There are no stage lights in this production by the Jewish Theater of New York. The one original touch here is that audience members have flashlights they can shine on whatever they please. It would seem the playwright, Tuvia Tenenbom, who doubles as director, would also like to shed his own special light on the subject of Kabbalah, a body of mystical Jewish teachings that has been gaining celebrity adherents in recent years. Tenenbom's heavy-handed satire of this current phenomenon, however, will leave most of the audience in the dark, whether they have flashlights or not.
One of the characters -- a model for Calvin Klein -- asks plaintively at one point, "What are you trying to say?" She could be the audience's spokesperson. The playwright has thrown everything into the mix; the numbing details include mysticism, Madonna, red strings, numerology, demons, Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, holy water at $26 a bottle, dybbuks, Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith, the spilling of seed, and nudity. A religion in the making is a subject ripe for examination, but enlightenment never dawns in this muddled mess of a play
The setting is the Mount of Olives Cemetery in the Holy City, where a Kabbalist, Rav Yuda (Mario Golden), and his silent assistant, Schlepper (Adam Hayes), await the possible arrival of Madonna (Emily Stern). But first he has to deal with Elijah (Michael Shimkin), who is a contract lawyer and prophet, a pesky demon named Ahmed (Oliver Conant), and that Calvin Klein model (Alison Ritchie) as a mourning widow. Several bewildering routines -- with routine songs -- follow, until Madonna finally appears and becomes the current god to be worshipped, with a jolly naked chorus as finale.
It would seem that Tenenbom is too close to his material to provide an objective and clear interpretation. Another director just might have been able to clarify and edit these rambling ideas into a more meaningful whole.
Presented by the Jewish Theater of New York
at the Triad Theater, 158 W. 72nd St., NYC.
Nov. 19-Jan. 28. Tue. and Wed., 9 p.m.; Sat., 11 p.m.