August 16, 2022 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

‘New Jerusalem’ On Stage At The Pico Playhouse:

West Coast Jewish Theatre’s production of David Ives’ brilliant, exquisitely written “New Jerusalem,” on stage at the Pico Playhouse, is pure theatrical and intellectual magic.

Meticulously researched, the story is about philosopher Baruch de Spinoza, who was born in November of 1632 to a successful merchant living in the Dutch-Jewish section of Amsterdam. He encouraged his son to become a rabbi and the play covers one, but historically significant event of Spinoza’s life. Bertrand Russell described Spinoza as “the noblest and most lovable of great philosophers.” Indeed, his belief system, Spinozistic or Naturalistic School of Philosophy is the fundamental foundation of Hinduism, Buddhism, Science of Mind, and the New Age Movement, which in a nutshell believes that, “God is all and all is God” and tolerance and benevolence are encouraged.

The play begins with an address to the audience, who are supposed to be congregants of the synagogue, by Abraham van Valkenburgh, a regent of Amsterdam played with the right amount of distain and determination by Mark Bramhall. He is to conduct a hearing or inquisition as to the accusation that Spinoza (“Bento” in Portuguese) is an atheist who holds unorthodox opinions and associates with “free thinkers,” the penalty for which would be excommunication or (“kherem”) from the Jewish community. The initial meeting takes place in the meeting room of Amsterdam’s Portuguese Nation with the playwright creating circumstances that very likely occurred.

A discussion takes place between van Valkenburgh and Saul Levi Mortera, Chief Rabbi of Amsterdam, who is Spinoza’s teacher and mentor. He is devoted to him, enjoying a close, almost grandfather/grandson relationship. Richard Fancy plays the rabbi and gives a spellbinding, deeply layered, emotional performance capturing the torment of a decision he might be forced to make. He reluctantly summons Bento, played by a most talented Marco Naggar, who delivers a commanding performance, to appear and the verbal battle of ideologies begins. The rabbi defends him at first and when van Valkenburgh accuses Bento of being slippery, Mortera says, “You can’t prosecute someone for being slippery or you’d have to prosecute the whole population.”

Bento denies being an atheist and indeed postulates that all of life is God and God is all of life and that there is no separation between nature and God – a theory that both the regent and rabbi reject. Throughout the hearing, Bento systematically dismantles the traditional belief system – from the authenticity of the Hebrew Bible to rituals and mores, to denying the existence of Heaven or Hell, all the while repeating over and over that, contrary to the traditional biblical concept of the deity, he believes in a God that is impersonal and abstract and not interested in the fates of human beings. He also believes there is a unity of the mind and body and denies the immortality of the soul. He insists he is a good Jew and loves God and that his purpose is to expand the consciousness of the Jewish community.

Bento debates the position of Jews in Amsterdam and the restrictions imposed upon them as to how they are allowed to live. Fearful of what might happen to Bento, in a stunning scene between the two of them, the rabbi pleads with him to “Find satisfaction in life as it’s imposed on us.” He also confesses that he, too, has doubts, and acknowledges that the agreement with the city is flawed, but necessary, and that ultimately Bento is destroying everything he believes in and he cannot allow that. He pleads with him to “Cut a deal and live happily ever after,” which Bento rejects.

Again, although historically undocumented, the playwright creates a deep love between a conflicted Gentile Clara van den Enden and Bento who tells her he could never marry her but that doesn’t stop him from loving her. Lovely Kate Huffman captures Clara’s torment in the stirring, heartbreaking testimony she is forced to give, furthering Bento’s potential damnation. Three other characters participate in the inquisition – Gaspar Rodrigues Ben Israel, a parnas (trustee) of the congregation, played extremely well by Shelly Kurtz whose emotional torment is palpable. His wonderful line “He’s not a Jew; he’s a Presbyterian” afforded momentary comic relief. Todd Cattell plays Simon de Vries, Bento’s good friend who betrays him, but eventually vacillates in his judgment of Bento’s philosophy. The last character is that of Spinoza’s angry half sister Rebekah, played quite stridently by Brenda Davison who, although that transition was not quite clear, likewise, experiences a change of heart and retracts her contempt for her half brother.

The philosophical/religious/metaphysical debate, that is the spine of the play, could have become monotonous and pedantic, but instead, becomes increasingly powerful, ultimately culminating in the harshest possible judgment imposed upon Baruch de Spinoza.

The utilitarian set design by Stepanie Kerley Schwartz uses the space well, with it functioning both as the meeting room and interior of the synagogue, but she must receive a major demerit for the ridiculous, jarring out-of- the-period “costume” worn by the model handsome Todd Cattell – designer blue jeans and jacket – straight off the cover of a Hollywood magazine. Mark Bramhall’s suit was inappropriate as well, but at least it wasn’t disruptive. In theatre, you ask the audience to suspend its disbelief and take a journey with you through space and time. Dressing only some of the actors in modern dress in a period piece immediately removes the audience from that time frame. That said, the rest of the cast, although not entirely in period costumes, were at least attired in such a way as not to shatter the texture of the century in which this drama takes place.

A familiar director in Equity Waiver theatre, despite the costume gaff, kudos to director Elina de Santos who did a masterful job with this complicated material, using the house as well as the stage in her interesting staging. She kept the action moving, but at the same time gave the actors the space to delve deeply into their characters, allowing for moment-to-moment beats to be fully actualized, resulting in this talented ensemble giving powerfully restrained, organically truthful performances. The shocking outcome of this historic event is a matter of public record and makes for a spellbinding evening of theatre.

Pico Playhouse

10508 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90064

Run: Thursday-Sunday through April 1

Reservations: 323.821.2449

Online: http://www.westcoastjewishtheatre.org/

in News
Related Posts

Police Seek Publics Help In Identifying Victims Of Sexual Assault By Registered Sex Offender: Santa Monica Beat – August 15th, 2022

August 15, 2022

August 15, 2022

Local news and culture in under 5 minutes.* Police Seek Publics Help In Identifying Victims Of Sexual Assault By Registered...

Man Arrested for Santa Monica’s Second Homicide of the Year

August 15, 2022

August 15, 2022

Lamont E. Horton arrested in connection to August 11 murder By Sam Catanzaro A man was arrested by Santa Monica...

Sunset Park Custom Home Lists For First Time Ever By Original Builders $5.9M: Santa Monica Real Estate Report – August 15th, 2022

August 15, 2022

August 15, 2022

Property, Developments, and Listings on the Westside.* City Council Votes to Unanimously Backs Proposal to Cut Rent Increases* Sunset Park...

Construction Begins on Michigan Avenue Affordable Housing Development

August 13, 2022

August 13, 2022

The new development will replace the Santa Monica Nikkei Hall By Dolores Quintana ​​A new affordable housing project has begun...

Column: Time to Crack Down on Vacant Homes’ Owners

August 12, 2022

August 12, 2022

By Tom Elias, Columnist ​​There is no doubt California has a housing shortage. That’s fact even in the wake of...

Metro To Hold Community Meetings About Potential Green Line Extension

August 12, 2022

August 12, 2022

By Dolores Quintana Los Angeles Metro is holding a series of public meetings to discuss extending the Metro C or...

Another Mountain Lion Dies After Being Hit by a Car

August 12, 2022

August 12, 2022

P-89 found dead along the shoulder of the 101 Freeway in Woodland Hills last month By Sam Catanzaro Another mountain...

Santa Monica Police Arrest Sexual Assualt Suspect

August 12, 2022

August 12, 2022

Anthony Barrett arrested in connection to June 28 assault By Sam Catanzaro Santa Monica police are seeking the public’s help...

LA City Council Approves Expanded Anti-Camping Ordinance

August 11, 2022

August 11, 2022

Bonin one of three not votes in expansion of LAMC section 41.18 Los Angeles City Council has banned homeless encampments...

Review: A Santa Monica Restaurant’s New Happy Hour is Top-Notch

August 10, 2022

August 10, 2022

By Dolores Quintana Birdie G’s in Santa Monica has a new Happy Hour and it is something special. For one...

Italian Market Coming to Montana Avenue

August 10, 2022

August 10, 2022

Sogno Toscano planned for 1512 Montana Avenue By Dolores Quintana Sogno Toscano is aiming to open a new “lifestyle cafe,...

Best of Santa Monica Awards Voting Now Open!

August 10, 2022

August 10, 2022

Cast your vote to support your favorite local businesses  Voting is now open for the Santa Monica Mirror’s annual Best...

Venice Family Clinic to Provide Free Community Resources in Celebration of National Health Center Week

August 9, 2022

August 9, 2022

Nonprofit Community Health Center Offering Free COVID-19 Vaccines, Children’s Books, HIV Testing, Health Insurance Counseling, CalFresh Enrollment and More August...