What if you bought a one-of-a-kind Picasso, and then a friend revealed it wasn’t really one-of-a-kind? Would you accept the truth – or cling to ignorance like a warm blanket? In Theater J’s painfully funny premiere of G-d’s Honest Truth, playwright Renee Calarco explores how and why smart people willingly suspend logic and fall for “too good to be true”. The short answer? It’s complicated.
Calarco is no stranger to the tricky intersection of faith and logic, of hearts & minds. Her 2012 work The Religion Thing follows two couples whose differing religious beliefs lead to flaring tempers, bitter fights, and ruined relationships. In G-d’s Honest Truth, Calarco brings her canny grasp of religion and cultural memory to a mystery involving “The Jewish Indiana Jones” and a 70 year-old Holocaust Torah. Based on real events, Truth follows a well-meaning Jewish couple trying desperately – and against their better judgment – to connect to their past, with results both riotous and touching.
The play opens in the DC living room of a Jewish couple, framed by set designer Robbie Hayes with enough books and tchotchkes to rival a Chili’s in terms of packed wall space. The magnetic Naomi Jacobson stars as neurotic socialite Roberta, while John Lescault plays curmudgeonly husband Larry with resigned, prickly wit. They’ve invited the charismatic Rabbi Dov – played by Sasha Olinick, channeling the spirit of Billy Graham – to present his “amazing” findings from an archaeological dig at Auschwitz.
Dov claims to have found a long lost Torah buried by Jewish prisoners during World War II. While Roberta and Larry don’t seem the type to be taken in easily, once Dov starts his song and dance, it’s clear that they don’t have a chance. So detailed and passionate is his tale that the couple decides on the spot to purchase the Torah for their synagogue, lofty asking price and suspiciously storybook origin notwithstanding. The scroll itself really is a beautiful recreation and a credit to the talent of props designer Britney Mongold.
Not long after the couple triumphantly delivers the sacred text, a series of suspicious cracks, dead ends, and coincidences emerge. As the couple hesitantly searches for the truth, the facade on their tidy life begins to crack as well. Their 34-year man-child son Josh, played to the hilt by Eric Messner, separates from his fiancée, threatening to deprive Larry and Roberta of grandchildren and their legacy. Audrey Bertaux plays Josh’s frustrated partner Alanna with effusive charm, delivers a spot-on take of a teenage girl reciting her Bat Mitzvah ceremony.
G-D’S HONEST TRUTH
March 18 – April 19
1529 Sixteenth Street, NW
1 hour, 30 minutes, no intermission
Tickets: $45 – $65
Tuesdays – Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays
While Roberta and Larry’s religious credibility and potential descendants hang in the balance, veteran actors Rena Cherry Brown and Michael Kramer fill in the blank space with some versatile character acting. The two rotate from kids hilariously stumbling through services to older worshippers clinging wistfully to the apocryphal Torah as a link to their fading heritage. These quirky character moments keep the audience on their toes as the show races toward the big reveal.
Jenny McConnell Frederick directs a fine production, carefully managing the cast as they seesaw between emotional contemplation and fourth wall-breaking jokes. Calarco’s fresh script and the chemistry of Jacobson and Lescault help the show overcome some overly hammy scenes and surprisingly grainy scenic projections that distract from the main action. G-d’s Honest Truth lays bare funny, painful truths about “Keeping up with the Joneses” and the desire to leave a personal legacy, and the audience leaves all the better for it.
G-d’s Honest Truth by Renee Calarco. Directed by Jenny McConnell Frederick . Featuring Featuring Audrey Bertaux, Rena Cherry Brown, Naomi Jacobson, Michael Kramer, John Lescault, Eric M. Messner and Sasha Olinick . Produced bu Theater J, part of Locally Grown: Community Supported Art Festival . Reviewed by Ben Demers.