He was such a good man.
Why did this have to happen?
Why did he have to die?
These are the questions that JESUS THE JEW asks its audience as we dive into William Spatz’s play at the Greenhouse Theater.
Finding Reason Through Religion
JESUS THE JEW is about one man contemplating the death of his brother. Steven Stafford stars as Jeremy wondering why his brother, John, met his end the way he did. The beginning of the show starts with a despondent Jeremy in his study staring blankly across the room. He feels guilty his brother was willing to risk his life with Doctors without Borders in Syria while he stayed at home.
Snippets of conversations play overhead to establish the backstory - a news report telling us about the conflict in Syria, the death of Dr. John Miller, a call from Amnesty International, and finally Jeremy’s beginning of a college lecture on Jesus’ brother, James.
Here is where Jeremy turns into James. He begins by addressing his “congregation” - us the audience members. He’s faced with a life or death decision, should he die because of his belief in Jesus as the Messiah or live by denouncing his faith? He then proceeds to recount his life with his older brother, Jesus. It seems Jeremy is searching for parallels between his life with his brother and James’ with Jesus.
More like A History Lesson in Jewish Tradition
Where JESUS THE JEW falls flat is the barely there parallels between Jeremy’s life and James’. It’s more like a history lesson because the focus is on unknown facts about Jesus’ life. The set designed by Milo Bue intends to blur past and present. Artifacts around Jeremy’s office also serve as props when James needs them to demonstrate a Jewish tradition. This brings the two stories closer together.
We’re taken through Jesus and James’ childhood, teenage years, and adulthood. It seems like Spatz is trying to make Jeremy make sense of his own guilt by comparing his life to James’. But there are rare moments where we see Jeremy or have Jeremy connect any moments in James’ life with moments from his own.
There was only one real moment of direct connection when both these characters asked why their brother had to die. But otherwise it's just a man onstage telling us about Jesus's life.
Turning to Faith in Times of Crisis
This show is an example of how someone can turn to their faith in times of crisis. Eventually, Jeremy finds that he should be more like his brother as James did with Jesus. Upon leaving the theater, an audience member remarked they liked the show, personally I felt it was too dry. There wasn’t much connection between the two relationships, but if you’re looking to see a show that explores Jewish tradition and find out some unknown facts about Jesus’ life, this show is for you.
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.
Now through March 26th
Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 7:30 pm
Saturdays at 2:30 pm & 7:30 pm
Sundays at 2:30 pm
The Greenhouse Theater
2257 N. Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60614