The time was Summer of 1978 and the place was Skokie, Illinois. The Neo-Nazis had beaten the system and were being allowed to march in Skokie, a village that was home to a large Jewish population, many of them “survivors”. In playwright Steven Peterson’s “The Invasion of Skokie” now in its World Premiere at Chicago Dramatists Theatre, we get a glimpse at how this one day makes a difference in the lives of the Kaplan family. Sylvia Kaplan ( a performance by Cindy Gold that defies words. She captures all of the stereotype Jewish mothers through history, but does so with just the right touch of realism), a realtor who is the master of the Kaplan home despite what her husband Morry ( Deftly handled by Mick Weber) believes. Morry, who runs a small business that is failing believes that what is happening to his village is wrong and with a number of others is preparing to chase these Nazis out. Sylvia’s goal is to keep morry out of all this, and alive!
We begin on the Saturday ( the Sabbath) before THE SUNDAY ( I truly mean THE Sunday) as Morry plans how to get a weapon so that he can make a difference. Their daughter Debbie ( Tracey Kaplan- wow, what a coincidence) who lives in “the City” is coming for dinner with her boyfriend, Charlie Lindal ( a solid performance by Bradford R. Lund) who has been a “gentile” part of the family for many years. As a youth, he worked at their Temple as what is called the “Shabbos Goy” ( to define this in simple terms, a gentile who take son all the duties that Jewish law says Jews cannot do during the Sabbath). On this particular Saturday night, they have more than just a dinner planned. It is the night for Charlie to seek permission to marry Debbie and here is where all Hell breaks loose.
Peterson ( who I am pretty sure is not Jewish) has brought the true feeling of what Kaplanwould have to feel to life. As a Jewish father, although not quite as devout in spirit as Morry is, I know the importance of “keeping the faith” and wanting one’s family to continue the chain. Morry asks, no, demands that to get his blessing, Charlie MUST convert to Judaism and Charlie says no. He is asked to leave and Debbie spends the night in her old room instead of leaving with Charlie. What we see the next morning is not a change of heart but a new relationship formed between Morry and Charlie towards the history that will be made today in Skokie, Illinois.
Directed by Richard Perez on a wonderful, realistic set by Grant Sabin ( drive through any sub-division in Skokie and gaze at the backyards and you will see what is on the stage at Dramatists) with solid lighting by Jeff Pines and wonderful sound by Christopher Kriz, this is a warm, touching story that gets to the heart of the characters. Yet ,with all the warmth and drama there are some very funny moments. A lot of this comes from the final character in the play, Morry’s childhood buddy, Howie Green ( handled with a nice touch by Michael Joseph Mitchell) who brings a smile to one’s eye as the “loner” who has become “uncle Howie” to Debbie and is in reality a member of the Kaplan family.How much can we protect those we love? I think that is the “heart” of what Peterson is saying. Since the late 70’s much has changed in our world. Many interfaith marriages take place on a regular basis. Opening this show during the Jewish High Holiday period when one of the sermon topics just happened to be about interfaith families and tolerance for the break from tradition, makes the story’s content even more modern. Back then families fell apart over this taking place. Today, it is different. Today, a Rabbi would rather perform the interfaith wedding, so they can keep at least one of the faith rather than lose one.
During the 105 minutes of “Invasion” I watched with great care to see where Peterson was going and how Perez would take us there without making it an episode of Mrs. Goldberg or “I Remember Mama” ( Jewish Style) or even a little “Fiddler” thrown in. While the main characters had some very Jewishness and did cover some of what non-Jews stereotype Jews as, they did not dwell on this and after all, Jews have been laughing at their own Jewishness for many years. I know that they felt the need to break the Saturday into Sunday and had an intermission, but to be honest, I would have preferred a no intermission, straight through run. I find that a small break often loses the concentration of an audience as they “check their messages”, Have a smoke, or run to the bathroom and the rush back to not miss the second act. No intermission allows the audience to “stay in” the story and not have to try and recall what took place before they did other things.
This is a well cast show with solid direction that gives it the heart and soul allowing us to care about each of the characters despite their negatives- as a whole, one cannot help but feel that the Kaplan family would be good neighbors and friends forever. Charlie, while not a true Kaplan, is a man among men and although he doesn’t want to becme a Jew to make his supposed “father-in-law” happy, we know that he will in fact, one day make Debbie very happy as the father of her children. “Invasion” will continue at The Chicago Dramatists Theatre located at 1105 West Chicago Avenue ( at Milwaukee and Ogden) through October 10th with performances as follows:
Thursday,Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.-Sunday at 3 p.m.
Tickets are $32 ( Thursday, student tickets are $15) To order tickets visit www.chicagodramatists.org
There is plenty of street parking on the weekends and of course easy to use public transportation