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NYMF: The Jerusalem Syndrome: Milk and Honey

Jerusalem Syndrome is an actual mental delusion that afflicts people who visit Israel- around 100 tourists a year suddenly believe themselves to be characters from biblical times. They clothe themselves in bedsheets and wander the streets attempting to live out their biblical stories. Usually the fixation lasts about a week, and then most people snap out of it, feeling rather silly. (It's similar to Stendhal Syndrome, where people are overcome by great art).

Laurence Holzman, Felicia Needleman (book and lyrics), and Kyle Rosen (music), have taken the idea of this little-known but fascinating hallucinatory aberration and spun it into The Jerusalem Syndrome, a rollicking and joyous new musical.

In the opening number, we're introduced to three people flying to Jerusalem- Phyllis (the always-delightful Liz Larson), whose husband Alan (Stuart Zagnit) won't get off his cellphone despite being on vacation, Eddie (Nick Verina), a well-meaning tour guide on his first assignment, and Charles (Alan H. Green), a queer fellow who's just inherited some land in Israel that happens to be right across the street from a huge catholic church, so he plans to sell it to an ostentatious Gay resort chain. Eddie's tour group keeps going awry, Phyllis' husband keeps wanting to go back to the hotel so he can e-mail work, and a representative of the church is trying to get Charles to sell the land to the church. Meanwhile, handsome soap opera actor Mickey Rose (Austin Miller) is also in town to film a movie, and a young divorcée named Lynn (Felicia Ricci) has come on vacation to recover from her ex's secretarial betrayal. All develop Jerusalem Syndrome and are taken to the psych ward of the local hospital, where, watched over by Dr. Ben Zion (Bruce Sabath) and his soap-obsessed nurse Rena (Chandra Lee Schwartz), they meet even more eccentrics who have become various biblical characters.

What makes the story most interesting is how the character's new chosen identities reveal their life frustrations and they still live out variations on their own stories- Phyllis identifies with Sarah whose husband was over-attentive, Eddie thinks he's Moses and becomes a leader, through the help of Lynn, who thinks she's Adonai, and who's finally found a man who will have no other secretaries before her. And Charles thinks he's Jesus, and wants to give away all he has.
Holzman and Needleman's plot is riveting and funny, the lyrics are clever, and the jokes are hilarious (heavy on the puns). Rosen's music is great, and varies from the gospel of "Daddy Loved Jesus", to the stirring march of "You Can Lead", to the She Loves Me patter song of "Room 17", to the loony hora of "Weirdo in a Bed Sheet".

The cast is great - Larsen is wonderful as Phyllis, the emotional heart of the piece, and Zagnit complements her perfectly as the work-obsessed Alan. Alan H. Green nearly steals the show as Charles; his queeny messianic shtick is a delight to behold. Verina is sweet and adorable as Eddie. Ricci garners huge laughs as Lynn, especially each time she picks up the hospital intercom to make pronouncements. Sabath is full of authority as Dr. Zion. Shwartz is great as Rena. Miller is not only inhumanly beautiful, but can also act and sing - his duet with Larsen ("Doing It") is a highlight. The ensemble are fantastic as well; most of them changing flawlessly through 2-3 characters through the show (elderly Jewish tourists, religious leaders, delusional patients): Vanessa Lemonides, Mary Gutzi, Ronica Reddick, Ron DeStefano, Roger DeWitt, and J.D. Webster.

Costumes by Jennifer Caprio are perfect; Lauren Helpern's accordion-paper set is versatile and impressive. Annette Jolles directs with a firm hand.

This is one of the best shows I've seen so far in the NYMF. Highly recommended.

The Jerusalem Syndrome

Part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival at 37 Arts, Theatre C.

Remaining performances:
Thursday, October 2 @ 9pm
Sunday, October 5 @ 5pm


Photos: Ethan Heard

  1. Felicia Ricci and Nick Verina as Lynn (God) and Eddie (Moses)
  2. Chandra Lee Schwartz, Bruce Sabath, Liz Larsen and Stuart Zagnit as Rena, Dr. Zion, Phyllis, and Alan
  3. Alan H. Green, Mary Gutzi, Roger DeWitt and Ronica Reddick, as Charles (Jesus), Mrs. Burns (Virgin Mary), Mr. Stone (John the Baptist), and Mrs. Randolph (the other Virgin Mary)


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