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JEWS AND JESUS

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e dating rules change exponentially in proportion to the number of religions or cultures represented in the couplings. Although traditional wisdom says you're not marrying the family, just the man or woman you have chosen, this may be one of the touchiest areas of human interaction in young people's lives. Oren Safdie, in his amusingly titled musical comedy, takes a skewed, nonjudgmental look at modern relationships in a multicultural society. Steve (Adam Fleck) knows what he wants in a woman but falls short of knowing exactly what it is he wants. He's a Jew, he says, in just the cultural sense. Girlfriend Luscious (Gretel Roenfeldt) is Catholic but only because her parents are. It sounds like a perfect match, but though the potential for perfection is possible, it's highly unlikely. There are certain things Steve can't do, like kneel in church or eat pepperoni pizza in view of the Wailing Wall. Luscious, sexually uninhibited, is socially constrained by her family overlay of unspoken, just slightly ingrained anti-Semitism. Debra (a terrific Iris Bahr), much as she'd like to, can't even pretend that the half of her that's Jewish is at ease with Nick the Yeshiva Bocher's father, Rabbi Moishe (a hilarious Micki Schloss), and his traditional wife (the hugely funny Sheilah A. Grenham). Nick (Griffin Shaw), a blithe albeit deeply religious spirit, is unable to reconcile his strong sexual desires with his spiritual beliefs. If these relationships are to be saved, something has to give. Safdie's extremely funny look at interracial—or semi-interracial—dating deals with seminal subjects; he slyly inserts some crumbs of thought-provoking issues into his basically lighthearted thesis. As in any satire the situations are overstated, as are the characters. Shaw is eminently funny as the wiry scholar, a young Frank Sinatra when he's at his most rakish, a Very Reverend Rebbe with single-minded tenacity when he's practicing for the role of Jesus, whom he insists he is. The play doesn't solve anyone's problems, especially as there aren't any answers to the questions the script asks, but it helps to be able to laugh at them and relate to whatever you can. Despite the touchy subject matter, the characters are likeable, the jokes slick and so even-handed that it would be hard to take offense. Ronnie Cohen's music and lyrics add to the fun, although they never seem integral to the action, especially when the lyrics aren't altogether comprehensible as sung by these not-necessarily singers. The Rabbinical School Dropouts (Nicolas Carvaja, Jonathan Friedmann, and Michael Friedmann), under the direction of Steve Altman, have a lot of fun as the klezmer band that ventures into something approaching rockabilly from time to time. Director Craig Carlisle takes a fairly elementary approach to staging, maintaining a presentational style that requires between-scenes games of musical chairs by the cast, which, as of opening night, needed more rehearsal. Nevertheless, there's considerable entertainment value here. "Jews and Jesus," presented by and at Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 5 p.m. Aug. 15-Sept. 14. $20. (310) 589-199

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