THE BASICS: MODERN ORTHODOX by Daniel Goldfarb, directed by Steve Vaughan, runs until May 29, Thursdays at 7:30, Saturdays at 3:30 and 7:30, Sundays at 2, presented by Jewish Repertory in the Maxine and Robert Seller Theater, 2640 N Forest Rd, Buffalo, NY 14228. 716.688.4114 ext. 309 jccbuffalo.org/jrt/ Note: a handgun appears on stage twice. Runtime: 75 minutes with no intermission
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Ben Jacobson is a thoroughly modern secular Jew who’s ready to propose to his girlfriend Hannah, but he needs a diamond. Enter Hershel, an Orthodox Jewish 47th Street diamond merchant with his trademark briefcase and Tzitzit fringes on his garment, but wearing a New York Yankees logo yarmulke. After many exclamations of “Baruch Hashem” (blessed be the name [of the Lord]) from Hershel and some savvy bargaining from Ben, the financial consultant goes home to the Upper West Side to an exhausted Hannah (she’s an OB/GYN specializing in deliveries). While they each claim to be one another’s “B’shert” (soul mate) there’s obviously something wrong. They need outside help. But will it come from God, from the internet, or from Hershel, a mid-thirties virgin who is simultaneously filled with loads of self-doubt and oodles of chutzpah?
For an amusing two-minute YouTube summary, watch below.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Every producing theater in Buffalo has its special niche, and intense small cast plays are what Jewish Rep does best. Often they are voyages of self-discovery tinged with comedy, and that’s the case with MODERN ORTHODOX.
Adam Yellen as the uber-annoying Hershel Klein is at the top of his game. “Can you believe this guy?” is a thought that kept coming back, time after time. At one point, Hershel actually moves in with the engaged couple, creating a few scenes reminiscent of the movie “What About Bob?” And yet, as is so often the case in movies, in life, and in plays, sometimes the greatest gifts come from the most unlikely places. A favorite moment? Hershel, frustrated at the couple, uses the “you people” expression on them.
Niagara University graduate Akyla Storto as Hannah Ziggelstein is quite adept at changing moods, which in this play she has to do a lot. UB grad R.J. Voltz as Ben Jacobson is at home on this small stage, and like fellow actor Storto, has to change moods quickly without a lot of, well, without too many histrionics. SUNY Fredonia grad Robyn Baun also has range, having gone from the abused Mayella recently in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD at The Kavinoky Theatre to the happy zaftig Rachel Feinberger here. It’s a relatively small role but it brings the play to a proper comedic ending.
You might want to arrive a little early to study the page of Yiddish/Hebrew terms. Or not. As the old advertising slogan went “You Don’t Have to Be Jewish to Love Levy’s Real Jewish Rye” and you don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate this play. In 21st century America you’ll have picked up more than enough background from popular culture to “get” most of the jokes.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!