What the Jews Believe
Written and directed by Mark Harelik
“What the Jews Believe” is a heartfelt, coming-of-age memory play told by the 12-year-old Nathan (Logan Weibrecht) as he prepares for his bar mitzvah as an only child in the only Jewish household in a small town in central Texas in the 1950s. It’s based on the real-life upbringing of playwright Mark Harelik, who also directs, and is a sequel of sorts to his earlier play “The Immigrant” about his Jewish Russian grandfather.
Mr. Harelik creates several story lines. Nathan’s father, Dave (Benim Foster), is a non-practicing, secular Jew; he resisted being bar mitzvahed but he insists Nathan is for “continuity.” Besides the religious angle, the dominant plot line that emerges is the late-stage cancer of Nathan’s mother, Rachel (Emily Donahoe). A counseling session with a visiting rabbi (Robert Zukerman) goes badly. Rachel’s’ aunt, Sarah (Cynthia Mace), who’s been taking care of Nathan, intervenes. Her spiritual counseling is fundamentalist Christian Science. Mr. Harelik packs a lot of cross-cultural conflict into two acts.
Fortunately, playwright/director Harelik — also an accomplished actor (Broadway credits include “The Normal Heart” and “Light in the Piazza”) — has cast his play perfectly and gets the best from every performer. Ms. Mace’s performance, however, is the outstanding; she has impeccable timing and creates a perfect character study of zeal tempered with both genteel demeanor and steely purpose. And the young Mr. Weibrecht, recruited from the local Lenox Memorial Middle and High School, has a stage presence that matches all the other seasoned performers. We should be seeing more of him on Berkshire stages.
What the Jews Believe, produced in association with the American National Theatre, plays at the Unicorn Theatre, Route 7 in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, through Sunday, Oct. 20. For information and tickets, see the Berkshire Edge calendar, call the box office at 413-997-4444 or go to berkshiretheatregroup.org.