By Dale King
Most theater-goers understand the phrase, “willing suspension of disbelief.” It’s the capacity to suspend one’s critical faculties and believe the unbelievable for the sake of entertainment. It’s how audiences can watch five guys playing cards at a table on a stage and believe they are in Oscar Madison’s New York apartment circa 1962, for example.
The Bris, the Bar Mitzvah & Beyond, now playing at the Broward Stage Door Theatre in Margate, pushes the audience’s willingness to disbelieve to the extreme.
In a nutshell, The BB&B is a Jewish coming-of-age story, told with a number of tough-to-fathom elements. Viewers must accept the idea that a father, Gary Shapiro (Ben Prayz), can converse with his 8-day-old son, Max (Jonathan Brett) while the infant is in the cradle – and is, at the same time, standing next to Dad, a grown man dressed all in black, having a serious and mature conversation about his impending “bris,” or circumcision.
Later, after Dad dies in a skydiving accident, Max visits the funeral home and, with tearful regrets, stares at the coffin. But a moment later, he is chatting with Dad who is standing next to him, uninjured, also dressed in black. Dad has apparently reappeared to undo the major blunder he committed that derailed Max’s marriage to Lori (Emily Freeman).
If you can deal with these “disbeliefs,” you’ll definitely enjoy this production that offers a tasty mid-section bookended by a couple of scenes that are inspirational, despite being told in unorthodox fashion. Kind of like a Hostess Twinkie.
The show offers laughs and lessons. Jokes follow funny bits and one-liners rapidly burst forth. Of course, tales of young Jewish kids – both male and female – are ripe for generating funny stories. While there is no Jewish mother in this play, Max says he feels the taint of Jewish guilt. And like many other plays that focus on growing up Jewish, the script frequently drops Yiddish terms into the dialogue. Lots of people understood them, though, because they certainly were laughing.
Playwright David Jay Bernstein explains that the Bris “sets the stage for the Shapiros’s lifetime together.” He obviously wants to take a wise, witty look at father-son relationships as they move through generational cycles. In many ways, it succeeds, despite a heavy emphasis on the non-real.
Director Randy Brenner jumps in. “Actually, the drama has some very funny moments. In fact, I’ve been referring to it as a ‘dramedy.’ It’s about relationships – and from a director’s point of view, it’s always a challenge to do a play with three characters and bring those lives to life on stage (while staying) true to the author’s vision.”
The BBT&B opens by spending a lot of time discussing “the bris,” with frequent references to knives, at least one machete, the cutting of skin and inflicting pain.
Thirteen years later, Max is back, hypothesizing his own father-son counseling session after attractive classmate Lori spurns him during his bar mitzvah. Magical Dad steps in, and somehow makes time stop and go backwards so he can teach his son the proper words to use each time the same circumstance arises. Finally, Max says the right things.
Brett and Prayz seem to grasp their roles well, and have spotless acting credentials. Bernstein’s script delivers the goods in most cases, but leaves a few holes where players just end up talking to one another.
Brett makes his Broward Stage debut in The BB&B, but has compiled credits in other shows and on TV. Prayz showed up in Old Jews Telling Jokes last year at Broward and portrayed Ernst on this stage in Cabaret.
While all the players are good, Freeman shines in her best characterization to date. A recent graduate of Florida Atlantic University’s MFA program, she portrayed swamp-dwelling Winnifred the Woebegone in last year’s on-campus production of Once Upon a Mattress as if she were channeling Carol Burnett. She was also the crazed sister with vampire tendencies in the play, Cuddles, at Arts Garage.
The Bris, the Bar Mitzvah & Beyond plays through March 26 at the Broward Stage Door Theatre, 8036 W. Sample Road, Margate. Tickets are $38 to $42; student tickets, $16 and may be purchased by calling 954-344-7765 or online at www.stagedoorfl.org.