FRINGE REVIEW: 9/11-- THE BOOK OF JOB
The greatest problem with creating art about a tragedy as massive as 9/11 is that nothing will ever feel like it's enough, and everything will feel like too much. For the most part, Danny Ashkenasi has avoided that trap, and his new musical piece study of grief and survival juxtaposes the all-too-human accounts of that awful day with the superhuman efforts of the biblical Job to keep his faith in God. And somehow, by comparing grief with grief, he has created something that seems uncertain and unfinished, but still very moving. Not quite a musical, more of a cantata about grief, loss, and hope, 9/11: The Book of Job artfully captures many of the vivid emotions of that day.
From the trilled high notes sung by the sopranos at the show's beginning that symbolize the towers' fall (and evoke the mourning wail of Muslim women), the piece promises musical beauty, and delivers. From classical to modern jazzy pop, the score runs the spectrum to properly evoke the many emotions reflected in the piece. Even a segment that lifts directly from Stephen Sondheim's quintessential description of New York detachment, "Another Hundred People," is powerfully transformed into a lament for the hundreds and hundreds of voices silenced by terrorism.
But even a cantata such is this is not exclusively about music, and the lyrics and book, while clever, are uneven. The piece sometimes becomes too clever and rather cynical to walk hand in hand with the religious allegories. The sarcasm that mocks the businesses capitalizing on tragedy and the politicians twisting pain to their advantage does not have the heart and depth of the scenes that quote directly from the Book of Job. Those scenes, performed beautifully by Joel Briel as Job and Jamie Matthews as his wife, evoke much more vividly the pain of such an immense loss than the moments set in the aftermath of the disaster. And while Job's searching for meaning behind his suffering beautifully echoes the survivors' own soul-searching, the biblical quotes more eloquently transform pain into poetry than the modern words do.
The ensemble does some lovely choral work, and Ashkenasi's direction of his own writing keeps the pace consistent, but ultimately the piece is emotionally uneven. If the modern scenes are brought up to the lyricism of the biblical moments, this could be an excellent piece to be performed by choirs and theatre groups alike.