central Street (visit tmhevanston.com )

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “The God of Isaac”

 

 

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