Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: New Jersey

Two Jews ... Waiting for Ha-Shem at NJ Rep

Also see Bob's review of The Color Purple

Reathel Bean and
John Pietrowski

A pair of contentious, aging Jewish men, the last two Jews in Kabul, spend most of the seventeen scenes of Two Jews Walk Into a War ... handwriting a Torah in the hope that it will attract a rabbi to come to their city and revive the Jewish community there.  Sounds crazy, no!  Well, it is even crazier than that.  Ishaq and Zeblyan want the Rabbi to formally convert a willing Muslim girl to Judaism so that she can marry Ishaq and bear him a Jewish child as the first step in reviving the Jewish community.  Implicitly, Ishaq and Zeblyan are waiting for a miracle, one akin to the coming of the Messiah, and their hopeless efforts are at most a fulfillment of their desire to see themselves as being useful.  Author Seth Rozin describes his play as a vaudeville.  We can certainly grant him that.  It is, largely, in the form of a series of short comedy sketches, each with an amusing punch line.  It also offers the absurdism, bleak landscape and tantalizing low comedy of Samuel Beckett.  In fact, Two Jews Walk Into a War ... so strongly strikes me as a Jewish variation on Beckett's masterpiece Waiting for Godot that I have taken to think of it as Waiting for Ha-Shem (Note: Ha-Shem (The Name) is used in place of G-d's name when it is used other than in ritual prayer as it is in this play.).

There are very large and complex issues which animate the play, and they are neither easy nor comforting.  The most prominent ones concern the history of the Jews as a wandering, nomadic people.  Why is it that having established, thriving, robust communities in many nations, Jews have only been able to sojourn in them before persecution has forced them to flee and disappear from their midsts?  Why did Ha-Shem permit the annihilation of so many millions in the Holocaust?  Although it is specifically acknowledged within the play that there are places on earth where life is good for the Jews, the issues at hand do tend to raise the question as to whether Jewish communities of significant size will continue to survive in the Diaspora.

The rhythm of the dialogue and humor is more Yiddish and Western than it is Sephardic and Middle Eastern.  Within that context, Reathel Bean (Ishaq) and John Pietrowski (Zeblyan) under the sure-handed direction of James Glossman make a most amusing pair of vaudevillians.  Ishaq, an accountant, is the more intellectual as well as the more foolish of the duo.  Although Kabul's last Torah has been destroyed by the Taliban, Ishaq has memorized the Torah and he recites it while Zeblyan inexplicably is the one who writes down the words.  Neither one is observant, but both, however foolishly, are determined to secure the survival of their Jewish community.  Although their family members are deceased, or have found greener pastures, both men stubbornly remain.  Reathel Bean's Ishaq is the flustered, pompous, not really smarter straight man who is the foil for the not so foolish iconoclasm of Zeblyan.  John Pietrowski's Zeblyan sustains a twinkle in his eye and, with outraging humor, questions all of Ishaq's efforts as well as his own.  Crucially, author Rozin, director Glossman, and their two actors never fail to make it clear that beneath their surface differences, Ishaq and Zeblyan are soul brothers who deeply care about one another.

The setting is the gutted, partially destroyed sanctuary of the last remaining synagogue in Kabul.  It has been designed in full-fledged and convincing distress by Drew Francis.  The vivid, eye-pleasing and authentic appearing costumes are the work of Patricia E. Doherty.

Although Jewish-American comedians and comedy teams did bring this style of humor into the American mainstream, it should be noted that the style of humor and subject matter is of particular interest to Jewish audiences. Two Jews Walk Into a War ... offers much to think about along with its vaudevillian humor.

Two Jews Walk Into a War is a co-production Of New Jersey Rep and Playwrights' Theatre of New Jersey (Madison) where it will begin performances on January 21.  It is a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere which makes it one of three different productions which Two Jews will receive this year.  The initial production was presented by Florida Stage in Manalapan, Florida.  The third production will be mounted at Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota, Florida.

Two Jews Walk Into a War ... continues performances (Eves: Thurs., Fri., Sat. 8 pm/ / Sat. 3 pm; Select Sun. 7 pm —No performance 12/24, 12/25, 1/1) through January 10, 2010 at the New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ 07740. Box Office: 732-229-3166; online:

Two Jews Walk Into a War ... by Seth Rozin; directed by James Glossman

Ishaq…………………….Reathel Bean
Zebylan………………John Pietrowski

Photo: SuzAnne Barabas

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- Bob Rendell

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