Also see Kevin's review of Hello, Dolly!
Currently in its 18th season, Florida Stage touts that it is the Southeast's only professional theatre producing exclusively new and developing works. Last year their artistic diligence was rewarded with an impressive eleven Carbonell Award Nominations. In undertaking the production of so many new works, there is always an element of chance. Inevitably, some of these shine like diamonds, while others gleam not so brightly. Alas, their latest show, Miklat, is of the latter type.
Miklat opened on January 6, 2002 at Theater J in Washington D.C. Set in Jerusalem in 1991, Miklat takes place in the midst of the Persian Gulf War, a time when the people of Israel lived with air raid sirens and the threat of Scud missile attacks from Saddam Hussein. Residents were given gas masks and instructions on seeking protection in a miklat. The term miklat in Hebrew means a shelter or refuge. The play's author, Joshua Ford, actually spent a year living on a kibbutz outside of Tel Aviv just after the Gulf War. His story is based in part on his experiences there. However, Miklat is not really a story of war, but of family relationships.
Judy and Howard Kleinman - both liberal, secular Jews - travel to Jerusalem to visit their son Marc, who is studying for a semester abroad. They discover Marc has become an ultra-Orthodox Hassid named Moishe who has decided to leave his graduate school studies to remain in Israel to study the Torah. He also announces that he is to be wed the very next day in a marriage arranged by his yeshiva rabbi. His parents struggle with him and each other to understand their son's choice of this new life, while he grapples with them and himself to assert the veracity of his choices. The family turmoil amidst the turmoil of the Gulf War leaves them all at sixes and sevens. In the end, we see that miklat (shelter) can be found in faith: faith for Marc in the word of the Torah, faith in their son for Howard and Judy, and faith in the love that forever binds families together for them all.
In this production, Dustin Sullivan, as Marc, has his hands full with lengthy, impassioned speeches. He delivers them with fervor and believability. He plays Marc not as a rebellious, latent adolescent, but as a young man inspired by change. His mother and father are played by Laura Turnbull and Mike Burstyn, both seasoned performers producing plausible characters. Together, they have just enough humor to be real rather than out of a sitcom. Ben Rauch (Marc's friend, Eric) and Lauren Feldman (Marc's fiancee, Sarah) both have a quirky kind of interest. However, someone neglected to tell Miss Feldman that a Canadian accent is more than just standard English with "ay" at the end of a sentence. Her accent delivery became an unintended source of comedy.
The lighting and sound design are both well done in this piece. The public radio announcements, broadcast throughout the show, add a nice touch that brings us back from the family's issues to the political one. The lighting is especial effective during the dream sequence. Unfortunately, the set is quite disappointing both in design and execution. The size of this theater dictates more attention to detail if realism is to be achieved. And, in some of the oddest staging I have ever seen, an actor delivers entire paragraphs of dialogue with his back squarely to the entire audience.
The play falls short of its mark in several ways. First is the issue of the Gulf War. As none of the characters are inspired to change, or be affected by this war, it becomes a ploy without a purpose. The author introduces mini-themes without tying them up or explaining them, these such as Judy's feelings of a life repressed and Howard's issues of spirituality, whic are too important to open up and then walk away from. The Song of Songs is used in a dream sequence, and yet is never explored in the script for its abundant imagery, so it just seems random. And the meaning of the ending exchange between father and son was not understood by the audience until it was explained in the talk back after the show. If you have to have an actor (however eloquently) explain the author meant after the show, it's time to do some rewrites.
Miklat plays at the Florida Stage through November 28th. The theater is located in Plaza del Mar, at 262 S. Ocean Blvd. in Manalapan. The Florida Stage is a professional theater, with extensive programs for young artists, hiring Equity and Non-Equity performers from across the United States. Tickets and other information may be obtained by calling the box office at (561) 585-3433 or (800) 514-3837, or on line at www.floridastage.org.
*Denotes member of Actor's Equity Association
-- Kevin Johnson