Two Jews Walk Into A War at InterAct

At the Adrienne last Thursday night, the show started before the curtain went up: first there was the woman who got a verbal spanking from the theater staff for munching on a snack in her seat (“Excuse me ma’am? You can go outside and eat that”), and then enter the guy behind me who macked on some nearby ladies by suavely inquiring about a piece of gum, and then detailing the merits of his “Jew frat.”

That was actually a decent prelude to the play Two Jews Walk Into A War, which as expected featured plenty of cracks about dreidels and people with names like Rosenschweig and Fokenfilk. Hope I spelled that right. I probably didn’t catch every reference, but it brought me right back to the Shabbat dinners my roommates would host in our college dorm, where I’d stuff my face with home baked challah, happy to be the token gentile in such a bunch.

But this play—a two-man show about the last pair of Jews in Kabul, Afghanistan, left to clash once their buffer-like friend kicks the bucket—was not just an 80-minute inside joke, which was refreshing, and frankly surprising. Ishaq and Zeblyan, two old men with varying degrees of paunch and disgruntledness, make up their minds to repopulate via an ambitious plan that begins with composing a Torah, which one of them has conveniently memorized right down to the semicolons. They banter, they grumble, they play at a twisted one-upmanship to argue who was more cruelly mishandled by the Taliban, and whose family was or wasn’t worthy of eating the other’s family’s steaming shit. For example.

But their shared struggle is endearing, and in the final act, even Jew Frat boy could be heard breathing a wistful “Nooooo!”

I admit some of the umpteen one-liners didn’t do it for me. And for the longest time I was perplexed by a piped-in sound effect that seemed to punctuate jokes—it literally sounded like “ZINGGG,” as if they’d considered having a drummer there to tap the cymbals each time. But given some of the bombing noises that turned up later, I think it was supposed to be bullets whizzing by, in which case, bravo for what could pass for a representation of intertextuality between the soundtrack of war and a certain onomatopoeic convention of modern comedy.

But overall, my take on the play pretty much echoes what other critics have already said: sweet-hearted, poignant, playful but meaningful.

However, I also read in several reviews to expect an “irreverent” show—a show that, in fact, “prides itself on being irreverent.” Now, that word is kind of a pet peeve. It’s an overused, cop out word, and often code for being self-righteously pleased with its raunch and/or wittiness. But to this play’s credit that adjective isn’t quite right here. Yeah, one of the characters is preoccupied with poking holes in the logic of the Torah, musing about “spilling his seed,” and wondering whether Hashem has a soft spot for lesbians. Hilarious, by the way.

But the result isn’t mockery. The play does urge us to keep faith. Its depiction of Judaism’s oddities, right alongside its portrayal of religion’s singular ability to bring us together and give us purpose in impossible times, makes the latter all the more powerful. And in the end, reverent—which is difficult to do, and if you ask me, even more difficult to admit.

Two Jews Walk Into A War written by Seth Rozin, InterAct Theatre Company, at the Adrienne Theater, 2030 Sansom Street. Now through May 8, 2011. ($27 – $32, plus discounts for students and old people.)

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