A World Premiere Holiday Play
A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis
At: Richmond Triangle Players at the Robert B. Moss Theatre, 1300 Altamont Ave, RVA 23230
Performances: November 17 – December 18, 2021.
Ticket Prices: $10 – $40.
Info: (804) 346-8113 or rtriangle.org. Richmond Triangle Theater has returned to full-capacity seating and requires proof of vaccine or recent negative PCR test results for entry. See the theater’s website for their COVID-19 precautions, digital programs, and more.
For more years than I can remember, the Christmas season has been heralded by the return of The Nutcracker ballet and a unique holiday-themed play by Richmond Triangle Players. This year’s RTP Christmas production took a new twist with the world premiere of a new musical conceived, created, and directed by the creative team of Levi Meerovich, Nora Ogunleye, and RTP Artistic Director Lucian Restivo.
To make the twist even twistier (I know, convoluted would be a better word choice, but, you know, candy canes and all), one half of a queer couple wakes up in a hospital on Christmas day, having spent four days in a coma. Instead of contemplating presents, Jay and Leigh are contemplating matters of life and death and come to blows when Jay considers signing a DNR.
Taking a page from A Christmas Carol, Jay has flashbacks to previous Christmases – a Groundhog Day style reunion with their parents, the first meeting with Leigh – each preceded by a staticky segue partially unintelligible (or partially intelligible, if you prefer) voices from an ambiguously unidentifiable entity.
To assist with the otherworldly visitations, there is a long runway style ramp where the center aisle would normally be located. This is where Claire Bronchick (Jay) begins the show and the site of several entrances and other-worldly encounters.
The cast, a dynamic quartet consisting of Emily Berry (Leigh), Bronchick (Jay), Amber Marie Martinez (Dr. Martinez), and Eddie Webster (Rabbi Aaron Edelstein) is energetic and have ear-pleasing voices that partner well with Levi Meerovich’s music and lyrics. Indeed, during their first encounter, Leigh jumps up and admonishes Jay, in their characteristically snarky voice and aggressive attitude, not to sneak up on strangers and start harmonizing with them.
There is obvious love between Jay and Leigh, more powerfully demonstrated when Leigh sings, “I Will Care For You” while Jay sleeps that in any spoken words. But Jay’s unnamed illness – some sort of cancer, it seems – is like an intrusive third party in their relationship. Jay easily balances talk of DNR forms with jokes that slide easily off the tongue, much to Leigh’s chagrin. They are both, it seems, grieving Jay’s imminent departure, but in diametrically opposed ways. When Jay wails, “When you’re dying on Christmas, Christmas doesn’t seem so great,” there is a hint of humor, but when Leigh screeches, “you want to un-alive yourself,” it feels desperate. There is a lot of door slamming, and I hope the set can hold up to the trauma for the duration of the run.
Leigh rebuffs all attempts to help, brazenly insulting Dr. Martinez and ordering Rabbi Edelstein to get out of the room. And that brings up another question. What, exactly, is the deal with the spiritual elements of A Christmas Kaddish? There’s more than just the obvious Judeo-Christian background and conflicts, by the Christmas decorations that adorn Leigh’s large private hospital room and the persistence of Rabbi Edelstein, who so graciously persists in the face of Leigh’s escalating anger. There’s a third spiritual element, but I don’t want to spoil the fun, so after you see the show, comment here on this blog, and let us know what it was.
The cast’s voices and Meerovich’s music and lyrics are supported by an unseen musical quartet: Kim Fox, Mike Goldberg, Joy Lubman, and Bea Kelly. Nia Safaar Banks designed the costumes, and there were some interesting nuances for Leigh (lots of fishnet and cutouts), and a particularly interesting mini dress ensemble for Jay during one of their time-traveling encounters, but it was the costumes and hair (designed by Luke Newsome) for the extra, largely unnamed characters including Jay’s parents and the Rabbi’s deceased daughter, that really demonstrated creativity. Sometimes it was the costume, sometimes it was the total transformation of the character that was most captivating.
There are many moving parts to A Christmas Kaddish, and the production had a lot of wonderful moments even on opening night, but for me, some of these moments didn’t hit the target. I suspect that I might come away with a different overall feeling if I saw this same show later in the run, when the cast and all the elements have had a chance to bond more and develop that distinctive character that distinguishes each show and each cast. Looking at the extensive and talented creative team, I wonder if the individual contributions of each has yet to meld into a cohesive unit – maybe it just isn’t done yet. For now, it was a pleasant night of live theater in one of the most comfortable venues in the region, but I suspect – and hope – that the production will grow and become better than simply good. After all, this is the annual RTP Christmas Show, and Rabbi Edelstein has prayed really hard for it.
A CHRISTMAS KADDISH
Conceived by Lucian Restivo, Levi Meerovich, and Nora Ogunleye
Book by Nora Ogunleye and Levi Meerovich
Leigh – Emily Berry
Jay – Claire Bronchick
Dr. Martinez – Amber Marie Martinez
Rabbi Aaron Edelstein – Eddie Webster
Directed by Lucian Restivo and Nora Ogunleye
Music and Lyrics by Levi Meerovich
Scenic Design by Lucian Restivo
Costume Design by Nia Safaar Banks
Lighting Design by Austin Harber
Sound Design by Share Barber
Hair and Make Up design by Luke Newsome
Properties Design by Tim Moehring
Assistant State Manager: Nathan Ramos
Production Stage Manager: Lauren Langston
Orchestra Prepared and Conducted by Kim Fox
Musical Director: Levi Meerovich
UPDATED TO INCLUDE Photos by John MacLellan
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