The Storm Theatre is giving Karol Wojtyla's dense, symbolist-inspired drama The Jeweler's Shop a sterling production with a terrific, spartan set and some inspired acting. The play itself is a slow, crypto-Catholic affair incorporating symbolism from Christ's lesser-known parables and some truly odd character development reminiscent of nothing so much as a G.K. Chesterton novel. Still, the actors demonstrate such a layered understanding of the text that the play ends up being compelling, even with Wojtyla's obfuscations.
To be fair, if you're at all interested in Christianity, those obfuscations can be fascinating. A meditation mostly on marriage, the play follows two couples who produce children, with those children eventually becoming a third couple. There is also a mediating figure who steps in to help the most troubled couple of the three. He is named Adam (played by Peter Dobbins, the company's artistic director) and is a kind of Jesus stand-in who reveals to Anna (a wonderful Karen Eke) how to reinvigorate her failing marriage. Christ is referred to as the second Adam in New Testament theology, and the language Adam uses is almost exclusively biblical, though it's culled from parts of the Bible used seldom enough to keep the references from being intrusive.
Wojtyla himself ranks as a character as interesting as any of his creations. A Polish seminary student in the "underground seminary" during World War II, Wojtyla went on to become Pope John Paul II. The process of his life and sometimes-controversial career as a church official certainly makes for interesting reading, but it made for interesting writing as well. Wojtyla's modestly titled work (the subtitle is "A Meditation on the Sacrament of Matrimony, Passing on Occasion Into a Drama") reveals an understanding of character that is admirably realized in the Storm Theatre's production.
Presented by and at the Storm Theatre as part of the Karol Wojtyla Theatre Festival,
145 W. 46th St., 3rd floor, NYC.
May 16-June 17. Schedule varies.
(212) 868-4444 or www.smarttix.com.