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BWW Reviews: G-D'S HONEST TRUTH Roars with Laughter at Theater J

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Baltimore's Rabbi Menachem Youlus spun fantastical tales about his recovery of 1,000 Torahs. From the "Auschwitz" Torah, which Rabbi Youlous "located" using a metal detector in a prewar Auschwitz cemetery, to "purchasing" a Torah from a former Auschwitz prison guard, Rabbi Youlous convinced many that he was the "Jewish Indiana Jones." People swarmed to purchase these "unique" Torahs, unknowingly buying scrolls that actually had the same story...

This is the true tale that inspired playwright Renee Calarco's fictional G-d's Honest Truth. Currently playing at Theater J, G-d's Honest Truth is part of the theater's Locally Grown: Community Supported Art Festival, an initiative to premiere local artists' work as mainstage productions. Directed by Jenny McConnell Frederick, G-d's Honest Truth proves a success as audiences roar with laughter and invest in an intriguing and thought-provoking story.

The play begins with a fast-paced flashback to Roberta (Naomi Jacobson) and Larry's (John Lescault) "rescue," or purchase, of a "Holocaust Torah" from Rabbi Dov (Sasha Olinick). Rabbi Dov seduces the couple into buying the Torah through the idea that "we all want to leave a legacy." At that point, Roberta and Larry know they must bring the Torah to Temple Beth David. The Torah's story brings the community together but eventually raises suspicion. The show weaves side stories and larger themes, such as the tribulations of Roberta and Larry's "tech-savvy" son's extended engagement and eventual marriage, a young woman's bat mitzvah and hysterical after party, challenges in marriage and parenting, sitting Shiva after a death, and arguing and losing a close friend. One of the overarching themes in the show is questioning the value of storytelling, which comes to head towards the play's end. Overall, the ending is satisfying but potentially disagreeable, which you will just have to determine for yourself.

Calarco's script for G-D's Honest Truth overflows with humor, poking fun at Jewish ideas, customs, and stereotypes. At the same time, the play also shares information and history about Judaism, which depending on your taste, may be enjoyable and interesting or simply tedious. With that said, a few scenes drag, but overall, director Jenny McConnell Frederick sets a swift tempo for the show that the cast exceeds in living up to. The entire ensemble is filled with energy and comedic timing, and each actor and actress truly fits their role. Naomi Jacobson and John Lescault establish strong chemistry and create a couple that is both lovable, faulty and a riot to watch. When Naomi Jacobson is on stage, she reels you in, commanding the scene as you anxiously wait for what she will say or do next. Sasha Olinick adds complexity to Rabbi Dov by making him a likable character despite his web of lies. Audrey Bertaux, Rena Cherry Brown, Michael Kramer, and Eric M. Messner shine as they show their flexibility and talent as performers with hilarious yet sincere depictions of the many roles they hold throughout the play.

Set designer Robbie Hayes created a simple stage design that primarily encompasses two chairs and a large window. Interestingly, the window is used to cast projections that add scenery and context. Shelves filled with photographs, artwork, and memorabilia surround each of the stage's sides and are cleverly used during the show. Deb Sivigny's costume designs help establish the upper-middle class characters, and the sound and lighting also play a large role in creating each scene's mood without distracting from the play's immensely talented cast.

Theater J's G-d's Honest Truth not only offers a thoroughly entertaining afternoon or evening, but also a story that will make you think about your own life and legacy, along with the value of storytelling.

G-d's Honest Truth plays at Theater J (1529 16th St NW) through April 19.

Running time: One hour and 45 minutes with no intermission.

Tickets can be purchased online (http://washingtondcjcc.org/center-for-arts/theater-j/on-stage/14-15-season/gds_honest_truth/) or by phone (800-494-8497).

Photo credit: C. Stanley Photography


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From This Author Emma Kouguell

Emma Kouguell is a lifelong theatergoer and arts enthusiast. She has been a part of a variety of arts projects, including blogging and scriptwriting for (read more...)