Ethnic Theater - Jewish
"The Seed of Abraham"
45 Bleecker Street (New York International Fringe Festival)
Picture three Jewish youngsters growing up in the Bronx of New York City, fired by ambition and clearly devoted to each other. Of the two brothers, Ben is a promising singer and Abie a gifted dancer. Leah, the girl of this trio, is launched on a career in journalism.Thus begins “The Seed of Abraham,” now on stage at 45 Bleecker Street. This promising little musical is part of the New York International Fringe Festival, a mega-event which invades downtown Manhattan every summer.
The Festival is a fine spawning ground for aspiring writers, composers, directors, performers. Thus, not surprisingly, many of the Fringe shows can be viewed as works-in-progress, which is surely true of “The Seed of Abraham.” The show is indeed promising, but calls for further work at the drawing board—and certainly fuller staging.
Its strength, at this time, lies in Kenny Karen’s appealing music and lyrics. The lyrics often turn into sheer poetry, as, for example, “My Bubbi’s candlesticks danced through each moment of prayer” (from “Candlesticks”), and, from “Jerusalem,” “You are the father of my dream. I am a gift of time.”
But the story is less satisfying. Opening with the trio singing, early on, “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” you get the picture. These kids know what they want, and will reach for it, no matter the odds. But you quickly learn that Ben’s father has different plans. Ben must become a lawyer. A singing career is out of the question. Haven’t you encountered this plot on numerous earlier occasions? Didn’t Al Jolson”s “The Jazz Singer” say it all decades ago?
Fortunately, the plot finally lets go of this old chestnut and moves on to more intriguing matters. It is 1967, and a recruiter appears, urging young Jews to volunteer for the Israeli cause. The brothers split on this issue, and thus the plot moves on. A stronger story would offer less of the father-son conflict and more of the support-Israel issue. This theme—how young American Jews have felt about volunteering in Israel is an issue as ongoing as the state of Israel itself. It really warrants exploration and has rarely been explored in American Jewish theater. Playwright Bob Zaslow has hold of a good idea, and one wishes he would flesh it out—examining the characters' motivations, thought processes, and personal growth in more depth.
As to the production, this “Seed of Abraham,” under Sally Burtenshaw’s direction, evinces many of the shortcomings which typify Fringe shows. The projector (at this particular performance) had died, and no background (presumably photos flashed on a screen) could be provided. Furthermore, the cast is a mixed bag, with a few Equity pros carrying the load. The four parents (Denise DeMirjian, Jonathan Kline, John Anthony Lopez, and Amy Beth Williams) provide strong professionalism. Williams’ comic solo “Hypochondriac” is, in fact, the highlight of the evening. As to the younger cast members, Barry DeBois gives a strong performance as Ben, but Joey Ama Dio is less convincing as Leah, and Caleb Teicher is best on his feet. Would that we had had more of his exuberant tap dance numbers.
In all, “The Seed of Abraham” is worth watching as it progresses. We have yet to see where it goes in the future.
Aug. 16, 2011