In the partially destroyed chapel of the only remaining synagogue in Kabul, Afghanistan, the last two Jews left in the country, Ishaq and Zeblyan, agree on two things: They love their faith, and they hate each other. Their relationship is like that of a middle-eastern odd couple. Ishaq is stubborn and stern, while a more gregarious Zeblyan is ever questioning of the world around him. Despite the animosity between them, they unite in pondering how to keep Judaism alive in Afghanistan. Ishaq suggests he could find a woman willing to convert, marry him and have children. To do this they would need a Rabbi, however, and to have a Rabbi they reason they must have a Torah. As there are no Torahs to be found, they decide that they must write one of their own. Zeblyan transcribes as Ishaq (a confessed Torah geek) recites the text from memory flawlessly, including punctuation. Though Ishaq's original plan of finding a woman to marry is long cast aside, the urge to write down the words that are the basis of their faith becomes a spiritual declaration of independence. The two men are left with little in common but their faith, though they have differing views on that as well as everything else. Their differences provide tension and humor. Zeblyan mischievously wonders why the Torah says, "man shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination," and yet there are no laws that women can not lie with women. Does God favor lesbianism? He also points out that the Torah admonishes men casting their seed upon the ground (masturbating), but has no similar warning for females. We wonders if the Torah is saying it is acceptable for females to masturbate and not men, and if it is possible that his own occasional lapses on this subject have contributed to God's punishment and the suffering at hand. However humorously the examination of the technicalities of the Torah is handled, it is also treated with the respect deserved of the situation at hand. While primarily a humorous character study, Rozin gives us something to think about as well.
The technical aspects of the set for this production are strong and include falling bricks and beams, and gunfire that actually comes through the walls in puffs of smoke and stone. Gordon McConnell has so admirably transformed himself in the role of Ishaq that his face and voice are unrecognizable. His accent and portrayal of someone substantially older than himself is very convincing. For the first ten minutes of the show it almost seems as though actor Avi Hoffman is barely containing his trademark, boyish "I've got a secret" smile, but perhaps it is just that we expect someone known for comedy to always be funny. Seeing two such experienced actors work with each on stage with such comfortability and skill is a treat. Hoffman is an able comedic foil to McConnell's straight man. While the character of Ishaq is the anchor, it is Zeblyan who undergoes the most conflict and growth, and feels more dimensional. It is the juxtaposition of comedy with tragedy that makes for memorable theatrical moments, and Hoffman and Rozin most certainly create that moment beautifully at the end of the play.
Two Jews Walk Into a War ... will be appearing at the Florida Stage through November 29, 2009. The theater is located in Plaza del Mar, at 262 S. Ocean Blvd. in Manalapan. Florida Stage is a professional theater, with extensive programs for young artists, hiring Equity and non-Equity performers from across the United States. Florida Stage is a member of the Theatre Communications Group, the League of Resident Theatres, the Florida Professional Theatre Association, the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, and the National New Play Network. They are funded in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the county of Palm Beach Tourist Develop.m.ent Fund and the Florida Arts Council, with generous support from The Shubert Foundation, The Heckscher Foundation for Children, The Duane & Dalia Stiller Charitable Trust, Gulf Stream Lumber, Northern Trust Bank of Florida N.A., Fidelity Federal Bank & Trust, and hundreds of individuals and corporations. The Florida Stage remains the only professional theatre in Southeast Florida producing exclusively new and emerging works. Performance days/times are normally Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m.; Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoon at 2:00 p.m.; and Sundays at 7:00 p.m.. Tickets and other information may be obtained by calling the box office at (561) 585-3433 or (800) 514-3833, or contacting them online at www.floridastage.org.
* Designates member of Actors' Equity Association: the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
**Designates member of Stage Directors and Choreographers Society
*** Designates member of United Scenic Artists