BWW Review: THE SABBATH GIRL at Penguin Repertory Theatre
Cary Gitter has done something wonderful. He has taken a concept that you think you know inside out, and makes it fresh. On the surface his new play "The Sabbath Girl (or the Shabbos Goy)" sounds like an old-fashioned story that you've heard before - and it is. But a well-told tale can defy expectations and pre-conceptions, and that is exactly what Gitter has constructed: a well-told tale; in fact, a VERY well-told tale. And you don't need to know the difference between a schlemiel and a schlimazel to appreciate it.
Angie Mastrantonio, is a curator at an art gallery who is on the look-out for a hip new exhibition to make a name for herself. We meet her alone in her apartment on a Friday evening (a clear indication of how her social life is going). She is visited by her Nonna, the delightfully vivacious and flirty Patricia Mauceri, who nudges her to get out more often and find a guy - to "hear the music life is singing to you." Despite 's protestations that she is perfectly content being single and focused on her work, its readily apparent that she's fooling no one. 's relationship with her grandmother is beautiful and central to the play, so pay attention!
Madison Micucci's performance as Angie is the emotional engine that makes the play move. From her first entrance, Micucci makes Angie accessible and sympathetic and continues to portray each new facet of Angie's character with equal ease, as we learn more and more about her.
Enter Seth, the Orthodox Jewish down the hall neighbor who is seeking his "Sabbath Goy," Mr. Lee (he even addresses Angie in Korean) Seth is an adorable Knish shop owner who finds himself helpless every Friday night and has come to rely on his "Sabbath goy" for everything from using the microwave to turning on the lights. The play goes loosely into the concept of the day of rest but wisely doesn't dawdle there.
He is instantly attracted to Angie. Angie... not so much, but she does find him fascinating and sweet. Angie tells herself she has no time for relationships - that is until Blake, an up-and-coming painter, energetically played by Ty Molback, enters her gallery and her life. He is the hot new thing in the downtown art scene and he's looking for a gallery for a new showcase. He's also looking for more. He wants to be "wooed," and Angie is all too willing to woo the smoking hot young artist.
Here the play gets somewhat reminiscent of Susan Sandler's 1985 romantic comedy "Crossing Delancey" where the business-minded professional girl with no time for relationships learns the (predictable?) life-lesson that the vapid, hot guy is a lesser value proposition than the nice Jewish boy down the hall.
Mr. Rishe's Seth is a more layered character than initially presented, he's more than the helpless schlemiel he appears to be. Mr. Gitter has given his protagonist a complex personal and emotional history that adds great dimension to the character, which Mr. Rishe slowly and skillfully reveals.
Seth's sister Rachel (the delightfully overbearing Lauren Singerman) shares his ownership of the Knish shop but does not share his view of Angie. She immediately develops a deep-seeded distrust, dislike and dismissal of the thought of her brother spending time with this "shiksa goddess." Rachel represents all the traditions of the culture and the religion in one character - but even she has an epiphany along the way.
Director Joe Bancato has done a superb job in keeping the potentially cliched story focused on the human elements of the story and bringing the inherent richness of the play to life. Set designers Christopher and Justin Swader have very cleverly managed to succinctly cram multiple locations - two apartments, an art gallery and a knish shop - into one unit set.
Mr. Gitter does not explore deep, complicated contemporary questions in his play. But, Gitter has created something genuine and his characters ring true and possess an earnestness that is in seriously short supply these days. It is refreshing to see a play that has no pretensions, that doesn't try to be anything that it is not. It seeks only to be endearing and entertaining. And on that score, and that criteria, it is a major success! Congrats to Penguin Rep on presenting the world premier of this wonderful new work that is certain to have a long life ahead of it.
The run is nearly sold-out and deservedly so. Run to get tickets if you still can!
- Peter Danish
"The Sabbath Girl" by Cary Gitter
Penguin Repertory Theater
Thursdays at 7:30 pm / Fridays at 8:00 pm
Saturdays (2 shows) at 4:00 pm & 8:00 pm / Sunday matinees at 2:00 pm