Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 30, 2019

Review: Berkshire Theatre Group, What The Jews Believe

Berkshire Theatre Group, Stockbridge, MA
through October 20, 2019
by Jarice Hanson

When pre-show music includes both country and klezmer music, we start to think that this new play is probably something a little quirky and maybe even, funny. Even the set-up is humorous. A young boy in rural Texas is studying for his Bar Mitzvah with the aid of a correspondence course and old records recorded by his grandfather, complete with Yiddish accent. But very quickly, a number of surprises begin to reveal the heart of the play’s message that revolves around faith, love, and the desire to want to understand our place in the world.

Photo by Emma K. Rothenberg-Ware
Playwright and director Mark Harelik has crafted a touching new play with a refreshing approach to religion and what it means to find faith. The situations he presents theatergoers with are real, and his dialog is honest. The first-rate cast does an impressive job of creating a collective, beating heart that is at the center of this drama which, despite the early chuckles it provides, deals with some very heavy problems, ideas, and situations, including the fundamental problem of what religion does to us, as well as for us. A bombshell drops at the end of Act I that is so unexpected, the audience can’t wait for Act II.

The story is based on Harelik’s own experience growing up in the only Jewish family in a small town in Texas. The cast features Benim Foster as the father urging his son toward his Bar Mitzvah, Emily Donahoe as the mother facing a terminal illness, Cynthia Mace as Aunt Sarah, who brings her own faith to the mix while attempting to “help out,” Robert Zukerman as Rabbi Bindler, and young Nathan, played by an exuberant Logan Weibrecht who blends in well with the more seasoned professionals in this cast. What is so touching about the family these actors embody is that they collectively create a bond of love that is palpable.

“What The Jews Believe” is a slightly misleading title in that what this play gives is the opportunity to think about what everyone believes, no matter what our religion or lack or religious affiliation. It goes well beyond the cultural snapshots that are the basis for many contemporary stories, and brings us back to some of the central questions that form the basis for humanity. This is a beautiful play, well-told, brilliantly acted, and deeply moving.