Lot’s Wife (American Premiere)
by Albi Gorn
Directed by Karina Ramsey
Through March 25, 2017 (weekends)
Westchester Collaborative Theater (WCT)
23 Water Street, Ossining, N.Y. 10562
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Albi Gorn started writing Lot’s Wife more than 20 years ago, then recently reworked it in theater workshops . Considering how this pithy parable about survival, faith, assimilation and intolerance resonates today, the prolific and talented playwright either is visionary or an astute student of historical cycles. Let’s call it both.
His work – now on stage through March 25 at the new home of Westchester Collaborative Theater (WCT) in Ossining – is not only close to the bone in how it mirrors the prevailing, authoritarian political climate, but also sticks to the bone well after you’ve exited the performance space. (Review continues below photo…)
Mr. Gorn has taken the biblical tale of the wayward denizens of Sodom – and their wholesale punishment at the hands of a vengeful God – and has modernized it with his usual deft hand and highly literate sensibility. As in all of his diverse body of work, the award-winning dramatist likes to challenge glib assumptions and look at life a bit askance, with humor lightly salted throughout. (In this version, however, we do not witness Lot’s wife’s lot in life, which is to be a-salted for turning her back on God.)
In the Gornification of the story of Lot, we are treated – and a treat it is – to a female-voiced God, a choice that is refreshing and no less plausible than the age-old conceit that an omniscient spirit is identifiable by any gender at all.
THE MAGNIFICENT 10
The author leaves the Genesis storyline intact: Abraham (Kurt Lauer) is God’s earthly emissary who informs Lot (Ron Schnittker) — along with Lot’s wife (Julie Griffin), and their daughters, Geula (Jessica Hickey) and Shira (Justina Dieck) — that they must find 10 innocents among the unholy populace to spare the entire town a fiery death for forsaking God (the voice of Ms. Griffin).
The Lots themselves have lots to be thankful for, because they are protected by a pair of angelic messengers mercifully dispatched by God, Yael (Michelle Daneshvar) and Ashonael (Jason Fineberg).
The setting of Lot’s Wife still is antiquity, but some of the vernacular invokes today’s idioms, as when 13-year-old Shira giddily tells the angel Ashonael he’s “hot.” Or when the symbolic villain of the piece, 18-year-old Sodomite Horab (Ralph Vandamme) — an appropriately intimidating presence who is dutifully vigilant about rooting out undesirable Hebrews — menacingly avers, “There are some people here who should have their butts kicked.” The strapping young actor is all too convincing that he could do it, too.
DEALMAKER, DEALMAKER, MAKE ME A DEALHe also knows how to balance playful with tasteful. When Abraham pleads with God to reduce to 10 from 50 the number of worthy Sodomites who must be found to save the town, the playwright manages to turn the exchange into a charming, laugh-inducing negotiation, as if the father of the Hebrews had just read “The Art of the Deal.” Not. One of the signal accomplishments of Lot’s Wife is how its author packs a lot of timeless themes rather neatly into a tight, well-paced package:
In 16-year-old Geula (Jessica Hickey), daughter of the Lots, we are reminded how the next generation is given to its own agenda at times, as well as its doubts that can disconnect it from the experience and teachings of their parents.
In Lot, a wealthy man whose “go-along-to-get-along” submissiveness to the Sodomites is in sharp contrast to his wife’s proud and disciplined defiance of their oppressiveness, we are reminded of the wages of sin when more faith is placed in the almighty buck than in the almighty. Sound familiar?
DRAMATIZING, NOT MORALIZING
That kind of gentle nod to current culture places the teachable moments of the story in both a more relevant and a more diverting context. The symbolism in Lot’s Wife – with its pitch-dark overtones of holocaustic witch-hunting and genocide – is readily available to the audience, but in artful brush strokes. We thankfully are not bludgeoned by it, as can occur in theater pieces that veer off into moralizing at the expense of dramatizing. Mr. Gorn proves masterly in the elusive writer’s credo of “show, don’t tell.”
In Lot’s Wife, we empathize with the guilt of survivors — whether it’s a natural disaster, the sudden loss of a loved one, or genocide — and with the unanswerable question they are plagued by the rest of their days: Why?
There are several revelations of this production that are worth savoring for any local theater-goer.
GENERATIONS OF TALENT ONSTAGE
One is the energy and the talent of the four young actors on stage, three of whom are in the drama program at Ossining High, with one a student at John Jay Middle School. Placed alongside accomplished adult actors – all of whom prove their mettle with fine performances – the younger actors hold their own and mesh beautifully with their elders.
In the principal roles, Julie Griffin, Kurt Lauer and Ron Schnittker make a strong trio of veterans who propel the story with conviction and dramatic weight.
Also worth noting in smaller roles are impressive thespian Donna James as Abraham’s wife Sarah and Pat O’Neill as an Innkeeper in a flashback scene.
Another revelation is the resourceful use of Westchester Collaborative Theater’s newly-occupied space in a former furniture cabinet factory on Water Street, next to the Metro North station. Considerable kudos are due WCT executive director Alan Lutwin and executive producer and director Karina Ramsey, as well as set designer Jonathan Curns and the rest of the production staff – including costume designer Libby Brennesholtz – for making the most effective and practical use of a compact space. Their efforts evidence a lot of industry and ingenuity that are the saving grace of many a local theater company.
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