A quality cast and crew can't save Local Theater's debut production
Elijah: An Adventure starts with an arresting visual image: a group of people posed on a dock in attitudes of farewell while a great liner prepares to head out to sea. On the deck stands Elijah, a Jewish kid from Brooklyn, seventeen years old and about to embark on a great voyage of self-discovery and maturation. The year is 1922, so naturally his destination is Paris. On the dock below, his father, a bearded rabbi, unlooses a stream of concern and admonition: Eat Kosher, dream of your mother.
On the ship, Elijah meets wealthy young Nicholas Stoughton, a hedonistic would-be novelist who offers a room at the fine hotel that his family owns and promises to introduce Elijah to the joys of Paris life. We seem to be in P.G. Wodehouse territory here, perhaps the lighthearted musical he co-wrote, Anything Goes, and about to hear a cheery rendition of "You're the Top." The pace is lively and the dialogue sometimes surprising, and so far the show has a whimsical charm.
Remember the episode of Northern Exposure in which Chris in the Morning came into some form of masculine heat that made every woman he encountered melt? Elijah finds he possesses a similar blessing. Or curse. Almost immediately on arriving in Paris, he beds the gorgeous Elisa. At a restaurant, a waitress ignores Nicholas's attempts to catch her attention and flirts with Elijah. The wife of a strange and strangely dangerous German named Otto begs him for a kiss. And not only does his father reappear periodically to hector him, but so does Rivka, a teenage neighbor in Brooklyn who used to court him with babka and rugelach.
But author Michael Mitnick is aiming for the mystical and magical rather than the madcap, and eventually the plot dissolves into pure incoherence. Having once found some ancient sheets of music in a wooden chest in the basement, Elijah longs to be a musician, and he also passes off the compositions as his own. His father has financed this trip — scraping together all his money to do so — specifically so that Elijah can study with a reclusive French composer named Georges Deruet. You have to wonder what kind of son would let his father skirt poverty for a lie. And then it turns out sexy Elisa was married to Nicholas's dead brother, and there's a big inheritance at stake. Which leads through improbable paths to arsenic, a possible murder plot and a lot of anti-Semitic ranting from Otto (well, it is the 1920s, and we all know what's about to happen in Europe). None of this hangs together, and none of it makes much sense. To give you an idea of the ghastly whimsicality of much of the script, Elijah has a recurring image of his dead mother standing outside a shop window surrounded by whirling snowflakes like the Little Match Girl and gazing longingly at a white fur coat. We find out — and I don't think I'm giving anything significant away by revealing this — that his father saved a zillion pennies to buy his wife that white coat, but when he arrived at the shop, it was gone. Noticing a piano in a store window across the street, he discovers that the piano cost the exact same amount as the coat and knew he was fated to buy the thing. Hence his dreams for Elijah's musical career.
The characters aren't even stereotypes. They're gesticulating puppets made up of bits and pieces of images and ideas we all sort of remember from somewhere else. Which could make sense if playwright Michael Mitnick were trying to illustrate the solipsistic way most seventeen-year-olds see the world. But to do that, he'd need to provide some sense of context and perspective, and he doesn't.
This is Local Theater Company's first production, and the tech values are high; the set and lighting are brilliantly fluid and really beautiful to look at. The cast is the crème de la crème of area talent. Benjamin Bonenfant is such a good actor that he almost makes you care about the protagonist, and Matthew Blood-Smyth is deliciously dandyish as Nicholas. Around them, Barbra Andrews, Rachel Fowler, Chris Kendall, Stephen Weitz and Mare Trevathan do their lively thing. And all you can think is, what a waste.
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