Theatrical productions riffing on the classic Samuel Beckett play Waiting for Godot seem to be the in thing on stages both regionally and in New York. Currently, on Broadway, you have playwright Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu’s undertaking, Pass Over.
At Playhouse on Park in West Hartford you have Seth Rozin's Two Jews Walk into a War... While not an outright homage to Beckett’s seminal work, the production at Playhouse on Park does share many of the attributes of Waiting for Godot, what author J. Knowlson refers to as “religious, philosophical, psychoanalytical and biographical references.” Like Godot, there are elements of comedy, vaudeville, and pathos embedded in Rozin’s play.
The result is a meandering, sometimes humorous, mildly diverting play that often veers to the sophomoric.
In Two Jews Walk into a War…, we find Zeblyan (Bob Ari) and Ishaq (Mitch Greenberg), two elderly men who happen to be the last two Jews in Kabul. Afghanistan, about to bury their recently departed compatriot and somewhat leader, Yakob, (an almost reverse Godot type character). Within their damaged synagogue the two individuals bicker and hurl insults at one another as they avoid the ever present and threatening Taliban. We soon learn they just can’t stand each other. However, slowly, and with many bumps in the road, they learn to work together for their grand scheme of repopulating the Jewish community of the Afghan capital.
In between implementing their plan are explorations of existential questions, analysis of Biblical passages, and a continuous barrage of blame towards each other for a variety of problems and predicaments.
Rozin’s play can at times be compelling with thought-provoking ruminations and compelling scenarios. Yet, many of the big issues and introspections presented in the 90 minute, intermission-less show, fail to generate much sustained dramatic tension. The idle chatter and invectives become more matter-of-fact, leading to uninteresting and questionable scenes.
The actors Bob Ari and Mitch Greenberg could easily be slotted into the two central roles in Waiting for Godot. Greenberg’s Ishaq comes across like Beckett’s Vladimir, the more introspective and pseudo-intellectual of the pair. Ari’s Zeblyan, like Godot’s Estragon, is more of a follower, who walks with a heavy step. His ideas and intentions are less grandiose and well-formulated. Both performers attack the material with a liveliness and passion, forcefully justifying their character’s almost absurd contrivances.
David Hammond’s direction keeps the pacing brisk, using the small Playhouse staging area to give movement and an openness to the production. He skillfully keeps the multiple scenes running at variable tempos, helping to keep the play from teetering into a mundane series of uninteresting musings. The director incorporates Bill Clarke’s minimalistic set design, Johann Fitzpatrick’s highly effective lighting design (especially his use of strobes demarcating the passage of time) and Jacob Montogmery’s limited, but efficacious sound design, to effectively open up this two-person show.
Two Jews Walk into a War...occasionally brings up issues and topics worth meditating on but, overall, the show’s content drifts too far afield from successfully answering the big questions it seeks to address.
Two Jews Walk into a War...playing at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford through October 10. Information at https://www.playhouseonpark.org/