How odd of God to choose the Jews, a Jewish writer once noted. Murray Mednick's questing character Eli agrees. "How can you be an American and a Jew at the same time?" he queries—an unanswered question in a play full of them. Questions and concerns of how to be Jewish in an imperfect world engage the mind and the emotions in this richly textured Chekhovian play, set in 1948 at the Silverman brothers' summer resort in the Catskills.
Judy Arnold's meticulously detailed world premiere production provides a shining example of how a dedicated, skilled producer can take a good play and make it better. An exquisitely tuned-in cast (for which casting director Michael Donovan deserves an award) is directed by Mitchell Ryan with the fluid grace of a symphony conductor. Gary Randall's set of angles, crannies, recesses, and vistas beckons. Rand Ryan's lighting fluidly directs attention from dining room to hall to upstairs bedroom where Talia, a dying refugee from anti-Semitic atrocities, lies comatose.
Maia Danziger as Talia slips in and out of consciousness with sudden startling bursts of emphasis. Talia's niece Gina is portrayed to perfection by Bari Hochwald. An alluring woman in her late 20s with a good heart and a mysterious, hashish-clouded Moroccan past, she has a sexy beauty that attracts men and a nonchalant self-assurance that repels them. Anyway, she's not interested; she says she can't bear to be confined, and her wildly exuberant mass of springy curls makes its own statement. She confines it in a snood—yes, snoods were worn then; so were Eve's ankle-strap shoes and Leon's hand-painted pastel tie. Trust costume maven Shon LeBlanc to get it right.
Silverman marriages aren't happy. Elizabeth Tobias, as pretty, zaftig Eve, longs for normal life and children. Her spouse, workaholic Pinney (Joel Polis) carries the burden of Royal Manor on his shoulders and hasn't got the time. As gentle Silverman brother Ray, Michael Pasternak lovingly attends Talia, his dying wife; now the manor's social director, he misses his actor's past. Distant Silverman relative, intellectual, truth-seeker, perennial manor guest Eli, definitively played by Matt Gottlieb, bickers with his wife, Rosie. Dinah Lenney hones Rosie's bitterness to a sharp edge. Silverman brother Leon, successful Hollywood movie producer, devout bachelor, drops in to deliver unwelcome suggestions and get something to eat. William Bumiller plays him—handsome, self-serving and greedy, and with some of the best lines. ("Know who discovered America? We did—the Eastern European Jews—invented the American dream with our movies.")
Travis Michael Holder's helpful Al, a righteous Gentile, is more important than he seems. Evan Arnold's waiter Hesh, Eve's brother, is a druggie and frustrated jazz musician. Maury Sterling's busboy Dudi lets out bloodcurdling rebel yells and has to be controlled by busboy Solly (Walter Novak). Dudi and Mark Totty's wounded, decorated war veteran Murray, in a nastly little scene of violence and savagery, trap and corner Fedunn, a minor character who gives the play its title. Fedunn is a blond, beautiful teenager who delivers the milk, flitting wraith-like in the shadows, a non-Jew among Jews, mistrusted, feared, and hated. Hardly seen or heard, he is a hovering presence, played with angelic looks by Zoltán. Why is this play called Fedunn? It's a mystery you must figure out for yourself.
Haunted by the past, fretful in the present, fearful of the future, the Silvermans survive, as the Jews have survived. Heard at intervals, Hugh Levick's merry, mournful music may explain why God chose to choose the Jews.
"Fedunn," presented by Judy Arnold Productions at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A. Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Aug. 23-Oct. 13. $25. (310) 477-2055.