SEA OF REEDS
Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
Josh Kornbluth is best described as the Woody Allen of the West.
Presently Josh is performing at the Ashby Stage a.k.a. the Shotgun Players.
Most of his previous work consisted of monologues delivered below street level (The Hungry Id (sic) in San Francisco and La Val’s Subterranean in Berkeley).
Now, merely twenty years into the business, Josh no longer descends below the sidewalk to get to the stage to perform in the case of SEA OF REEDS.
The fulcrum of SEA OF REEDS is his dilatory Bar Mitzvah at the sagely post-adolescent age of 52, four times the Hebrew National average for such ceremonies.
Josh explains, that as the son of communist parents, he spent his early years being a non-Jewish Jew and it wasn’t until he became a father that he became a humanist Jew believing that the collective imagination of man was actually God.
Assuming Josh is correct, God’s primary residence in Silicon Valley.
As prescribed by tradition, Josh is directed by his presiding rabbi to read a passage from the biblical prophets called the Haftorah.
Because Josh’s ceremony is in July, his reading assignment is from the Book of Numbers, Chapter 25 to be exact.
While most of Israel is hot during July, Josh holds his Bar Mitzvah in the Negev where one can bake matzo on the sidewalk.
In the passage Josh reads, the peripatetic Nation of Israel is temporarily abiding in Shittim; no scatological overtones intended.
Shittim was crawling with Moabite Shiksas and soon some wayward Israelites were dating—to use a PG-13 euphemism—the locals i.e. the Daughters of Moab.
As usual, one thing inevitably leads to the next; it’s a slippery slope: first it’s sidelong glances, then holding hands and in no time, these randy exogamous Israelites were kowtowing to the Pagan Goddess Baal Peor.
Baal Peor, is most politely translated, is the Cleft Deity; some theologians attribute modern pole dancing to her.
This Pagan Fertility Goddess demands rigorous obeisance and specific forms of surrender from her acolytes and votaries; none of which are PG-13 in priggish societies.
As reported in Numbers 25, Baal Peor revelry eventually spills into public view.
Zimri, the son of Salu, and his Midianitish consort Cozbi, the daughter of Zur make a public spectacle of themselves.
Phinehas, Zealous the Grandson of Aaron, is appalled by their exhibitionism.
Phinehas takes a javelin in hand and skewers both Zimri and Cozbi—the woman symbolically through her belly.
Thanks to Phinehas’ moral vigilantism it was believed that a plague was stayed from the children of Israel thereby saving thousands of lives: A seemingly happy ending.
Josh thinks he is expected to reconcile himself to this bit of tabloid zealotry.
Instead, his response is an elegant exhortation for tolerance and it is possibly the core message of the play.
If you go to the play, you owe it to yourself to stopping texting at this point and listen carefully to his Bar Mitzvah address.
One bay area critic has mistaken Josh’s earnestness and sincerity for didacticism—which is apparently a misdemeanor in theater.
The play is filling with amusing boyhood reminiscences of being raised peripherally Jewish without becoming Jewish.
It is filled with intelligent humor without falling back on the usual shticks like sex or politics.
Rather than going solo, this time Josh has Amy Resnick (who starred in Haiku Tunnel with him) to prod him along.
Amy is part director and part surrogate Jewish mother.
A quartet provides musical support as Josh plays the reeds of his oboe.
The play, while not elitist, is sophisticated humor; it prioritizes artistic success well ahead of popular success.
David Dower directs this delightfully entertaining piece.
For tickets call 510-841-6500 or go to shotgunplayer.org.