Thursday, October 10, 2013

Jericho is Fantastic

Jericho is a smart, funny and moving new play by Jack Canfora; go see it immediately.  The show deploys a number of well worn tricks – one character breaking the fourth wall, a stage littered with detritus that used to create scenes and then placed back in the pile – and combines these with completely new tricks and an intelligent script to deliver a fully satisfying evening.

L-R: Jill Eikenberry, Carol Todd, Andrew Rein, Kevin Isola, Eleanor Handley, and Noel Joseph Allain in JERICHO by Jack Canfora, directed by Evan Bergman and produced by The Directors Company, at 59E59 Theaters
It is the story of Jessica, an emotionally scarred survivor who's husband died in the 9/11 attacks.  She has become accustomed to using her wit as her defense mechanism; Jessica is literate, funny and well aware of her own problems.  She has begun dating a man, Ethan, who is ready to become more involved with her.  Eventually after a scene that plays with touching hesitancy, she agrees to accompany Ethan to his family’s Thanksgiving in Jericho, Long Island.

Kevin Isola and Eleanor Handley in JERICHO
But Ethan’s family is well saddled with their own complications.  His brother Josh and sister-in-law Beth are in the middle of   Josh is becoming more religious after 9/11 and doesn’t really know how to share his newfound commitment with his more secular family.  Their mother Rachel (in a beautiful turn by Jill Eikenberry) is a widow with an empty house and a plan.  Everything comes together during the Thanksgiving visit and then shoots apart with the strength of an explosion.
a marriage breakdown.

Family, especially family at holidays, can be an easy joke.  Jericho pulls the payoff part off, but never goes for the easy out.  These characters confront the same demons, but perceive them in different ways.  Even the expected twists and turns don’t show up quite as expected.

The cast is perfect.  Eleanor Handley brings Jessica to life as funny, charming, self-confident and one step away from a mental breakdown.  It’s been four years, but she still talks with her dead husband.  And he talks back.  In this case, the “he” is played by Kevin Isola, who is a charming phantom - idealized into hunkiness.  Aware he is a manifestation of Jessica’s mind, Mr. Isola still manages to be exceptionally real as Jessica's conscience.  In the hands of lesser actors, this balance could turn to melodrama or farce.  In Jericho is does neither, the relationship helps us to define Jessica and we understand how it gives her a safety valve.
Noel Joseph Allain and Carol Todd in JERICHO

Noel Joseph Allain plays Josh, a character that is both opaque and annoying.  He can’t hide his contempt from the two people that know him best, his wife and brother.  But he still loves them and wants them to understand.  Mr. Allain’s Josh is simultaneously frustrating and frustrated, but never ventures into caricature.  Jopsh is well balanced by Carol Todd as Beth, his wife.  Beth doesn’t get to be funny or glib (although she is), she is trying to understand why her marriage is dying and what happened to the man she loved.

Andrew Rein does a neat trick playing Ethan, the man that pulls all this together, but is surprised when it blows up.  Ethan is just a guy trying to make it through dinner with his new girlfriend and maybe take the relationship a littler further.  He is unprepared for the fireworks, but in true oldest son fashion tries to smooth everything over.

Beautifully directed by Evan Bergman, Jericho moves at a nice pace - never too fast, never slow.  The decade plus that has passed, it has removed the immediacy of 9/11.  And Jericho doesn’t use the tragedy as a cheap plot device.  Yet neither is does it shy away from what happened.  It even addresses the sad looks and quiet awkwardness that the subject brings up.  This isn’t a show about 9/11, or survivor guilt, or Jewish mother jokes – although all are addressed.  It is a show about people, trying to connect, trying to move on and trying to make sense of life, with all its craziness.

Jericho
Playwright: Jack Canfora
Director: Evan Bergman
Cast: Noel Joseph Allain, Jill Eikenberry, Eleanor Handley, Kevin Isola, Andrew Rein, Carol Todd

No comments: