Modern Orthodox is a contemporary romantic comedy about dating, marriage and friendship, set in New York City. The play revolves around a modern couple - she's an obstetrician and he's a financial analyst - who become involved with an Orthodox diamond dealer. It is touted as "the Jewish Sex In The City". Upon the reported death of his betrothed, our modern couple finds themselves granted emotional custody of the distraught diamond dealer. Determined to both help him, and return their own life to order, they embark on a computer dating journey on his behalf to attempt to find an appropriate mate. And this is no easy task!
The Jewish culture is rich with tradition and history, persecution and survival, humor and religion, family and food - an undeniable well of resources from which storytellers to draw creative inspiration. The goal of the storyteller should be to enrich, inform and include. While the story of Modern Orthodox is good, it contains a nearly tiring amount of Yiddish and Hebrew words and phrases. Though I know more Yiddish than any of my friends that are my age, I had to work at getting only 85% of the words used. As Southeast Florida is said to have the second highest concentration of Jewish people in the US after the greater New York City area, the show should do well locally. However, it is artistically insensitive and financially naive of the author to believe that audiences will flock to see a show at which those who are non-Jewish are intentionally excluded from joining in on the humor. I myself was offended by a "joke" in the first act. Ben, the financial analyst, mutters "Jesus Christ!" in reference to something, and the Orthodox Hershel responds "Who?!" My reason for offense is not only the un PC nature of that joke, but that it seemed that the author wanted to not include everyone. People attend theater seeking inclusion, insight, and entertainment. If you invite someone to a party and persist in telling inside jokes to which they are not privy, it is not likely they will enjoy themselves much or return again.
The Caldwell Theatre Company's production of Modern Orthodox features good actors portraying enjoyable characters. Strikingly handsome Benim Foster as financial analyst Ben Jacobson convincingly conveys loving looks at his girlfriend Hannah. And Rachel Jones possess a lovely glowing quality on stage as Hannah Ziggelstein. Hershel Klein is well played overall by Jason Schuchman. His character is deceptively more complex than the pat version of the lovable schmuck. It would have been more solid if Director Michael Hall had not indulged him some moments of buffoonish physical comedy reminiscent of a young Jerry Lewis. Spotty direction again by Hall is present in the character of Rachel Feinberger, who is Herschel's computer match. She is presented as a voluptuous, sexually preoccupied vamp who is a virgin and a Betty Boopish air-head with a Masters Degree from Columbia. Though Margery Lowe as Rachel is pretty funny, the characterization makes no real sense even to her last line delivery.
Scenic design by Tim Bennet is a misfire. Placed in NYC in the present, the set looks like it is out of the '70s with no mention of retro, a bright, color block pattern like the side of the Partridge Family tour bus. The set is visually pleasing, but does not match the time period or personality of the story and its characters. The use of plastic and line makes an unwelcoming space for the home of two affluent young people.
Modern Orthodox plays at the Caldwell Theatre through July 31, 2005. For tickets to this and other shows, you may contact the Caldwell at 561-241-7432 or on line at: www.caldwelltheatre.com. The Caldwell Theatre Company is a professional theatre company belonging to the League of Resident Theaters, hiring local and non-local Equity and non-Equity actors. They are located at 7873 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton, FL 33487-1640 in the Levitz Plaza. Look for the theatres' proposed relocation to their new space in the fall of 2006.
*Designates members of Actor's Equity Association.