Directed by Amy Wright
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“You can’t launch new ideas on old thinking.” (Billboard message on the corner of Lafayette and Bleecker)
Andrew R. Heinze’s “Moses, The Author” is a new play currently running at Fringe NYC 2104 and is awarded Theatre Reviews Limited’s “Best Play of Opening Weekend” at Fringe NYC. This smart, funny, and provocative new comedy highlights the limitations of religious literature to adequately portray the essence of a people’s/nation’s faith. For all religions of “a book” (Judaism, Islam, Christianity), difficulty arises when the community, fearful of heresy and the death of reliable storytellers and mindful of the need for pedagogy, commits orally transmitted mythos to writing. The flexibility accepted in the oral tradition – as the needs of the community changed or new information required altered world views – became impossible to sustain: what was written was written and could not be changed. In fact, it became the word of the gods transmitted to humankind through special agents (priests, prophets, and kings) and infallible and incontrovertible. Moses (Mitch Tebo) was one of those special agents.
But according to the playwright, even Moses had difficulty writing down what his god shared in “waves of energy.” In this brilliant new play, Mr. Heinze portrays the iconic Moses as a fallible finite human being who is challenged by his family and his conscience to reconsider what he had written, reevaluate its provenance, and reimagine the possibility that future generations might need assistance in understanding the true meaning of his “five books.” In fact, he confesses to having to “settle for a book that is incomplete.”
We know very little about Moses’ sons Gershom and Eliezer except references in Rabbinic literature:
“Your sons sat and did not occupy themselves with Torah. Joshua, who served you, is fitting to serve Israel” (from Midrash Tanchuma, Pinchas 11). Mr. Heinze only includes Gershom (here Gershy) and portrays him as a gay young man quite happy spending time with his lover and painting. Hazen Cuyler is a brooding yet brash Gershy who challenges his father to examine his body of work from a new perspective:
GERSHY: “–Oh now you’re making the argument from custom? I thought your whole project, Dad, was about stopping customs that are bad — like human sacrifice – and inspiring people with new ideas, like All Men Are Made in the Image of God.”
It is this ongoing dialogue with Gershy, his wife Zippy (Judy Rosenblatt), his mother Yoheved (Janine Hegarty), and his amanuensis Thusie (Ramzi Khalaf) that makes Moses’ last day on earth a worthy testament to his body of work which he comes to realize, as Gershy reminds him, is from God, “but his words.” The engaging ensemble cast brings authenticity to the playwright’s script and enlivens the debate about infallibility with often phrenetic humor. Theologians have grappled with the role of women and the status of the LGBTQ community in scripture for centuries: “Moses, The Author” manages to put that quest into perspective with the affirmation Gershy teases out of his father in the play’s emotional climax: “We’re all made in the image of God, Thusie.”
Mitch Tebo delivers a bravura performance as the aging Moses faced with mortality, banned from entering the Promised Land, and bereft of his beloved bromance with his Creator God.
Let the people say, Amen!”