Writers: Amy Rosenthal, Alexis Zegerman and Ryan Craig
Director: Kayla Feldman
Birth, marriage, death: key milestones of life and the focus of An Arc: A Trilogy of New Jewish Plays. In the intimate studio of Soho Theatre, The Arc promises and delivers on three distinct pieces of new Jewish writing that are touching and laced with humour, perfect for Jewish and non-Jewish audiences alike.
In the first play Birth by Amy Rosenthal, Michael and Lynda (Nigel Planer and Caroline Gruber) are having a quiet Sunday afternoon after a busy morning of celebration. That is until Naomi (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) knocks on the door. Naomi has met Michael before, 50 years ago, on the day of her birth, and she’s arrived at the couple’s door looking for answers. Myer-Bennett gives a touching version of a woman still unprepared for life’s challenges, which accompanies Nigel Planer as the weathered but optimistic retired doctor Michael beautifully. Some pacing issues give the short play a stuttered start, but once it gets going Rosenthal’s writing succeeds with an overall optimistic final note that doesn’t feel too saccharin.
In Marriage by Alexis Zegerman, Eva (Abigail Weinstock) and Adrian (Sam Thorpe-Spinks) are on a first date, and it’s not going well. Things get even worse when Godfrey ( Planer) a bearded old man with suspiciously God-like powers turns up and encourages them to get together and procreate for the good of the Jewish population. The play confidently considers the headaches of dating and the concept and pressures of marriage. The main laughs from the audience come from exposing the stereotypes Jews impose on each other while navigating the world of finding love. However, aside from being the subject of a few cheap punchlines, God’s presence through Godfrey feels supplementary and only takes time away from the couple. The play is most effective when it allows Eva and Adrian to speak for themselves, and Zegerman’s honest and striking writing presents an authentic depiction of living and loving in the modern day.
The highest point of the evening is Death by Ryan Craig, where siblings Leah (Abigail Weinstock) and Adam (Dan Wolff) are planning a funeral for their grandmother, who is very much alive, and for Golda Meirm, the hamster, who is very much dead (or is she?). The admin associated with death and illness reluctantly brings together the siblings and eventually their unenthusiastic father. Both siblings, but particularly Weinstock as the sardonic sister, paired beautifully with Adrian Schiller as their dysfunctional and high-achieving Dad. Craig’s writing has the strongest comedic energy of all three plays, and even in a short performance, the play is able to encompass the intricacies of the dysfunctional trio without overwhelming or feeling sparse. Over the ancient rituals of funeral and death rites, the family can briefly bypass their flaws and neurosis to remind each other that familial love does remain, even if they can’t quite find the right words.
Kayla Feldman’s direction gives all three plays an appropriately distinct feel while having enough of a common thread to make the entire production feel cohesive. But attempting to fit in three plays into a short running time does a disservice to the perceptive writing, and even the strongest characters feel undeveloped because of this.
Rewarding and effective, all plays in The Arc: A Trilogy of New Jewish Plays are an engaging showcase of Jewish theatre. The combination of excellent writing and performance provides an important Jewish perspective on key moments in human experience, and the production can only improve by giving the audience more to work with.
Runs until 26 August 2023