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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review

"You know, there are times, if I'm honest about it, I think my husband being killed is the least of my problems."— Beth

Jim Shankman, Kathleen Goldpaugh, and Carol Todd
(Photo: Jill Nagle)
In his opening night greeting, New Jersey Repertory Company's Executive Director Gabor Barabas reminded the audience that the theater which he co-founded with his wife SuzAnne fourteen years ago was presenting its fiftieth world premiere with Jack Canfora's Jericho. Even more significant is that Canfora's sad, funny, and insightful play about loss, remorse, guilt, survival and recovery (yes, all that) is way at the top of the list of fifty. NJ Rep. has previously produced two of Canfora's plays — Place Setting and Poetic License which due to open this February Off Broadway at 59E59.

My enthusiasm for Jericho stems from the clever, pro-active and impassioned way that the play's four main characters seek to address their problems, mainly in dealing with their psychological and emotional blocks and traumas stemming from 9/11. Although it is 2005, Beth (Corey Tazmania) is still having a hard time dealing with the death of her husband Alec, who was unable to escape from one of the burning towers. She is so emotionally distraught and haunted by his memory that she isn't able to physically consummate her several months-long relationship with the very patient and understanding Ethan (Andrew Rein).

Ethan would like to bring Beth to his home in Jericho, Long Island where his widowed mother Rachel (Kathleen Goldpaugh) lives and traditionally anticipates a reunion at Thanksgiving time with her boys Ethan and his brother Josh (Jim Shankman) and his wife Jessica (Carol Todd). Beth feels she isn't ready to be introduced as Ethan's girl friend and is hesitant about joining the family gathering. We begin to understand the extent of her hesitancy as well as a deep-seated guilt in relation to her marriage in scenes with her therapist Dr. Kim (Matthew Stephen Huffman), in reality a 43 year-old Korean woman, but whom she (and we) can only see as Alec.

Taut and engrossing, Jericho mainly revolves around Beth, who, as the central character and the catalyst for the familial dramatics, finds a surprisingly circuitous way to move forward. Beth may be trying, but she has not been successful in letting go of Alec.

The same can not be said for Jessica, who has completely given up on the self-absorbed Josh, and on any hope that their strained relationship/marriage is salvageable. Josh is not only consumed by guilt stemming from the way he survived 9/11, but has channeled his feelings into an increasingly fundamentalist approach to Judaism. Without regard for Jessica's feelings, he has completely reconsidered his mission in life after a trip to Israel where he now plans to move.

At first unawares of the unstableness of Josh and Jessica's marriage or that Beth is not ready to make a commitment to Ethan, Rachel proceeds to play the part of the welcoming Jewish mother. It only takes a few revelations like Beth announcing that she would like to visit Israel, by dropping a curve that adds another dimension to the familial fireworks.

It's difficult, perhaps impossible for a play to have a Jewish mother who doesn't conform to the stereotype. Praise to Canfora who has made Rachel a very sensible and rational character, one with whom Goldpaugh, seems to be completely at home. Tazmania is terrific as the hallucinating, emotionally tentative Beth. Ethan doesn't have the over emotional baggage to carry yet Rein's performance offers a good look at someone caught in the crossfire.

Todd meets the challenge of being both credible in her unhappiness and heart-breaking in her rage. She makes it easy for us to see how the once sturdy walls of her life, like those of Jericho in the Bible story, are crumbling in the wake of Josh's irrational and irresponsible actions. The uncompromising intensity of Shankman's performance, as Josh, is a bit unnerving, but it also serves the play. The metaphoric mountain-of-rubble setting by Jessica Park suggests the aftermath of destruction.

Although Jericho, under the splendid direction of Evan Bergman, is often a very moving and compelling play, it could stand a little judicious pruning throughout, especially at the end with Beth's extended and much too florid aside in a reverie in which she allows Alec to finally say "goodbye. We would know everything we need to know, if she were just allowed to say a final and perfect "Shalom."

By Jack Canfora
Directed by Evan Bergman

Cast: Corey Tazmania (Beth), Matthew Stephen Huffman (Dr. Kim/Alec), Andrew Rein (Ethan), Jim Shankman (Josh), Carol Todd (Jessica), Kathleen Goldpaugh (Rachel).
Scenic Design: Jessica Parks
Lighting Design: Jill Nagle
Costume Design: Patricia E. Doherty
Sound Design: John O'Brien
Running Time: 2 hours including intermission
New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ
(732) 229 - 3166
Tickets ($40; Seniors $36; Students $25
Performances: Thursdays, Fridays 8 PM; Saturdays 3 PM & 8 PM; Sundays 2 PM
From: 10/13/11
Opening 10/15/11
Closing 11/13/11
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 10/15/11
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