BWW Review: It's a Question of Religious Values in SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE at Crown City Theatre
Somewhere in the middle or Guess Who's Coming for Passover/written and directed by Gary Lamb/Crown City Theatre/through October 8
Plays about religion are most difficult to digest, but Somewhere in the middle, a world premiere by Gary Lamb at Crown City Theatre, is overall a nice surprise. Presenting a contemporary middle class family from the midwest with crisp funny dialogue and relatable family issues that involve precocious children and a somewhat overbearing live-in grandma, the play is simultaneously thought-provoking and entertaining.
Sarah (Julie Lanchot) comes home from college to celebrate Passover with her family. Sarah's dad David (Richard Van Slyke) is Jewish, but her mom Lauren (Saige Spinney) is a Christian. Sarah has been brought up Jewish, but in what she considers to be a half-assEd Manner. She has never felt attached to either Judaism or Catholicism. In her studies, she is on a voyage of self-discovery, trying to find answers to her questions. Not wanting to shock her parents all at once, she decides to break the ice and enters the house disguised in Muslim garb...shocking her family, especially her traditional Jewish grandma Roz (Cynthia Kania), to the max. (pictured below) They are horrified at what they see and up comes the first dispute as to how open-minded they truly are about religious issues. Nothing could startle brother Adam (Adam Simon Krist) who makes a joke out of it all in typical teenage fashion. What we gradually learn is that Sarah is fiercely unsettled because she has brought home a guest Jamal (Luke King), her assistant instructor, who is not only black, but of Palestinian heritage. Race is a big enough issue, but when they learn that Sarah is engaged to a black and Palestianian man, the whole place explodes. Grandma is outraged and the biggest dispute ensues about the hatred between Palestine and Israel.
The dramatic conflicts are all well written and very well acted by the ensemble, but I must admit, my one argument is the quick and pat resolution that follows. Upholding that they are a modern family unit, eveyone becomes resigned to the engagement, even grandma. Jamal's reaction to liking the family also comes as a bit unreal as moments before he was in a deeply felt debate about his right as a Palestinian to alienate the Israelis. I would like to have seen him walk out and then maybe have Sarah follow to convince and persuade him to reconnect.
That aside, Lamb has drawn the characters meticulously and given them a lot of humor that is totally believable throughout. Needless to say, under his steady hand and with expert pacing as director, the entire ensemble are terrific. Slyke and Spinney hold their ground as caring parents at all costs and make David and Lauren likable individuals. Krist is a great reactor and very amusing as Adam. Lanchot is a believable and intelligent Sarah, trying to make sense out of her hasty decisions. King brings an outside eye to the proceedings, as a British born black who with fine intelligence brings a newfound sense of order to an otherwise chaotic household. Kania, amusing, bright and wise steals the show as grandma. Not wanting change, she is forced to challenge her beliefs, to finally transform, and find a new place for herself.
In spite of my misgivings about the somewhat sugar-coated ending, I liked the play, its humor and characterizations, and above all else, the tremendous cast...and of course, Gary Lamb, who, along with Bill Reilly, continue to bring quality work to the North Hollywood theatrical community. Go see Somewhere in the middle and enjoy through October 8! The association to Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is really not that significant, so if you haven't seen it, not to worry!