BWW Reviews: GOD BOX: Desperately Seeking Pandora
Written and performed by Antonia Lassar, Directed by Christine Hamel; Scenic Designer, Alexander Grover; Lighting Designer, Kayleigha Zawacki; Sound Designer, Andrew Duncan Will; Stage Manager, Anna Burnham
Performances through April 19 as part of the Second Annual Next Rep Black Box Festival, New Repertory Theatre at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, MA; Box Office 617-923-8487 or www.newrep.org
First and foremost, Antonia Lassar is a wonderful storyteller. She has the good sense to begin her seriocomic solo show by relating the tale of Schlemiel who lives in the town of Chelm in Poland. In the role of her character Gloria Adelman, she tells us that this was her daughter Rebecca's favorite story as a child and she wanted to hear it over and over. It is a heartwarming folk tale that Gloria is able to recite from memory and embellish with humorous inflections, and she has the audience feeling relaxed and eating out of the palm of her hand by the time she's finished.
Moments later, she gently lowers the boom by letting us know that Rebecca was recently killed in an auto accident and now Gloria and her (unseen) husband Herman face the task of emptying out her apartment. As her mother, Gloria feels it is more appropriate for her to go through her daughter's things in case there's anything personal, so Herman is consigned to the bathroom and cleaning the kitchen. When Gloria digs into an oversized shoe box labeled GOD, she discovers that her daughter had been on a journey to explore various religious beliefs, veering far from her upbringing as a Jew and the granddaughter of a Rabbi.
It would be an understatement to say that Gloria receives this revelation as a shock, but it spurs her to go on her own journey to understand Rebecca's quest. Throughout the course of just over an hour, Lassar inhabits several personalities to represent the practitioners of the faiths Rebecca tried on, some more mainstream than others, ultimately showing that all have commonalities, chief among them the presence of God and the importance of love in life. Starting out with the belief that she no longer knew the daughter she lost, Gloria comes to see her through the eyes of the people she befriended and worshiped with, and discovers that Rebecca remained the person she bore and raised, not in spite of her exploration, but because of it.
Lassar wrote God Box as a way to process her own spiritual journey and understand its impact on members of her family. However, the play evolved into a study of larger questions about spiritual identity and living in a multi-faith world. Her ability to take on an issue of this magnitude and turn it into a performance piece that is funny, poignant, and not pedantic in the least is to be praised, and her skillful rendering of the quintessential Jewish mother is natural. Gloria is expert at making cheesecake from an old family recipe, but Lassar might as well be passing around bowls of matzoh ball soup for the comfort and familiarity she projects. She even takes time to gently explain shiva and shabbos to the Gentiles in the audience. It almost goes without saying, but you don't have to be Jewish to delve into this God Box.
Photo credit: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures (Antonia Lassar)