I liked Jericho, the final show of the Minnesota Jewish Theater Company (MJTC)’s 2014-2015 season. I’ll admit, it’s hard to write about—in the same way I imagine a show like Mad Men is hard to write about. There’s not a ton of plot, but the world of the play is so rich, and the characters are so compelling that I was riveted for two hours.
The play centers around two couples living in New York City in 2005, processing, four years later, 9/11. In a sense, we’re all still processing it.
But Jericho isn’t about us all, or even 9/11, really; it’s about six people trying to process something traumatic. Well, it’s five people, actually; and one hallucination…
There’s Beth (Anna Sutheim), the protagonist of the story, whose husband didn’t make it out of the towers that day. She’s dating Ethan (Max Polski), whose brother, Josh (Ryan M. Lindberg), did make it out. He’s married to Jessica (Miriam Schwartz), and they’re all going up to the brothers’ childhood home in Jericho, New York, to spend Thanksgiving with Josh and Ethan’s mother (Maggie Bearmon Pistner).
The best stories allow us as audience members (or readers/listeners) to see ourselves in a character; and this story doesn’t lack for identifiable moments. Beth is a conflicted, tortured soul, suffering from a never-identified condition where the ghost of her past comes back to haunt her in a very real (at least to her) physical form. She doesn’t simply have fake conversations with her dead husband Alec (Michael Torsch), but in a script-writing move that is either brilliant or completely superfluous, her dead husband takes the physical form of Beth’s therapist, Dr. Kim (also Michael Torsch). Thankfully, the sessions with her therapist are few and far between—serving only to get out some necessary exposition—and she spends most of the play reflecting on her inability to connect with people.
Beth seems to treat losing her husband (in the most tragic way possible) as a convenient excuse to reject all future chances at intimacy with someone else. An easy explanation she can use to rationalize behavior she’s always had. A behavior her husband recognized. “I hoped someone seeing me do it would make me not do it to them,” she says at one point. But all it did was make the guilt even worse when he died.
As for the other couple, Josh escaped the towers. By 2005 he has turned from what we learn was a secular Jewish lifestyle to a religious lifestyle, doubled-down with a healthy dose of Zionism. The first time we see him, he’s yelling at his TV for the biased way that cable news is covering Israel. His wife enters, and they immediately start fighting. It’s a fight they’ve clearly had before, and one that doesn’t portend well for their marriage. Sure enough, we learn that he’s planning to move to Israel, and she’s not.
All of this builds to a Thanksgiving meal hosted by a mother living alone in Jericho, who leaves “Russian novel” length messages on her sons’ answering machines, wants to move to Florida, and always orders too much food.
It’s a great show. It’s an identifiable show. I saw much of myself in Beth, and much of friends and family members in the other characters. The writing is sharp, and the whole cast gives stellar performances. Each actor fits comfortably into the discomfort of their characters, and each one gets at least one moment to shine.
I won’t lie: the tickets aren’t cheap. One ticket will run you anywhere from $19 on Wednesday night, to $28 on Saturday; unless you’re a student, in which case you can get a $12 rush ticket. It might explain why—other than a couple friends of one of the actors—I was the youngest person in the audience by a factor of decades. [1. Quick tangent: I was enjoying the intermission music, and I thought it might be Icelandic post-rock group Sigur Rós. Wanting to double-check, I pulled out my phone and quietly said, “OK, Google… What song is this?” I held up my phone to the speaker and let it listen for 20 seconds, after which I confirmed that it was indeed Icelandic post-rock group Sigur Rós. I smiled contently, put my phone away, and sat back down. Only after did I realize I must’ve looked deranged to anyone in that audience. Kids these days and their smart phones…]
It’s a shame because every show I’ve seen from the MJTC has been excellent. And I hear great things from my parents and their friends about the shows I don’t see. Jericho has a great cast; it’s a great story; it has a clever and beautiful set; and the interstitial music by Icelandic post-rock group Sigur Rós is wonderful (see footnote). There are so many wonderful things about this show; it’s a shame that you probably won’t see it. But if you’re interested, it’s currently playing now through May 10, at the Highland Park Center Theater; I highly recommend it.
And I have to ask, if you go to shows at the MJTC, what keeps you coming back? If not, why not?
Jericho. Produced by the Minnesota Jewish Theater Company. Written by Jack Canfora. Directed by Warren C. Bowles. Now playing at the Highland Park Center Theater. Click here for tickets.
Wednesdays at 7:30 pm
Thursdays at 7:30 pm
Saturdays at 8:00 pm
Sundays at 1:00 pm