|Stark Sands and F. Murray Abraham. Photo by Richard Termine|
By Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
Translated by Edward Kemp
Directed by Brian Kulick
Classic Stage Company
By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
What could be more contemporary than a play about the need for religious tolerance? How about an 18th century tale set in Jerusalem during the Crusades, which when originally penned by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (translated here by Edward Kemp) was banned by the church?
F. Murray Abraham stars as Nathan the wise, a Jewish merchant living in Muslim-controlled Jerusalem (1192) alongside Christian soldiers of the Crusades. He has raised Rachel (Erin Neufer), a baby dropped at his doorstep, as his own daughter, but she was baptized a Christian -- a fact Daya (an entertaining Caroline Lagerfelt) finds it hard to keep to herself, even if the consequence might be death for Nathan. Meanwhile, Al Hafi (George Abud), treasurer to Sultan Saladin Austin Durant) introduces Nathan to his boss and that friendship just might save Nathan. Especially if he can answer the sultan's heartfelt question about which religion of the three in the region is the best. Meanwhile, a Knight Templar (Stark Sands) falls in love with Rachel, with potentially disastrous consequences for everyone. Shiva Kalaiselvan completes the cast as Saladin's sister, Sittah.
What are the Highlights?
Always fun to see Broadway vet F. Murray Abraham -- and Star Sands (Kinky Boots, American Idiot), for that matter -- on a New York Stage. Lagerfelt adds a much needed dose of humor.
What are the Lowlights?
It's kind of a predictable (in spite of the apparent plot twists and surprises). With two acts running just over two hours it seems a bit tedious, especially since there is a lot of retelling of action we already have seen.
Modern-attired actors begin the tale speaking a foreign language (which is lost on any of us who do not speak it -- as is Arabic writing that appears in projection on the backdrop which includes photos of war-ravaged Jerusalem -- but from modern days with satellite dishes visible.). They switch to intriguing costumes designed by Anita Tavich (with Arabic-looking writing on them)
Set designer Tony Straiges also uses some rugs on a sand-colored floor to change scenes, or set up areas of action on the stage, but they sometimes seem in the way. Persian-looking lamps hanging overhead lend a nice touch.
Nathan the Wise plays through May 1 at Classic Stage Company, 136 East St., NYC. Performances are Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7 pm; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm. Tickets are $60 on weeknights and $65 on weekends: www.classicstage.org; 212- 352-3101 / 866-811-4111; box-office.
--God's name taken in vain
-- Extended Muslim prayer