by Ron Cohen · October 11, 2013
Indie Artists on New Plays #8: Ron Cohen looks at Jericho now playing at 59e59 Theaters presented by The Directors Company The shadow of 9/11 hangs relentlessly over the characters inhabiting Jack Canfora’s provocative and smartly written comedy drama Jericho. Most particularly, there’s Beth, whose husband died in the second tower in the attack on the World Trade Center. It happened four years ago, and Beth cannot shake the hallucination of her husband who appears repeatedly during her waking hours. Even her female psychiatrist has taken on his appearance. Then, there’s Josh, the brother of Beth’s current boyfriend Ethan. Josh escaped with his life from the second tower, an escape which has turned his life with wife Jessica upside down. He now has fallen back deeply into his religion, Judaism, and longing for a sense of community, plans to move to Israel, a move which Jessica is not prepared to take. When these four people convene at the suburban home (in Jericho, Long Island) of Josh and Ethan’s widowed mother Rachel for Thanksgiving dinner, their collective trauma explodes into high-powered confrontation.
Canfora has created a dramatis personae filled with articulate personalities, insightful and often witty on varied topics. It’s a pleasure to listen to them talk. For example, here’s Beth -- whose father was Palestinian but grew up in the U.S. -- describing her feelings about her ethnic heritage: “My connection to my roots, such as they are, is really as tenuous as…I mean, I like hummus, that’s about the extent of it.” And here’s Ethan complaining about the New York Jets football team: “I don’t know a lot about performance art, but some of the stuff the offensive line’s doing I’m pretty sure is ground breaking.”
Canfora also punctuates some of his scenes with twisty turns of plot that suddenly ratchet up the drama, while also delivering a good share of laugh lines as well. Except for a vaguely poetic resolution, Canfora admirably spells out his characters’ wounds and mental states in very specific terms. And a gifted cast, under the shrewd and sympathetic direction of Evan Bergman, gets deep into these peoples’ skins. As Beth, Eleanor Handley brings unquestionable credibility to the woman’s elegant thought processes and direct communications to the audience. Noel Joseph Allen imbues Josh’s situation with tragic depth, and when Carol Todd’s Jessica explodes with rage over the change in her husband’s persona, it’s overwhelming. There’s also fine work by Jill Eikenberry as the obtuse but good-hearted Rachel, Andrew Rein as Ethan and Kevin Isola as the specter of Beth’s dead husband.
The presence of 9/11 in the script is reflected ominously in the set design of Jessica Parks: two towers of seeming rubble define the rear of the stage, and from these piles the actors pull out furniture pieces to define the play’s various locales. There’s also resonance in the play’s title. In addition to being a Long Island town, Jericho is, of course, the Biblical city where under Joshua’s attack the walls came tumbling down.
It all adds up to skillful and meaningful playwriting, translated into affecting theatre.