There’s an inherent danger in theater that instructs. There is a fine line between entertainment and education and a satisfying combination of both is not easily come by.
A Modest Suggestion is well written by Ken Kaissar and unquestionably imparts some very valid concepts, among them the appalling illogic of man’s logic and the ensuing disastrous consequences of that lack of logic. However, the intent to inform is so fervent that it often overpowers our emotional involvement with the plot and characters.
The set (Jared Rutherford) is a table with four executive looking chairs and a white board with, initially, the word “illuminate” written upon it. Though minimal, it serves the production well.
The actors do an excellent job of fleshing out their characters, sometimes beyond what is written for them. We recognize the pedantic leader of the group, the know-it-all, the peacemaker and the fellow who is smart but bumbling.
The group of four (identified as simply A, B. C and D), Jeff Auer, Jonathan Marballi, Russell Jordan and Bob Greenberg, who initially enter are obviously in charge of resolving a great many important and not so important issues. We never really know who they are or why they are in this position. Questions on their agenda range from whether or not airports should be allowed to look at passengers’ private parts, to if pizza should be banned in public schools. And finally, the issue around which the entire production concerns, “Should we or should we not kill the Jews?”
There’s lengthy discussion as to the pros and cons of this action, including the fact that Jews make really good movies. And, as one character proffers “I’m allergic to bees, but I don’t want to get rid of them.
The bottom line seems to be if killing a real Jew will make them all feel good. So they decide to find out. And the search is on for “A Jew.” Not, as it turns out, as simple as it may at first appear.
The two unlucky victims brought in for questioning in an effort to find a “real Jew,” Ethan Hova as Adam Miller and Robert W. Smith as A Good Guess, are not only skilled actors but are blessed with the majority of funny lines, with Smith delivering “I love my King more than my bacon.”
The interrogation includes questions regarding money, being stingy, observing the holy days, candles, and even lox, sturgeon and bagels. As the four agree, the entire process is a matter of trial and error and educated guesses.
It is the final act, when at last the four inquisitors have found what they consider to be a “real Jew,” that really holds our interest and it is the character A Good Guess that we end up caring the most about, a great deal of which can be attributed to the delightful acting of Robert W. Smith.
In the end all seems to be resolved as it is determined that Jews are “no different from anyone else.” It appears that there is a happy ending with the entire group toasting “L’chaim,” But all may not be as it appears. You’ll have to see for yourself.
Despite the fact that there is so much good writing and good acting involved in this production, it comes down to…do we need or want an education in Judaism? There’s a recurring line of “look at the history.” The challenge here seems to be the balance between history and entertainment.
Photos by Allison Taylor
A Modest Suggestion
Produced by Apple Core Theater Company
Directed by Walter J. Hoffman
The Studio Theatre at Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
Performances through May 27: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m.