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Serena Berwin, Connie Castanzo, Maggie Metnick           photos Mati Gelman



                      By Arney Rosenblatt


The disquiet, the need of a defining identity, and ultimately the gnawing desire for some kind of retribution when you are dispersed and displaced as "the Other" is the dilemma explored with satirical humor by emerging playwright Nathaniel Sam Shapiro in Diaspora playing at The Gym at Judson.  


Although in this instance Mr.Shapiro focuses on the Diaspora Jew who for millennia has lived with suitcase, sometime metaphorically, sometimes literally, packed, while straining to determine where their identity and allegiance should lie. However, that same reality lies with any people who have been deemed "the Other" and caught up in wars of dominion.


The story shifts fluidly between a group of contemporary college students on a Birthright-style cultural legacy trip to Israel that includes Masada, the famed siege site where a rebellious sect of Jews ended their lives when it became inevitable that their stronghold would fall to the Roman authorities who dominated their land, 73 A.D. when this decision of mass suicide and murder is about to occur.  As the two dramas intermingle, staying on Masada becomes more and more dangerous.


Connie Costanzo. R J Vallaincourt,  Joe Tapper, Quinn Franzen, Serena Berman, Ava Eisenson


Though the characters portrayed in Diaspora are largely archetypes, they raise many significant issues for the audience to contemplate, such as when Or, a present day soldier, reminds the frequently cavalier visiting Birthright tourists, "You are Jewish. But we are Israeli."  Likewise, when Brett, the Birthright tour guide, points out that ..."Israel and Masada are kind of similar...This sort of ethos of 'we're not going to give up, we're staying right here'...After Masada fell, the Jews were expelled...Worldwide anti-Semitism kept us apart, but ultimately functioned to keep us together."


The playwright Mr. Shapiro and director Saheem Ali take an interesting approach to the telling of Diaspora by including the audience as a character with whom the characters on stage continually share their stories.  Their use of humor helps make their points resonate, particularly with the younger members of the audience.  


The play grows out of the playwright's personal experiences and issues that he, and likely many other contemporary Jews, are grappling over, "What is the essence of the Jewish spirit? Who are our heroes? And how do we of the Diaspora connect with Israel and our past?"  


According to Mr. Shapiro, "For most American Jews, Israel is more of an idea than a reality."  Moreover, currently, he is concerned about the rising dissonance he sees between the Israel that was a welcoming refuge of liberal democracy and the Israel that appears to be walling itself up like those of Masada allowing "oppression supported and enabled by some members of my community."  


The eight actors, several of whom play multiple roles, Serena Berman. Connie Castanzo, Ava Eisenson, Quinn Franzen, Tom McVey, Maggie Metnick, Joe Tapper, and RJ Vaillancourt form an engaging ensemble


Effective stage setting provided by Eric Southern's lighting and Caite Hevner's projection designs help clarify and reinforce the ever changing time and character shifts.



The Gym at Judson

243 Thompson Street, West Village

Ovation Tix: 1 (866) 811-4111

Closing Date: December 23, 2017