Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
The God of Isaac deals with Jewish Identity specifically and cultural identity more generally. In the background is the issue of hatred and free speech, issues that seem never to go away. The play is layered onto real life events that occurred in Skokie, IL in 1977 and 1978 when a neo Nazi group wanted to march through a primarily Jewish suburban area. Recent acts of Murderous Hatred in Orlando, only 100 miles from here sharpen the intensity of the plays themes. My personal identity as an observant Jew make this play particularly relevant. The play is not a perfect one, the story doesn't come into clearest focus until the second act, and there is too much use of monologue, never the most effective dramatic choice. There are also a fair number of cliches mixed into the story telling, the most glaring being the Mother-Son push and pull within a Jewish family. All of this seems totally irrelevant because the audience I attended with seemed totally engrossed in the themes, and I overheard several lively discussions as I exited the theater.
Sid Solomon, playing Isaac Adams carries the entire play on his shoulders and does a darn good job of it. He really captures the man, Jewish in his genes and culture, less so in his daily life. Marina Re as his mother, Mrs. Joseph Adams seems a bit shrill, playing a bit too much the stereotypical Jewish matriarch, but in the ultimate scene between mother and son we are allowed to see the warmth that lies beneath all of these difficult relationships. All of the rest of the cast play multiple roles during the evening with uneven results as so often happens in these situations. Eric Hoffman as Actor I is called upon to play various mostly older Jewish characters, the most successful of them being The Tailor, a Holocaust survivor and Isaac's Rabbi from many years ago. Kevin Cristaldi plays half a dozen iconic movie roles such as Huck Finn, Brando from On the Waterfront, Henry Higgins and Tom Joad, all somehow transformed into Jews. Rebecca Miller as Actress I principally plays Chaya Isaac's childhood girlfriend along with several other minor roles. Rachel Moulton as Actress II plays Shelley, Isaac's non Jewish wife and again an assortment of unimportant roles.
Director Kate Alexander keeps the play mostly in focus despite the First Act's built in problems, it is a bit indecisive in tone at times. She gets a fine performance from her lead and less cohesive ones from the rest of the cast, but I suspect that part of the problem is that so many of the minor characters are under-written. A very lovely couple seated beside me pointed out that the sound design was perhaps a little loud, something that they say is a fixture of Kate Alexander productions. A very attractive setting by Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay does not situate the play, it could probably be taking place anywhere at anytime. Costume Designs by Yuri Cataldo are more effective in defining time, place and character. Retired Rabbi Howard Simon is given Special Thanks in the program and knowing the man from my own Temple, his Yiddish a-keit hand prints are all over the production in the best possible way.
The God of Isaac continues Florida Studio Theatre's mission, to present thought provoking plays to stimulate Sarasota audiences. This particular one landed strongly with me, because of my personal interests.
Florida Studio Theatre presents The God of Isaac through August 21, 2016 at the Gompertz Theater 1241 N. Palm Avenue, Sarasota. For tickets and performance information, please call the box office at (941) 366-9000 or visit www.floridastudiotheatre.org.
Cast (in order of appearance):