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Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

The Quarrel

Also see John's reviews of Distracted and Suds - The Rocking 60's Musical Soap Opera

Chaz Mena and Avi Hoffman
The Gablestage, in association with The Sue & Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies, U.M., presents the Southeastern premiere of the play The Quarrel by David Brandes and Joseph Telushkin.  The Quarrel is based on the Yiddish story My Quarrel with Hersh Rasseyner by Chaim Grade (1910 -1982), considered one of the foremost Yiddish writers of the modern era.  The Quarrel describes the chance meeting of a Holocaust survivor with an old friend from the mussar Yeshiva. The narrator (Chaim Kovler) has lost his faith, while the friend (Hersh Rasseyner) has continued to lead a pious and devoted religious life. The former friends debate the place of religion in the postmodern world.  

Set in the early Fall of 1948, The Quarrel takes place in the Mount Royal Park in Montreal, Canada.  There the random meeting of old friends Hersh Rasseyner (Avi Hoffman) and Chaim Kovler (Chaz Mena) starts a day filled with recollections of their shared past, and discussions of the divergent paths their lives have taken since they last saw each other.  The closeness the two men once shared in their common religious belief system seems gone, and they struggle to find a mutual sense of understanding and respect for one another. Their story does not focus on the sadness of their Holocaust experiences, but how the essence of their religious beliefs instill them to process these experiences in their new lives.  Hersh embraces his faith with strength and conviction, while Chaim has put his own faith aside.  The script avoids the two men arguing about the technicalities of their different religious beliefs, and leans toward them arguing about their friendship instead.  As many relationships are damaged over differences in religious, political and lifestyle choices, the appeal of this story is universal.

In the role of Hersh Rasseyner, Avi Hoffman is heartful and true.  There is a kindness to his portrayal that allows his convictions to pour forth without the declarations sounding judgmental or harsh.  His character's connection to his faith is so strong that it feels that many moments are also personal truths for the actor.  As Chaim Kovler, Chaz Mena matches Hoffman's ardent portrayal with one that is smooth and emotionally detached (save for one brief moment) from the subject of religion.  This works well, as again the focus remains on the friendship, and one can sense his character's detachment is a defense mechanism. The dialogue between the two actors shows excellent pacing and timing, and avoids milking the audience for response.  The role of Joshua, played by Mark Della Ventura, stops rather than furthers the action in his brief appearance on stage.  Ventura is clearly out of his league with two such seasoned actors, and looked petrified on stage at the performance I attended.  This production of The Quarrel is well acted by Hoffman and Mena, and very cleanly directed by Joseph Adler.

Chaim Grade was born in what is now Vilius, Lithuania.  He received a secular as well as Jewish religious education, studying for several years with one of Judaism's great Torah scholars, Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz, the Chazon Ish. In 1932, Grade began publishing stories and poems in Yiddish, and in the early 1930s was among the founding members of the "Young Vilna" experimental group of artists and writers. During WWII, Grade fled to the Soviet Union and lived briefly in Poland and France before relocating to the United States in 1948.  Grade's postwar poetry is primarily concerned with Jewish survival in the wake of the Holocaust.  Among his novels, novellas, short stories and poetry are The Sacred and the Profane, The Agunah, The Yeshiva and Churbn.

The Quarrel will be appearing at The GableStage through May 23, 2010. The GableStage is located in the eastern section of the Biltmore Hotel, at 1200 Anastasia Avenue, in Coral Gables, Florida. Valet parking is available, or free parking is available in the Biltmore parking area west of the hotel. Performances are 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are normally  $42.50 Friday-Saturday and Sunday matinee, $37.50. For tickets and information you may reach them at 305-445-1119 or on line at   The GableStage, formerly known as the Florida Shakespeare Theatre, is a professional theatre presenting classic and contemporary theatre year round. They are members of the Theatre League of South Florida, the Florida Cultural Alliance, the Theatre Communications Group, and the Dade Cultural Alliance. The GableStage hires local a nd non-local Equity and non-union actors and actresses, and is involved with the educational community in promoting educational theatre programs.  

Hersh Rasseyner: Avi Hoffman*
Chaim Kovler: Chaz Mena*
Joshua: Mark Della Ventura

Director: Joseph Adler
Scenic Design: Lyle Baskin
Lighting Design: Jeff Quinn
Sound Design: Matt Corey
Stage Manager: Kristen Pieski*  

*Indicates a member of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States.

Photo: George Schiavone

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-- John Lariviere

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