It’s a tricky thing, having a theater festival in the middle of summer. If the weather is gorgeous, as it was for the opening weekend of Fringe, it may be hard to draw a crowd. A really terrific play is worth missing an afternoon in the sun. Far worse is trekking out in the middle of a torrential downpour to see a less-than-mediocre play, as I did Sunday night.
Rabbi Israel Zolli was the chief rabbi of Rome during World War II. In 1943 he took shelter in the Vatican and remained hidden there until the end of the war. This enraged what remained of his congregation, and after the war he converted to Catholicism. Or was it the other way around? Did Zolli find Jesus at some point during his seclusion and convert, thus ostracizing himself from Rome’s Jewish community?
Playwright Anthony Gallo considers the possibility that the conversion came first, but Eugenio barely delves into the rabbi’s epiphany. During a moment of grief (his brothers have perished), he rejects God and then, a week later, he suddenly falls to his knees. Lo and behold, Zolli has found Jesus. A Nazi officer experiences a similar revelation – actually, an identical one: he just falls to his knees and then the lights go out – and releases the rabbi instead of arresting him. As the war progresses, each of the characters (the rabbi, his drunken monsignor friend, a cardinal, a nun, the Nazi, and a maid) grapples with the idea of forgiveness, but it all feels a bit shallow.
The script, of course, is partly to blame, but the actors, for all their earnestness, also lack finesse. As Rabbi Zolli, Mark Lee Adams is strangely glib as he struggles to save his congregation and discover his own true religion. Rather than a brow furrowed with introspection, Adams sports an amused smile in most scenes; it’s disconcerting. Bonnie Jourdan is far more capable as Sister Angelina, and David Seemiller delves as deeply into his role as the Nazi as the script allows.
Staged in a church basement auditorium, some of the lines are lost to poor acoustics. A narrator provides a timeline, but his jarring intonations don’t match up with the timeline in the program. Gallo and director Roland Branford Gomez should at least try to iron out these minor problems before taking Eugenio to New York’s Midtown International Theatre Festival later this month.
- Running Time: 75 minutes
- Tickets: Eugenio
- Remaining Shows: Wed, July 16 at 9:15 . Sat, Juy 19 at 7 . Sun, July 20 at 5
- Where: Universalist National Memorial Church, 1810 16th Street NW