“Jericho” at 59E59 Theaters (Closed November 3, 2013)

October 10, 2013 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
Written by Jack Canfora
Directed by Evan Bergman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer; /Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, /The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.” – William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming” (1919)

All the characters in Jack Canfora’s “Jericho” have lost their footing. In their post-9/11 world of 2005, things have fallen apart and their moral and emotional centers have failed to hold. Their pre-9/11 ceremony of innocence is long past. Lacking conviction, the best of these characters wrestle with the passionate intensity of the worst among them and the walls of Jericho come tumbling down.

Mired in guilt, Josh (Noel Joseph Allain) and Beth (Eleanor Handley) thrash about seeking redemption and release from their malfeasance surrounding the events of September 11, 2001: Beth told her husband Alec (Kevin Isola) the night prior to 9/11 she “was going to leave him.” The next day, Alec went to work at the World Trade Center and was killed when the South Tower collapsed and disintegrated at 9:59 a.m. On the same day, Josh – also working in the South Tower – pushed his way past two men trying to help a fallen woman on the stairs, refusing to stop and help them. Beth turns to therapy to assuage her guilt and Josh turns to a Zionist-laden commitment to move to Jerusalem and restore a connection to “his community.”

Josh meets Beth at the Thanksgiving dinner hosted by her boyfriend Ethan’s (Andrew Rein) mother Rachel (Jill Eikenberry). Ethan is Josh’s brother and a womanizer. And this is only the short list of the succulent story lines driven by equally delectable conflicts: Rachel wants to move to Florida and sell the family home to Josh and his wife Jessica (Carol Todd). Josh and Jessica are in the midst of a divorce. And Beth thinks her 47-year-old Korean-American female therapist Dr. Kim (Kevin Isola) looks exactly like her 30-something non-Korean-American deceased husband.

Throughout the play, the characters deeply hurt one another only to discover through therapy, self-therapy, divorce, and escape that reality is preferable to delusion. And “Shalom” is preferable to hurt and despair and hopelessness. Health, completeness, harmony, fullness, prosperity, and peace reverse the anarchy that was unleashed on the world after 9/11. Humanity belongs not to some matrix of socio-religious constructs but belongs to a larger community connected by compassion. As Beth affirms at the play’s end, after being able to say “farewell and good-bye” to Alec, we belong to one another. She attests, “I reach them. I reach all of them, and I come to rest on their skin. My life – like a benediction – spreads out over them like a benediction.”

The conflicts in “Jericho” provide the “stuff” for an interesting plot with sufficient twists and turns and surprises to satisfy any audience: Mr. Canfora’s play is well written and multi-layered with complex characters and intriguing plot lines. The ensemble cast, under Evan Bergman’s inconsistent direction, delivers exquisite performances that expose the risks of honesty and commitment and affirm the equally risky business of compassion and forgiveness. After all, it was on the way to Jericho that a man from Samaria stopped to assist a man who was not “in his community.” The pacing is often laborious (especially in the first act) and Mr. Bergman allows the spark between the gifted actors to falter too often. Fortunately the cast still makes the script sizzle when it needs to.

Jessica Parks’ “barricade-like” set allows the remnants of 9/11 to frame the destructiveness of the relationships broken by the disaster and Jill Nagle’s lighting brings into focus the dynamics of fear, flight, and fantasy.

“Jericho” is a complex and challenging play that deserves a look and a future. Plan to see it before it closes shortly on November 3.