Ethnic Theater - Jewish
Laura Pels Theatre, Manhattan
And why shouldn’t an Italian-American play a Jew on stage—and a troubled Jew at that? And one who talks to God? Alfred Molina has done it before, making his mark as Tevya in the Broadway production of “Fiddler on the Roof” a few years ago. It is called acting, and a fine actor (of which Molina is an example) can cross over into new worlds.
This time around, Molina becomes Howard Katz in Patrick Marber’s dark play of the same name, now enjoying its American premiere off-Broadway. Molina is the central figure, playing the title role. The play begins and ends with Howard Katz seated on a park bench, clearly a loser in the game of life. Marber uses flashbacks, moving back and forth in time, to spell out this tale of the Biblical Job in modern garb.
Molina’s Howard Katz begins as a crude, fast-talking, but highly successful, agent in the London showbiz world. Self-absorbed and self-assured, he has little feeling for any one but himself. But his callous behavior is his own undoing, as others begin to turn from him. Gradually he loses everything—wife, son, parents, clients, job, status, wealth. Stripped of all life’s amenities, he is left only with introspection, self-examination, remorse--and ultimately a coming-to-terms with himself. But it is too late to make amends, to rebuild his life. For Molina, it is a tour de force—a powerful, believable portrait of a man—a Jewish man—in extremis. Yes, this Tevya, if you will, talks to God, but finds God is out to lunch—certainly not listening. Molina has every opportunity to explore a range of emotions and creates a character in depth. Among other marks of the performance, his low-class London accent seems just right. Molina is fortunate to be under Doug Hughes’ astute direction and to be supported by a superb cast—by such award-winning performers as Alvin Epstein and Elizabeth Franz. Marber’s father-son scenes (with Epstein and Molina) are particularly touching, as two Londoners who acknowledge their Jewishness but who lack a traditional faith. Epstein, as the father, thinking of his imminent death, turns to his son. “Will you do a mitzvah for me? I want to be cremated…ok, so I am going reform. Will you learn to recite Kaddish? Will you do it with the ashes?” “I can’t read Hebrew,” the son protests, and the father replies, “I will teach you.” It is a tender moment, and one which rings with truth.
A thoughtful, provocative, and often painful, play.
-- Irene Backalenick
March 5, 2007