Serena Berwin, Connie Castanzo, Maggie Metnick photos
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
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