A timely vaudevillian treat at MRT

Posted on March 31, 2011 by

“A vaudeville” is the subtitle of playwright Seth Rozin’s  bittersweet comedy Two Jews Walk Into A War, now playing through April 10 at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell.

And that is indeed what it seems on the surface as Will LeBow and Jerry Kissel, both master comedic actors, cavort on stage. At times it’s like the best comic banter of, say,  a Bud Abbott and Lou Costello or Alan King and Billy Crystal, or any of the other borscht belt comics who make people laugh with their perfectly-timed, perfectly targeted one-liners.

In fact, I felt like going “ba-da-bing” as Kissel or LeBow uttered the punch line and the lights and bombs bursting offstage kept time to the joke.

But there’s more to Two Jews than just silly set-ups and  funny lines. This is a story that is  based on the truth. It’s about the last two Jews remaining in Kabul, Afghanistan and their determined efforts to keep their temple afloat even as the bombs burst in the air about them.

But the punch line here is that these two guys,  Zeblyan, perfectly played by Kissel, and Ishaq, played to equal perfection by LeBow can’t stand each other’s guts. There were really two Jews left in Afghanistan that inspired this story and Rozin took the concept and ran, making a funny, telling, yet poignant play about them.

The premise revolves around their determination to re-create the Torah, the five books of Moses that is central to the Jewish religion, and then, hopefully, repopulate their congregation so it becomes strong again.

Zeblyan does the writing on a blood-stained scroll (not exactly kosher, but God makes exceptions in dire situations, they figure) and Ishaq does the dictating. Their snappy discussions on the stringent rules of Judaisim set down in Leviticus is  worth the price of admission and keeps the banter moving along rapidly in the 90-minute, one-act production.

But, along with the comedy, there’s a tender heart to Two Jews as well, one that anyone, Jewish or not, can relate to. It’s about the importance, no necessity, of working together, even with the enemy, and about the resiliance of the human spirit in times of peace and times of peril.

Two Jews Walk Into A War will make you laugh, for sure, but it will also make you thing – and that is what good theater is all about.

Through April 10. Visit www.merrimackrep.org for tickets.

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