Jews, Christians, and Screwing Stalin at the Matrix Theatre - Theatre Review

By Kathy Flynn

As the play begins, the ghostly Zayde Murray appears, explaining that what you are about to see is "your typical Jewish kitchen-table comedy filled with bitterness, anger, sarcasm and love." And really, nothing I can say here will can describe this play better than that.

Sammi-Jack Martincak, Cathy Ladman and Hunter Milano in
Jews, Christians and Screwing Stalin
Photo by Ed Krieger

Jews, Christians, and Screwing Stalin is the story of the Grazonsky family, Brooklyn Jews who own a boarding house in Brighton Beach circa 1966. The widowed Minka awaits the arrival of her grandson, Joseph, who is on his way home for Rosh Hashanah. What Minka doesn't know is that Joseph is bringing his half German, Christian, pregnant fiancée along with him. What Joseph doesn't know is that Minka has also invited his alcoholic father, who abandoned him as a child, to dinner. Will Minka accept the non-Jewish Caitlin? Will Joseph be able to find common ground with his father? Will David remember to bring back the chicken for dinner?

Zayda (John Pleshette)
John Pleshette
Photo by Ed Krieger

functions as a Greek Chorus of sorts, his ghostly presence commenting on the dramatic action he cannot interact with. The other tenants of the boarding house, particularly Lillie Feinstein (Laura Julian), provide comedic exchange, but the heart of the play is in the family.

From the seeds of heartbreak and anger comes a play brimming with love...and sarcasm. The play is based on playwright and director Mark Lonow's own Russian-Jewish socialist family and the characters Joseph and Caitlin are based on him and his wife of 49 years, co-writer Jo Anne Astrow. Because of this, there is an authenticity to the characters, particularly family matriarch Minka, who just wants to bring what's left of her family back together.

Cathy Ladman's Minka is delightful,
Cathy Ladman and Laura Julian
Photo by Ed Krieger

strong-willed and yet long-suffering, full of love and surprises in equal measure. Ladman brings Minka to life as a flesh-and-blood, relatable person who you would love to sit down and have dinner with. Hunter Milano's Joseph anchors the play with a strong performance filled with a maturity and centeredness disparate with his young age. Travis York is wonderful as the shifty, ne'er do well David, finding the humanity in a character that could easily fall into caricature in lesser hands.

The writing is crisp and effervescent, full of twists and consistently delightful one-liners. At times, I was reminded of the best of Neil Simon. But the work-in-progress nature of the play was a little too evident on opening night. The comedic timing was a little off sometimes and some of the delivery needed a bit more oomph. I expect that once the cast gets a few more performances under their belt that that material will absolutely sing.

Jews, Christians and Screwing Stalin was directed by Mark Lonow and written by Mark Lonow and Jo Anne Astrow. It stars John Pleshette, Cathy Ladman, Hunter Milano, Sammi-Jack Martincak, Travis York, Laura Julian, Sally Schaub, and Marty Ross.

Jews, Christians and Screwing Stalin plays on Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays through Sept 23 at the Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles. Tickets are $35 are can be purchased here.

Posted By Kathy Flynn on August 20, 2018 01:37 pm | Permalink