Bar Mitzvah Boy
The world premiere of “Bar Mitzvah Boy” written by local playwright Mark Leiren-Young, opened to a sold out audience at the Pacific Theatre last weekend. Joey, played by Richard Newman, is a successful Jewish lawyer who wants to have the Bar Mitzvah ceremony most Jewish boys celebrate as a symbol of manhood when they reach the age of 13. He comes to the office of the synagogue to meet the rabbi and arrange for the studies required for the ceremony.
Joey’s first surprise is meeting Rabbi Michael, played by Gina Chiarelli, a woman. When he expresses his astonishment, she asks if he is surprised to meet a rabbi who hasn’t been circumcised – the first of many witticisms peppered throughout the play. Joey, who is used to getting his own way, insists that he has to be tutored by her instead of attending the class of young people who are also studying for their Bar Mitzvahs. Eventually, she does agree to teach him, and, as the two spend time together talking about Judaism, they begin to examine the big questions posed by religion and life.
When Joey questions the nature of faith and his difficulty with some of the tenets, the Rabbi explains that, to her, many of the teachings, such as the story of Jonah and the whale, are metaphors which help us make our way in the world. She tells him to look beyond the story to learn what it means, not what it says.
As the teachings progress, so does their trust in one another. Joey reveals why he did not have a Bar Mitzvah when he was 13, and the Rabbi confides in him about the burdens she carries every day. At one point, their roles reverse, and Joey becomes the advisor to the rabbi. Their support of one another helps both of them to understand and move forward after ‘moments that defined their lives’, surviving loss and carrying on. In the end, Joey is able to make sense of many of the questions he has posed, and is truly ready to become a man during his Bar Mitzvah ceremony.
Time flies by in this one act play. Both of the actors are thoroughly engaging and believable as their relationship develops. The set is simple, and very effective. The lighting is subtle; in many scenes, the actor who is speaking is fully lit, while the other is in darkness. The eternal light in the synagogue is sometimes bright and sometimes subdued. Soft music marks a change of scene, but never diminishes the importance of the dialogue. The story line is engaging, interspersing some of life’s deepest questions with lighthearted comments. The audience experience is enhanced by both.
“Bar Mitzvah Boy” runs from March 23 – April 24th at the Pacific Theatre, 1440 W 12th Ave, Vancouver. More information at: www.pacifictheatre.org
Article: Judy Robb
Photography: Damon Calderwood