Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 26, 2018

REVIEW: Chester Theatre Company, Bar Mitzvah Boy

Chester Theatre Company, Chester, MA
through July 1, 2018
By Mary Fernandez-Sierra

Photo by Elizabeth Solaka
Chester Theatre’s season opening production of “Bar Mitzvah Boy” is warm, wise and wonderful, featuring finely wrought performances and stunning production values.

This American premiere play (and winner of the 2017 Jewish Playwriting Prize) illuminates the tale of Joey (Will LeBow), a later-in-life divorce lawyer who wants to be bar mitzvahed. His journey toward manhood is guided by Rabbi Michael (Tara Franklin), whose life is also changing; their stories intertwine in touching, tempestuous, and always enlightening ways.

LeBow is superb as Joey. His transformation from the worldly and cynical lawyer to man of faith and friendship is utterly convincing, performed with aplomb and sensitivity. The dashes of showmanship added to his humorous lines (and there’s plenty!) along with his Vaudeville-style versions of Jewish song make his performance joyful as well as moving.

Franklin’s portrait of Rabbi Michael is straightforward and compelling, with rich layers of humor, self-deprecation, strength, wisdom and undercurrents of heartbreak revealed anytime she is onstage. Her sermons are practically poetry in their beauty, simplicity and frankness.

The scenery and lighting work together as seamlessly as the actors in this production; it is difficult to think of one without the other. Designers David Towlun (Scenic) and Lara Dubin (Lighting) create visual magic with soft colors hovering on the stage itself AND spilling into the audience from above. The books and bookcases are artistic masterpieces which must be seen to be believed.

Sound Designer David Reiffel has added some beautiful touches of his own (watch for the eternal light glowing on in sync with the music at one point). Costume designs by Charles Schoonmaker suit the characters perfectly, and the rapid clothing changes are handled with precision by this ensemble’s incredible backstage crew.

It is rare to see a play in which the story, acting and virtually every production element work so harmoniously together; bravo to director Guy Ben-Aharon for his meticulous creativity and thoughtful staging. The standing ovation which the opening evening performance received came truly from an appreciative audience’s heart.

Chester Theatre’s “Bar Mitzvah Boy” is luminous and lovely.