by Jona Tarlin · August 17, 2014
I’m an Atheist with a touch of Sunday school. I never had a Bar Mitzvah, though I am of the ilk. I explain this to say maybe I’m missing something in Moses, The Author, a new show that opened August 10th as part of the New York International Fringe Festival. The show concerns the biblical figure of Moses (Mitch Tebo, excellent) as an everyday man struggling through a bout of writer’s block while trying to finish the Old Testament. The stakes get raised (if one can raise the stakes on writing the Bible) when God speaks to him and instead of dictating an ending tells him that the next day will be his last.
He'd better write fast if he’s going to make it in time, but his every effort is thwarted by the hustle and bustle of his family. His mother (Janine Hegarty, better than this part), a stereotypical Jewish mother, is distressed about many things, but mainly that her son will pass before her. His wife (Judy Rosenblatt), based on how little she is mentioned in his writings, fears he no longer loves her. His gay son (Hazen Cuyler), thankfully not played to stereotype, just wants his dad to finally pay attention to him. The only person working to make sure he finishes on time is Thusie (Ramzi Khalaf), the great-grandson of Methuselah and our narrator.
The relationship between Thusie and Moses is the heart of the show, and made me long for a two-hander version of this play. Instead the writer, Andrew R. Heinze, chose to mask the central conflict between Moses and God, with all this noise about his family. In the way that we are not invested in them in the Bible (by the play’s own admission) we are not invested in them here. Perhaps it was the jarring casting of Moses’ mother as much younger than both him and his wife. Or the fact that Cuyler appeared to speak his lines without knowing what he was saying or listening to the other person. Or maybe it is that Heinze’s choice to contemporize the social attitudes of Moses in order to soften the harsher aspects of the Bible also serves to create a character with no real flaws and reduces the familial conflicts in the work.
This Moses does not hate homosexuality (and by extension his son) he was simply hurt because he was not let into the Promised Land. His relationship with his wife is given a similar polish. Instead of a historically accurate, flawed but humanized man, we are presented with perfect Moses, whose old fashioned beliefs are wiped away. I never believed that Moses was in danger of losing his son, his wife, or dying too soon.
That said, I don’t think this show was for me. There were many laughs, from Bible nerds and newbies, and in that sense I feel like it accomplished what it set out to do. Only as something more than that did the piece fall flat.