REVIEW WRITTEN BY FRANK BURD
For Digital First Media
There is a very simple, very unique, quite silly, but very special play that Montgomery Theater is finishing its season with this year. A kind of Jewish Christmas play, it begins in a motel room in Virginia, where we learn that the body of an Israeli grandmother has been lost by the delivery company and this has to be explained to her granddaughter. The granddaughter, Ayelet (Sarah Raimondi), also Israeli, speaks no English so the delivery guy Terrence (Josh Carpenter) calls in his half-Jewish friend to try to explain the situation to her. This all happens in the first five minutes.
Jason Odell Williams’ play is funny. In this rural hick of a Virginia town, Terrence is a classic, likeable hick. He and his friend Josh (Jesse Bernstein) try to explain to Ayelet what has happened. She goes on and on in rapid fire Hebrew that neither the two men nor we in the audience comprehend, but we understand her distress. In fact, it is the distress of the characters that brought them all to this unlikely place on Christmas Eve.
Ayelet was in a depressed state when her grandmother Edna (Barbara Hanevig) decided that a trip to the U.S. would be beneficial for the two. We learn this in adroitly placed flashbacks of the play. Grandma and granddaughter share intimate tales. Their tender stories play in juxtaposition to the humorous stories between Josh and Terrence as we learn of another kind of friendship. Terrence switched as a driver from his company to DHX, a company he preferred because he liked their red and yellow uniforms. Josh’s Hebrew vocabulary is minimal, though he does know the word for penis. “Just because I’m Jewish, doesn’t mean I speak Hebrew,” he tells his friend.
But the real story is the one that evolves between Josh and Ayelet, as they try to communicate with minimal language. Raimondi and Bernstein are outstanding, she the strong young Israeli woman, he as the conflicted young man who is dealing with his own loss and his own identity. It is a joy to watch them.
As stated earlier, it is actually a rather simple play, in the manner that “It’s a Wonderful Life” was a simple Christmas movie. That movie is briefly on the television as is “Wheel of Fortune.” Inevitably, the characters wind up asking themselves, what is luck and what is fate even though there is no angel getting wings or no spin of the wheel.
Williams is a young playwright with a bright future. He knows how to weave a tapestry of human emotion into an entertainingly funny play. And this production, craftily directed by Tom Quinn, is an excellent one.
Montgomery Theater, 124 Main Street, Souderton, PA 18964, 215-723-9984, www.montgomerytheater.org/ Playing through Dec. 4, 2016