“What the Jews Believe” is a heartfelt, coming-of-age memory play told by the 12 year old Nathan (Logan Weibrecht), as he prepares for his bar mitzvah as an only child in the only Jewish household in a small town in central Texas in the 1950s. It’s based on the real-life upbringing of playwright Mark Harelik, who also directs, and is a sequel of sorts to his earlier play “The Immigrant” about his Jewish Russian grandfather.
Mr. Harelik creates several story lines. Nathan’s father Dave (Benim Foster) is a non-practicing, secular Jew; he resisted being bas mitvahed but he insists Nathan is for “continuity’. Besides the religious angle, the dominate plot line that emerges is the late-stage cancer of Nathan’s mother Rachel (Emily Donahue). A counseling session with a visiting rabbi (Robert Zukerman) goes badly. Rachel’s’ aunt, Sarah (Cynthia Mace), who’s been taking care of Nathan, intervenes. Her spiritual counseling is fundamentalist Christian Science. Mr. Harelick packs a lot of cross-cultural conflict into two-acts.
Fortunately, playwright/ director Harelik - also an accomplished actor (Broadway credits include “The Normal Heart” and “Light in the Piazza”) - has cast his play perfectly and gets the best from every performer. Ms. Mace’s performance, however, is the outstanding; she has impeccable timing and creates a perfect character study of zeal tempered with both genteel demeanor and steely purpose. And the young Mr. Weilbrecht, recruited from the local Lenox high school, has a stage presence that matches all the other seasoned performers. We should be seeing more of him on Berkshire stages.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!