Two 19-year-old Yeshiva students set out on a mission to support less-dedicated Jews on the streets of New York, but their faith and friendship are tested in the world premiere of Lindsay Joelle’s Trayf. Theater J gives the new work an outstanding production that reveals Joelle as a playwright of great skill and promise.
The play opens on the first day of Shmuel and Zalmy setting out in a “Mitzvah Tank,” a truck that is a mobile educational and outreach center. The life-long friends make a nice contrast. Shmuel (Josh Adams) is the more traditional and sheltered, listening only to religious music and never having spoken to a woman other than his mother and sister. Zalmy (Tyler Herman) is the more adventuresome, who is tempted by secular music and the world outside their Brooklyn Orthodox community.
Their relationship becomes a friendship triangle when they meet Jonathan (Drew Kopas), who is eager to explore his new-found “Jewish soul.” Initially Jonathan’s education is a joint project, but Zalmy in particular bonds with the Manhattan aspiring record producer who represents the lure of the outside world. Jonathan in turn envies the sense of family, community, and religious identity in Zalmy’s world.
Trayf is advertised as a “not-quite-kosher buddy comedy.” [“Trayf” is the Yiddish world for “non–Kosher” or “forbidden.”] It certainly starts off lightly. Shmuel and Zalmy have the easy rapport and enough of an odd couple to make their debates over the proper way to listen to music or the mysteries of women funny and entertaining .
Yet this description seriously undersells this jewel of a play. Under the guidance of director Derek Goldman Trayf builds layers of deeper meaning as the bonds of their friendship are challenged by Johnathan’s friendship with Zalmy and his interest in the outside secular world. The arcs of all three main characters in dealing with these human challenges feel credible and authentic.
closes June 24, 2018
Details and tickets
Lindsay Joelle smartly anchors the play in the specific details of the Orthodox Jewish world yet poses universal themes. Everyone can identify with the challenges of maintaining a relationship when friends are growing up and heading in different directions. The play also explores the importance of commitment versus tolerance, a message which feels especially appropriate today.
The entire cast is talented, although Josh Adams’ portrayal of Shmuel is the heart of the play. He gives Shmuel a sweet simplicity yet reveals him to be more mature and perceptive than initially presented. Tyler Herman effectively communicates Zalmy’s yearning for the world of pop music and roller discos. The two relate well in demonstrating their long friendship in all its funny, aggravating, and touching aspects.
Drew Kopas makes Jonathan a charismatic figure and convincingly handles the play’s biggest shift in character. That shift has human costs, a point well made in a scene when Jonathan’s girlfriend Leah (Madeline Joey Rose in a powerful supporting role) confronts Shmuel midway through the story.
Trayf has been in development for roughly a year and a half and playwright Joelle has been in town for a month working with Derek Goldman and Theater J to bring it to fruition. This collaboration has delivered a funny, personal, intelligent, and touching work that should see success here and around the country.
Trayf by Lindsay Joelle. Directed by Derek Goldman. Featuring Josh Adams, Tyler Herman, Drew Kopas, and Madeline Joey Rose. Scenic Design: Paige Hathaway. Costume Design: Kelsey Hunt. Lighting Design: Harold F. Burgess II. Sound Design: Justin Schmitz. Dialect Coach: Zach Campion. Props Master: Kevin Laughton. Hair and Beard Design: Gregory Bazemore. Production Stage Manager: Karen Currie. Assistant Stage Managers: Jessica Soriano, Sydney Ziegler. Produced by Theatre J. Reviewed by Steven McKnight.