Religion is a touchy subject among people of different religions. It can become an even touchier subject among people of the same religion. At least people with different beliefs can leave it at that: they believe different things. Those who share a religious code, but maybe not the same ardency in adhering to it, can find themselves in a much more confusing spot.
That’s the theme tackled by the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia’s production of Can I Really Date a Guy Who Wears a Yarmulke? Before diving in, it should be noted that the worst aspect of this play is the title. It would be a shame for it to deter any potential theatre-goers, as it serves as very little indication of this often hilarious, tightly-written, clever play.
Eleanor (Elizabeth Jernigan) has just returned from her 11-day Birthright Trip to Israel, and she’s getting sick of having “the holocaust shoved down [her] throat.” Two days before leaving, she caught her now-ex-boyfriend mid-coitus with an undergraduate who was decidedly not her. Frustrated and angry, both with her heritage and her love life, she plans to buckle down and finish her Ph.D. dissertation pitch about proposals in Jane Austen books.
Aaron (Robbie Gay) is similarly frustrated with his love life. His recent ex-girlfriend turned out to be less-than-stellar girlfriend material, and he’s not excited at the prospect of dating again. As a cardiac pediatrician, he doesn’t have a lot of time on his hands. Unlike Eleanor, though, he’s completely content with his Jewish faith. Maybe not to the extent his family is —they all live in Israel, save for his sister—but he keeps the Sabbath and attends Temple, something that feels to Aaron like victory in modern-day New York.
The two are brought together by mutual friends (played by Amanda Spellman and Joshua Dick), who have just announced their engagement. Aaron and Eleanor are getting along swimmingly, happily and quickly hopping into bed with each other. That is, until Aaron wakes up early to leave for Temple. He tells Eleanor not to worry, to sleep in and he’ll be back, but the prospect of a religious Aaron is too much for her.
Thus begins a lengthy look at how relationships function when two people have different beliefs. Aaron never pushes his views on Eleanor. At least, he never tries to. Eleanor, though, often pushes her views on Aaron. Over time, they either must learn to accept each other, or they might as well toss in the towel.
This, though, makes the play sound heavy-handed and a bit philosophical. In reality, it’s nothing but. Peppered with funny, if not cringe-worthy puns (“The Jew York Times Best Seller List) and great one-liners (“I’m gonna be like Doogie Howser but Jewier and with cleaner sneakers.”) and funny dialogue (“Nice Jewish boys don’t play ‘Pig.’” “’Rat’ then.”), the play kept the audience laughing throughout.
All four leading men and women give strong performances, though none that particularly differentiate from one another. All have strong comic timing, but Gay could amp up the emotional he’s going through a bit more while Jernigan could have toned it down. The former often just sits quietly to show his inner turmoil while the latter yells and pitches fits. Granted, this is in keeping with their characters, but at times it feels a little forced.
Extreme praise must go to Matt Dougherty who plays a variety of different comic roles, such as the waiter at a pretentious seafood restaurant. He gives the server the most clichéd of French accents and peppers menu descriptions with phrases like “If Heaven had gills, it would be this fish.” He was a delight every time he appeared on stage.
Can I Really Date a Guy Who Wears a Yarmulke?
Closes January 27, 2013
Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia
8900 Little River Turnpike
Fairfax, VA 22031
2 hours with 1 intermission
Saturdays and Sundays
Details and tickets
Charlotte Akin, who also plays various roles, should receive similar praise. Though not as quotable as Dougherty, she offers Eleanor advice as her great-Aunt who moved from Israel. Our life plans may change; it’s up to us to decide if that’s worth it.
Particular praise should be given to director Michael Dove, usually found directing his own company, Forum Theatre, and to the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia. This is the first production the company has produced since 2004, and it was nearly flawless. Most of the characters use cell phones, and a few times, the ringing was off. But in one scene, in which all four main characters are continuously calling each other in a moment of panic, the company nailed the timing. Not too shabby, considering it’s been nearly 10 years.
Finally, the script cannot be praised enough. It has enough running gags, such as the religious fundamentalists who always show up at Aaron’s door at inopportune times or Lily’s mother aka a monster wedding planner (“why not Thanksgiving themed!”), to keep the audience feeling like it’s in on the joke, while still showing a world that not all audience members might be a part of. It never alienates its audience, but it also doesn’t sugarcoat anything.
After all, as Aaron says, history matters.
Can I Really Date a Guy Who Wears a Yarmulke? by Amy Holson-Schwartz . Directed by Michael Dove . Featuring Charlotte Akin, Joshua Dick, Matt Dougherty, Robbie Gay, Elizabeth Jernigan and Amanda Spellman.. Set Design by Steven Royal, Lighting Design by Dan Covey, Costume Design by Heather Lockard, Sound Design by Thomas Sowers, and Properties Design by Kevin Laughon. Stage Manager is Sarah Kamins. Produced by Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, Performing Arts Series. Reviewed by Travis Andrews.