“Three things have the flavor of the world to come: Sabbath, the sun, and love.” *
In an age when the world is divided – by the color of one’s skin/ethnicity, sex, politics, and religion – playwright Cary Gitter addresses the latter with the story of a burgeoning relationship against the odds. For 80 minutes at least, people rooted in opposite traditions listen to one another, holding perception of values and character above history.
The Jewish notion of preordained soulmates is called Bashert (or beshert), meaning “destiny.” Whether you find this one-act Hallmark or O. Henry likely depends on your romantic threshold. The play is sweet without being cloying and well constructed. That next generations may approach things with more openness may be naïve, but it’s also hopeful.
The Sabbath Girl, or “Sabbath Goy,” references someone not of the religion who helps an Orthodox Jewish person perform certain tasks (melakha) which religious law (halakha) prohibits him/her from doing on the Sabbath, a day of rest.
When Seth (Jeremy Rishe) knocks on neighbor Angie’s door (Lauren Annunziata), he expects to find the previous tenant who acted for him in this capacity. It’s incredibly hot and the young man is not allowed to turn on an air conditioner (appliances). Finding an attractive, willing peer is a welcome surprise. “This is like a one time thing, right?” Angie says, friendly, but somewhat wary.
She and Seth are both lonely. At 30, Angie (an Italian) is ambitious, self sufficient, and thinks most New York men are jerks, in no rush. Her nonna –grandmother (Angelina Fiordellisi) – who comes and goes throughout the piece, is a true (Roseland) romantic and wants Angie to find the kind of long term partnership she was lucky enough to share.
At 32, Seth comes from a Riverdale community eager to match him up with a woman from the Temple. Having been passively paired with his now ex-wife, he’s determined not to let “them” determine a future spouse. This goes against everything his sister, Rachel (Lauren Singerman), believes. The siblings run a knish business on the Lower East Side.
Angie meets and professionally courts egotistical, flavor-of-the-month artist, Blake (Ty Molbak) in her capacity as curator for a modern art gallery, Ty has other things in mind. That the character is both device (the painter acts as contrast to Seth) and cliché are less plot failings than that Angie turns him around with a few sentences.
The Sabbath Girl unfolds gently. Conversation is well written. Simplification is not a sin. It will be interesting to see how this writer develops.
The well cast company boasts particularly natural, sympathetic star-crossed lovers.
Joe Brancato directs with a light hand. Physical contact is deft, well handled. Pacing is comfortable.
Christopher and Justin Swader’s (set) cubes and paneled video screens feel like old hat. Yana Birykova’s projections are fine (trendy), but for one that looks like ersatz psychedelics.
*The real quote is “married love”
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Lauren Annunziata (Angie), Jeremy Rishe (Seth)
Penguin Rep Theatre presents
The Sabbath Girl by Cary Gitter
Directed by Joe Brancato
Through March 8, 2020