‘The God of Isaac’ appears in Jerusalem

Prepare for a moving encounter with serious comedy at the Khan Theater.

C.B. Davies and Batya Americus portray a couple in love whose relationship confronts change. (photo credit: KAREN FELDMAN)
C.B. Davies and Batya Americus portray a couple in love whose relationship confronts change.
(photo credit: KAREN FELDMAN)
For good entertainment, there is nothing quite like a night at the theater – observing gifted people performing live without a net. Fortunately, because Jerusalem boasts several talented English theater groups, local playgoers are in the enviable position of having a rich variety of dramatic genres to enjoy.
For a memorable Valentine’s Day (February 14), consider taking someone you love to the opening night of “The God of Isaac,” a serious comedy (which is not an oxymoron) and a multi-dimensional love story by the Ben Bard Players.
It’s 1977 in Skokie, Illinois. Isaac Adams almost has it all – looks, money, a good job as a writer, a beautiful wife: the American dream, the whole nine yards. But then local Nazis issue the disturbing announcement that they are planning a march through town and this sparks Isaac to launch a quest for self-discovery.
Because he was raised in a non-observant home, Isaac’s Jewishness had been of no real relevance to him (“Being Jewish meant no more to me than being right-handed”) and he is little prepared for this spiritual odyssey. Consequently, it impacts his life in unexpected ways – not the least of which is the toll it takes on his relationship with his mother and the non-Jewish wife that he loves. But he is determined to press on at all costs.
The theme sounds serious – and it is – but the play is also funny, finding just that right balance between humor and substance.
People who grew up secular in America will identify with the play and Isaac’s journey in one way; religious native Israelis will gain insight into American Judaism the 1970s, when it was written, as well as a better understanding of assimilation in the US today.
The role of Isaac is portrayed sensitively by C.B. Davies, who somehow manages convincingly to pull off being stand-up-comic funny without losing an ounce of his openness, earnestness and vulnerability. Davies is well known to local theater lovers from his major roles in plays such as Next to Normal and Cinderella.
Davies’s real-life mother is played by his real-life mother Ellen (this will make perfect sense to you – but only when you see the clever way the play teases the observer).
Another accomplished actor, Batya Americus, as Isaac’s beautiful wife, wins the audience’s heart as she struggles to adjust to the changes in Isaac as he bumblingly rediscovers his Jewish roots. Isaac’s girlfriend from high school and college days (Aidy Friedman) enriches the story, adds background and completes a triangle of love, caring – and laughter. David Golinkin and Daniel Flieger inject additional humor and depth, portraying a range of characters that populate Isaac’s world: Holocaust survivor, JDL member, father, rabbi and more.
In Jerusalem spoke with play director Barak Bard and two of the lead actors.
Why did you select this play?
Bard: The play was written by James Sherman – his first of several popular plays performed worldwide. It is to a large extent biographical, which adds to the genuineness that people connect with and respond to. Following the success of our previous play, The Statement, I was looking for a comedy, but a serious one with meaningful Jewish content. I loved this play on the first reading – and even more on the second reading...
Do you relate to the characters you are playing?
Americus: “I love my part. When I was reading the play the first time, I just started laughing – and I am still enjoying it.”
Davies: My role is challenging – in many ways even more demanding than acting in a musical. It’s really fascinating for me to play Isaac. He grew up with no Jewish identity; I grew up religious. My mother pushed me to do a lot of Jewish stuff, but Isaac’s mother was just the opposite. He was clueless as to what it meant to be Jewish. It’s interesting to take on a role that is so different in many ways from my upbringing and it gives me insight into Jews with a different background than mine.
What is it like to have your real mother onstage with you playing your mother?
Davies: It’s the first time we ever did anything like this. I’ve learned that interacting with family onstage leads to some really unusual dynamics.
What will audiences take with them?
Bard: They will have a great time because the cast is talented, the play is good fun – and it includes several surprises. The interplay between the characters and their development and growth are heartwarming and satisfying. Audiences will leave the theater moved, with a lot to reflect on and discuss in regard to relationships between men and women, parents and children, love, life – and God.
‘The God of Isaac’ will be performed on February 14, 19, 20, 26, 27 and 28 at 8:30 p.m. at Jerusalem’s Khan Theater, 2 Davis Remez St. NIS 80. For reservations: (02) 630-3600 or www.khan.co.il.