BWW Reviews: World Premiere THE FACE IN THE REEDS Proves Everyone Needs and Deserves a Second Chance
The World Premiere of THE FACE IN THE REEDS by Robin Uriel Russin, directed by Sarah Figoten Wilson at Santa Monica's The Ruskin Group, centers on a dysfunctional family gathering to celebrate Passover, the Jewish holiday celebrating freedom. As the meshuge meshugas (crazy madness) plays out, the evening's seder turns into quarrels about the meaning of freedom, the value of life, and the shadow of death, which symbolically "passes over" the house. During the course of the evening, conflicts emerge about the merit of faith over conversion, the truth in religion, and the nature of parental responsibility. This night is different from all other nights and of course, this being a Jewish family, it is also a comedy. We're all going to die--but first, you should eat.
Playwright Robin Uriel Russin shares, "In some ways it's a play about identity, about what we believe, and who we think we should be. What we owe to our faith, our past, and our tribe is an often comical, sometimes heated argument that plays out in many families, and not just Jewish ones. All families are a little crazy, only the details are different"
Amy Ramirez has designed an authentic set composed of a living room and dining room in a fairly well-off family home. Most of the action takes place around a well appointed dining room table, set for the Passover seder complete with all the trappings necessary to celebrate the holiday. The family matriarch, Christina (a convert to Judaism), is busy cleaning and preparing around the dining room table as the audience walks in, fussing to be sure everything will be as perfect as possible. Anyone who have been in a home where a seder is to be held knows the hours of painstaking work that goes into preparing the home, especially if you stick to Orthodox Jewish traditions.
As Christina, Stacey Moseley gives a highly nuanced performance, allowing us to see into Christina's inner turmoil over the loss of a child and her conversion to Judaism, told directly to the audience through asides with focused lighting shifts effectively designed by Mike Reilly with the other actors onstage frozen in dimly lit tableau. Moseley is certainly the center of this Jewish home, taking care of her husband, children, and preparing their meals. But it is not until she tells the truth to her family that she has a real chance at happiness.
Her husband Barry (Chip Bolcik) is an Obstetrician, focusing his work on assisting women bring healthy babies in to the world, which is how he and Christina met. The two married after both their former marriages ended. Bolcik leads the seder, singing a wonderful, if too short, "Let My People Go!" Barry has brought home a young doctor he hopes will join his practice, Patrick (Tom Berklund), a Catholic who has never attended a seder before. Both men are good guys, loving and sympathetic to the needs of others.
Adding to the craziness is Barry's elderly father Sol (Paul Zegler), who often leaves the dining room to smoke his medicinal medicine as he is battling prostate cancer. He proclaims his new Purple Kush is the "smoke of the Gods." Zegler will remind you of your own grandfather or any knowledgeable older man who at this point in his life feels he has the right to say anything he wants to say, to hell with what his family thinks. Zegler performs the role with a walker decorated with a Jewish star, using it as his seat at the dining table as well as his throne from which to spout his many, fairly out-of-date opinions to anyone who will listen. As it runs out, there is a sinister reason Sol asked Barry to bring Patrick home for the seder, and it was not to introduce him to his granddaughter, Rachel.
And who can blame him? When Rachel, Barry's daughter from his first marriage, arrives dressed as what you might call a Goth lumberjack, she is on the verge of coming out as a lesbian and insists the family use her "Sisterhood" haggadah for the seder. To keep peace in the family, her father and Christina do their best to keep her happy and go along with her request, up to a point. Julia Arian is a wonder as Rachel, sharing all of the internal angst of a young woman so unsure of herself that she must lash out at everyone else to make herself forget just how confused she really is. But it is her tender scene with Patrick as she shares who she thinks he is and wants to be that allows us to see into the heart and soul of this troubled young woman.
Caught in the middle is Barry and Christina's son Mose (Aidan Blain, who is currently studying for his own upcoming bar mitzvah). Blain recites all the prayers in Hebrew during the seder and completely enjoys Mose's spying on his sister in person and online. He chastises her with "Love is brief but Facebook is forever" when he shows her what he has seen that would shock the rest of their family. Of course a chase ensues! And Mose is not above milking his grandfather for money to do as he asks or pushing his mother's buttons by refusing the help out around the house.
Each other actors is perfectly cast in their roles, so much so that it feels as if they really are this dysfunctional family who really does love one another but certainly has strange ways of showing it. With Passover being about the celebration of escaping slavery and achieving freedom, each of them take us on their own personal journeys to find the freedom each needs to move forward with their own lives. By the time the meal is finally served, these are people who have learned to value each other for the gifts they bring to the family.
You don't have to be Jewish to enjoy the play, but it certainly helps to understand what goes into a Passover seder. But a family is a family and guilt is universal, so no problem there. And as long as you have an appetite, you will always have something to live for!
Ruskin Group Theatre presents the WORLD PREMIERE of THE FACE IN THE REEDS by Robin Uriel Russin, directed by Sarah Figoten Wilson, on Fridays - Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm through October 11, 2014 at The Ruskin Group at 3000 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90405. Tickets are $25 ($20 for students, seniors, and guild members) and can be purchased in advance by calling (310) 397-3244 or online at www.ruskingrouptheatre.com. Free parking is available at the theater.
The show has played to sold out houses for its first two weekends, so be sure to purchase your tickets in advance to be sure you have a seat.