The central question, “what is a Jew” is bandied about with humor and alacrity in Grippo Stage Company’s revival of “The God of Isaac.”
A Winner For Chicago’s Northshore
Directed by Dennis Zacek, this production plays especially well to a Chicago Northshore audience. Skokie, Illinois is the colorful central character in James Sherman’s classic 1985 play – the place north on Lincoln Avenue where all you see are “bi-level homes and slip-covers.” Sherman is a distinguished veteran of Chicago theater and his insider references elicit much delight for locals. No geographical reference is lost; no Yiddishism is wasted. A pastrami on rye with mustard will not disappoint at the Piven Theater, Noyes Cultural Center during this run from July 14-August 27.
A Sidebar With Mother
In the first minute of the play, Isaac addresses his mother – played by Anita Silvert staying on perfect pitch as the loving, guilt-inducing and ever-betrayed Jewish mother. Their banter belies Isaac’s ambivalence about his heritage. His mother is just Jewish; no questions asked. Isaac wants a full on experience of the MEANING of Jewishness.
Isaac Adams, played by T. Isaac Sherman, is the linchpin of the story. Marrying his glamorous model “shiksa” girlfriend played by the engaging Annabel Steven, his acclimatization to the American melting pot is complete. That is until the Nazis come to march in Skokie in 1977.
To Disillusionment and Back
Isaac’s angst drives his odyssey – to engage his Holocaust survivor tailor in conversation, to reconnect with his grandfatherly rabbi, to conjure images of his now deceased father eating potato chips in front of the television. What do these Jewish men offer from the experience of their escape of the scourge of Hitler’s Germany?
And what of his long lost Jewish American princess high school girlfriend, Chaya, played with charming coyness by Jolie Lepselter. In their correspondence, Chaya becomes a Jewess in crisis, disheartened with her husband’s obsession with wealth and her role as an isolated housewife marooned in a Gentile-infested Libertyville.
Help From American Movie Classics
Isaac’s wife, Shelley falters as she sees Isaac immersing himself in the existential meaning of his ethnicity. Now without his trophy wife, Isaac must rely on his own wits to unravel the mystery of his meaning. He gets a little help from five movie snippets injected with wise and hilarious Yiddishisms. We see Huckleberry Finn, On The Waterfront, The Wizard of Oz, My Fair Lady and Grapes of Wrath – all seen through the eyes of the long-suffering Jew.
Special mention goes to the ever good-hearted Brian Rabinowitz as the lion seeking chutzpah in the Land of Oz and Charles Schoenherr who does a wicked Brando. What is it about being a Jew that infuses movies with the special magic that provides lessons of the heart shared by all?
You don’t have to be Jewish to understand a search for meaning. Grippo Stage Company’s The God Of Isaac is a tale as fresh today as it was in 1985. For Jews of all stripes, Gentiles and shiksas, there is no escaping the charm of this tale and its lesson to find the good in our heritage and all that we will create from it.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Thru August 27, 2017
Fridays at 8 pm
Saturdays at 3 pm and 8 pm
Sundays at 3 pm
Noyes Cultural Art Center, 927 Noyes Street, Evanston 60202
About the Author:
Stephen B. Starr is Principal of Stephen B. Starr Design, Inc., a design and communication consultancy in Evanston, IL. Stephen is a former president of the Chicago Creative Coalition, organizer for the Chicago Weekly Sitting Meditation Group and founder and organizer of the Chicago Web Professionals. Stephen is nurtured creatively by the fine art of story-telling — especially in the theater. As a college journalism major, he has since followed the siren’s call of poetry and short story writing in his free time. He is interested in the wisdom of indigenous spiritual traditions and seeks inspiration in natural settings by gardening, camping, hiking and biking.