by Lynn on November 28, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Greewin Theatre, Toronto Centre for the Arts, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Mark Leiren-Young

Directed by Avery Saltzman

Set by Brandon Kleiman

Lighting by Siobhán Sleath

Costumres by Alex Amini

Sound by Emily Porter

Cast: Hannah Miller

Ralph Small

A funny, prickly play that will get you thinking about faith and belief; the production does the play proud.

The Story. Joey needs to have a bar mitzvah fast. Never mind that he’s a successful divorce lawyer, is over 60 years old, has a family and his grandson is about to have his bar mitzvah, Joey needs to have his bar mitzvah before his grandson.

He comes to Michael the rabbi of the synagogue for instruction. She tries to pass him over to another rabbi. You read that right, the rabbi is a “she” named Michael. Do you have a problem with that? Good, let’s continue.

Joey did study for his bar mitzvah when he was a kid but things didn’t work out. He now needs this to happen because he has let on that he in fact had his bar mitzvah and he doesn’t want to lie to his grandson. Along the way there are discussions about faith, belief, hope and what it means to be Jewish. Most important are the questions of why bad things happen to good people and how one can keep ones faith under such difficult circumstances

The Production. Set designer, Brandon Kleiman has designed a simple but impressive set of the rabbi’s office. There is a wood desk with two chairs set on a raised platform with two coat trees on either side of the office. Behind the desk is a floor to ceiling wall of books. Doesn’t that say everything about the rabbi, the world of scholarship, the history of Judaism? A wall of books. Loved that.

Playwright Mark Leiren-Young starts his play (and director Avery Saltzman’s lovely production) with a joke of mistaken identity. An older man (in his 60s) who looks prosperous and important enters the office. A younger woman in jogging gear runs around the raised platform and then runs into the office as well. We think the man is the rabbi and the woman has come to ask him something.

In fact the woman is the rabbi (Hannah Miller) and the man is Joey (Ralph Small) who has come to ask for a quickie course to get him ready to have his bar mitzvah before his grandson.

Avery Saltzman had directed Bar Mitzvah Boy with intelligence and terrific economy. There are several costume changes that also suggest scene changes. The rabbi and Joey are constantly putting on and taking off jackets, sweaters, coats or other clothing when they come into the office,  indicating a new scene is taking place. Often the rabbi does a complete change of clothing and so does that off stage.

Mark Leiren-Young has written dialogue that is fast, very funny, full of one-liners and quick repartee from two characters who make a living being quick witted.  Humour is the thing that makes life easier and bearable in the case of the rabbi and Joey.

There is a lovely chemistry between Ralph Small as Joey and Hannah Miller as the rabbi. They riff off each other. They listen intently and the reactions are natural, easy and true. Ralph Small brings out Joey’s irascible edge, his impatience and his need for things to happen fast. Joey hasn’t been to the synagogue in decades. Gradually Joey sees the need to go to synagogue because of his instruction for the rabbi. For her part Hannah Miller realizes the rabbi’s feisty nature, her quiet, quick ability to stare down and disarm a pushy, demanding man like Joey. Joey builds his faith and conviction as the rabbi is loosing her faith and conviction about God and the world. Together they have a meeting of the minds and are able to lead the other forward.

Comment.  Bar Mitzvah Boy is a sweet play with a lot of prickly bits. It addresses issues about faith and religion we all have had and it does it with humour, smart dialogue and two lovely performances. You should see it.

The Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company present:

Opened: Nov. 22, 2018.

Closes: Dec. 2, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours approx.

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