Prayer for the French Republic
By David Schultz
tale of five generations of a French Jewish family
generational stories are a dime a dozen. This new play superbly penned by
Joshua Harmon (Significant
Other, Bad Jews) is the exception. The topic and scope of
anti-Semitism in France with five generations of a Jewish family is rendered
with withering accuracy. This fictional family encapsulates the ongoing horrors
that have plagued the Jewish people for centuries. Taking place in two
timeframes (2016-2017) and (1944-1946) this sweeping saga toggles from current
day into the past, occasionally breaking the fourth wall with characters from
both eras speaking to each other simultaneously is both eerie and haunting.
distant American cousin Molly (), a college student, visits her aunt with eager
eyes and ears, she is studying with a year in France. Falling in love with the
local croissants is rather quaint, but her innocence will be shattered soon
enough as the family unravels with a mountain of didactic arguments that await
in the mid portion of the play. Quiet at first, she is a Jew that finds solace
in the vague idea of being part of the tribe, but actually apart from it, in
name only. At a certain juncture in the play she shares her sympathy for the
Palestinians and compares their situation as a sort of apartheid. She is a
temporary guest of her aunt Marcelle (Betsy Aidem), a psychiatrist turned
professor. In the opening scene Marcelle regales the young girl with the uber
French family history that goes back generations. Her family has been living in
Paris for over 1,000 years. The Saloman tribe have owned and sold pianos for
decades, though the business has slowed down greatly in recent years. Her
family has lived and survived through the war years, and miraculously a few
survived the Holocaust, though some family members did perish. The scars run
deep. But Marcelle is resilient and proudly French to her core.
tone changes as soon as Marcelle’s mid-twenties son Daniel (Yair Ben-Dor)
blasts through their front door. He has been beaten and roughed up, bloodied
face and hands and is shaken. The thugs beat him a few blocks from home because
he was wearing his yamaka and returning from his teaching position at the local
yeshiva school. He is adamant about wearing his kippah, and not hiding it under
a baseball cap as his parents have urged his to do. His father Charles (Jeff
Seymour) is well aware of the turning tide of anti-Semitism that has increased
exponentially in their homeland. Charles, an Algerian immigrant fled his own
country years ago as a child. Now with this incident and the ever-increasing
tide of hate that is infiltrating his current homeland, he is shattered, with
thoughts to escape yet again.
Molly Ranson and Francis
Benhamou Photos by
slightly disturbed but brilliant moody manic-depressive sister Elodie (Francis
Benhamou) sulks around often, but in a brilliant withering monologue she dives
into a 12-minute bipolar screed to her young American relative. With the
ongoing terrors of hate that are germinating within the country, France seems
less safe in the modern day and Charles feels that a move to Israel might
somehow save the family from more violent incidents.
various times during the three-hour running time the play shifts to the
1944-1946 timeframe showing how the earlier clan survived the Holocaust.
Marcelle’s great-grandparents (Kenneth Tigar and Nancy Robinette) never left
their closed curtained Paris apartment. After various interpolated scenes they
wait for the hope to reunite with family members, and they do to some extent.
Their son Lucien (Ari Brand) returns with their grandson Pierre (Peyton Lusk)
both are gaunt and haunted having barely survived the horrors of Auschwitz….
but other family members have perished.
in as the narrator of the evening is Marcelle’s brother Patrick (Richard
Topol). He serves as the guide and historian to the family, as he occasionally
speaks to the ghostly past relatives from the wartime with urgent questions
that can never be fully answered. The past and present merge with smooth
interchangeable scenes well directed by David Cromer. The recent topical
horrific anti-Semitic atrocities are placed in context with ever increasing
intensity as the evening progresses. The theme of leaving and going somewhere
safe is well taken within the complex veil of sadness and regret. Where exactly
is it safe for a modern-day Jew to live in peace and harmony?
entire cast engages and gives full life and urgency to this extremely topical
play. The evening ends as the family sits huddled together struggling to
determine why “they Hate Us so much”. A plethora of questions and opposing
viewpoints ricochet back and forth like a tennis match. Questions begat more
questions…answers are few, if at all. With a poignant wistful musical coda to
the play, the playwright gathers all the generations, both living and long
deceased as they stand around the family piano. Since they have been selling
these magnificent musical instruments for over 150 years this scene strikes a
melodic chord as the family gently sings the Les Marseilles, the French
profound questions of when and where are we truly safe hangs over the entire
evening. Need further proof?
February 6th, 2022 the night I attended this performance.
From headline in THE TIMES OF ISRAEL February 6th. 2022
York—The New York police’s hate crimes unit said on Saturday that it was
investigating three alleged antisemitic attacks. The three incidents took place
during Shabbat on Friday and Saturday in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood.
Two were physical assaults and one was anti-Semitic graffiti. In one attack
captured by security cameras, an ultra-Orthodox man and woman were seen walking
down a sidewalk on Friday night. An assailant trailed them behind a row of
parked cars, then ran up behind the man and struck him in the back of the head,
knocking his hat to the ground. The assailant then fled. Another alleged
assault was reported in the same area on Friday night. In a third anti-Semitic
incident in Williamsburg over the weekend, vandals sprayed swastikas on school
buses for Jewish religious schools. The buses were clearly marked with Hebrew
"..... Attention must be paid..."
for the French Republic
at New York City Center Stage 1
West 55th Street
Thru February 27th