Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Modern Orthodox

Daniel Goldfarb
Dodger Stages
New York
(2005)

Modern Orthodox Poster

The brand new and very impressive Dodger Stages, a five theatre Off-Broadway complex, welcomes this comedy starring two well-known film stars and the star of The Music Man on Broadway.

There used to be a radio programme in London called You don't have to be Jewish. With its Yiddish and Hebrew jokes and constant Jewish references, Modern Orthodox would probably struggle to make that claim.

This is a situation comedy that looks at Judaism in the twenty-first century from two angles, the orthodox and the secular, and gets many good laughs along the way.

Fresh-faced Hershel, a young Hassidic Jew complete with New York Yankees skullcap and flowing tassels (but no beard or fur hat) sells diamonds. One of his customers is the hunky Ben, a secular Jew who has lived with his girlfriend, Hannah Ziggelstein for six years.

When Ben challenges Hersh's beliefs in order to agree a sale, a disaster ensues. This somehow makes Ben responsible for the geeky but likeable zealot.

Soon he has moved in and taken over not only the home, particularly on the Sabbath, but also Hannah, a pretty red-headed doctor. All of this is done with the kind of innocence that suggests that, had Danny Kaye been 25 and the time the 1950s, he might have been cast in the movie.

All of this is fine and witty but the play moves on to a higher level, first when Ben and Hannah sign Hersh up for a Jewish Internet dating agency and then find him the kooky, equally orthodox Rachel, a lovely cameo from Jenn Harris. Their wooing dinner is funny though packed with in-jokes.

Jason Biggs, well known as the star of the American Pie series of movies has fun as Hershel, especially when he gets a long snog with Pretty in Pink star, Molly Ringwald, who gives a nice performance as Hannah. Miss Ringwald also starred in When Harry Met Sally in London, a play that relies on a similar vein of humour.

Biggs gets all of the best lines in what is really a one trick pony of a show - Orthodox young Jew let loose in the real world. It should still do well, as it is endearing and funny, if lacking in depth. It also has a ready made and reasonably sizeable audience in the New York area.

It is good to be able to recognise another star, Derek McLane's wonderful set. This features painted photographic cut-outs of some of the most famous features of the Manhattan skyline. These include favourites such as the Empire State, the Chrysler and the Flatiron. Even better, some of them reverse to become furnishings in Ben and Hannah's apartment. It deserves to win awards.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher