Ethnic Theater - Jewish
"Brunch at the Luthers"
Theater for the New City, Manhattan
Misha Shulman may very well be typical of the crop of playwrights coming out of Israel—young, hard-hitting, productive, and involved in all phases of theater. Currently working in this country, the young playwright is also an actor/director and founder of a puppetry company called the Boundless Theatre.In New York, an off-Broadway house called Theater for the new City has served as host for several of his works. Shulman’s debut piece at the TNC was “The Fist,” in 2004, which dealt with the dilemma of Israeli Army refusniks. In 2005-2006 came “Desert Sunrise,” a drama with a close look at Palestinian/Israeli relations. These and other starkly realistic Shulman works have consistently focused on political/social issues.
But now, at the TNC, Shulman experiments with a different form—namely, absurdist theater. If there is a message of social consciousness in “Brunch at the Luthers,” one is hard put to discover it. With shades of Beckett and Ionesco haunting “The Luthers,” the play is clearly derivative, but certainly Shulman’s dialogue is intriguing.
“Brunch at the Luthers” is about everything and nothing. A husband and wife, Luther and Ruth, are expecting guests for brunch and anxiously make preparations. There reality ends, as each guest arrives, each zanier than the previous one. The exchanges are mad, funny, preposterous, as characters constantly speak at cross purposes. If there is any message, it is that communication between humans is difficult—in fact, impossible. The high point is reached when the zaniest character of all, one Harlot Sierra O’Toul, arrives. As she goes into a dance, the others munch on duck feathers and turn into ducks. “Quack, quack, quack” is the new means of non-communication. One is of course reminded of Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros,” but that Ionesco play is a scathing condemnation of human conformity. Shulman’s similar message does not reach the same stinging heights.
The production itself (directed by Shulman) falls short of the material. The cast, for the most part, is amateurish, except for Priscilla Flores, who plays Harlot with a scary ferocity. Her dance is enough to send one rushing out of the theater for fear of one’s life! And, to be expected in New York’s off-off-Broadway world, the set design is makeshift, though the small stage offers the benefits of intimacy.
In all, Shulman is a playwright to be watched, but one hopes for a return to his earlier crusade, with such searing pieces as “The Fist” and “Desert Sunrise."
-- Irene Backalenick
June 25, 2008