Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Florida Stage: Two Jews Walk Into a War.. (6 reviews)

<i> Two Jews Walk Into a War...</i> Florida Stage premiered Seth Rozin's Two Jews Walk Into A War on October 23, 2009.
In a dilapidated old synagogue in Kabul during the final days of the Taliban regime, the one thing that binds the Jewish community together - they hate each other's guts. Ishaq and Zeblyan are discovered to be the last two surviving Jews in all of Afghanistan. Inspired by a true story, they are, in fact a real life middle-eastern odd couple.
Louis Tyrell directed Avi Hoffman and Gordon McConnell.

John LaRiviere reviewed for
Gordon McConnell has so admirably transformed himself in the role of Ishaq that his face and voice are unrecognizable. His accent and portrayal of someone substantially older than himself is very convincing.
Hoffman is an able comedic foil to McConnell's straight man. While the character of Ishaq is the anchor, it is Zeblyan who undergoes the most conflict and growth, and feels more dimensional. It is the juxtaposition of comedy with tragedy that makes for memorable theatrical moments, and Hoffman and Rozin most certainly create that moment beautifully at the end of the play.
Jan Sjostrom reviewed for the Palm Beach Daily News:
...Seth Rozin's new play debuting at Florida Stage in Manalapan, is a hybrid of comedy and drama that doesn't quite meld.
McConnell slides easily into the skin of the lean, punctilious Ishaq and his stock Jewish mannerisms seem natural rather than strained.

Hoffman, an experienced Jewish funny man, perhaps relies too much on his road-tested persona. He's so lovably impish that the hostility between the characters never seems real — and without that clash the play has nowhere to go.
The one-act play's cinematic structure speeds its progress. It's amusing to see two such accomplished actors sparring on stage and the characters' bonding through their common task is heart-warming.
Michael Martin reviewed for the Fort Lauderdale Edge:
McConnell masterfully brings Ishaq to life and embodies the character’s every nuance. From vocal accent to a struggled gait, McConnell deftly conveys Ishaq’s impassioned mission to restore the Torah from memory.

Hoffman’s Zeblyan is more carefree, more disheveled, and less detailed with his appointed task of transcribing Ishaq’s keen memory to parchment. Hoffman’s Zeblyan thus shines less brightly on the stage. Anything less detailed is quickly eclipsed by McConnell’s attention to specificity.
Kudos, still, to Florida Stage for promoting a new work with potential. Theater’s new frontier, in general, depends on such supportive encouragement.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for the Sun Sentinel:
...Seth Rozin's world premiere at Florida Stage is a rollicking Neil Simon-esque farce about the last two Jews in violence-ravaged Kabul trying to keep their religion alive amid torture, repression and oppression.
Rozin gets precisely the tone he wants from director Louis Tyrrell and actors Avi Hoffman and Gordon McConnell as the bickering Oscar and Felix of Afghanistan. The actors inhabit and own the curmudgeonly characters.

Still, it's jarring to see a sitcom imposed on such a serious theme and setting. It takes a while to adjust to wisecracks amid the bombings and gunfire that rack the chapel's walls.
Brandon K. Thorp reviewed for the Broward/Palm Beach New Times:
Seth Rozin's half-hearted attempt to dramatize Levin and Simentov's final few years together isn't deep enough to pose any questions of motivation or meaning, never mind answer them.
Hoffman spends the play contorting his epiglottis to unleash deranged little giggles that sound like growls; he comes off as both mean and oddly lascivious.
McConnell is blandly convincing as the bewildered-but-devout Levin, who claims to have memorized the entire Torah.
A perceptive audience may note that the pair's jokes are often punctuated by gunfire — a grim Middle Eastern approximation of the rimshot — that sends up little plumes of dust from the walls of Richard Cromwell's (gorgeous) set.
Hap Erstein reviewed for the Palm Beach ArtsPaper:
The comedy comes easily to Rozin and it is made all the funnier by the deft delivery of Avi Hoffman and Gordon McConnell as skeptical Zeblyan and more devout, self-proclaimed “Torah geek” Ishaq, his mortal enemy.
....Hoffman and McConnell channel a lot of classic comics. As Hoffman gets ready to write, he waves his arms in a flourish of preparation that is pure art -- Art Carney from The Honeymooners.
McConnell wears a perpetual scowl of disapproval that brings to mind Oliver Hardy, and when the two of them degenerate into rolling on the ground in a physical squabble, it is hard not to think of the Two Stooges. Lou Tyrrell directs the evening by injecting lots of movement for his two-man cast, counteracting the play’s wordiness and keeping the production from feeling static.
if Two Jews. . . has a third character, it is surely Richard Crowell’s synagogue set. Funny enough in its truly sad state, the house of worship has a few comic gotchas of its own, as it crumbles before our eyes beginning right at the start of the play.
Both ripped from the headlines and also timeless, Two Jews Walk Into a War… is exactly why we go to Florida Stage, and have been for the past 22 seasons.
Christin Dolen reviewed for the Miami Herald:
...Avi Hoffman, who plays the younger Zeblyan, and Gordon McConnell, as the older Ishaq, are both deft comic actors, and director Louis Tyrrell is adroit at keeping a comedy buoyant.

But as short scene after short scene flies by, ending in a blackout after an intended comic payoff, Two Jews Walk Into a War starts to feel more like a skit in a Catskills hotel showroom than a fully developed play. And the sentimental arc Rozin gives the men becomes a dramaturgical device, not a credible emotional journey.
As much as the actors do to frenetically sell Two Jews Walk Into a War, the play's most artful work comes from set and lighting designer Richard Crowell. Crowell doesn't just supply a small, partially wrecked synagogue in a war zone. He actually rigs it so that, after explosions or the sound of gunfire, pieces of the set go tumbling, flying or crumbling. Now that's great theater.
Two Jews walk into a War plays through November 29 at Florida Stage.

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