Theatre Review: ‘Looking Through Glass’ at Jewish Repertory Theatre

It’s just your typical boy-meets-girl-meets-boy-who-dies and inhabits her body sort of play…with a twist.

. . .a fine night of theatre. . .

Playwright Ken Kaissar’s local premiere of ’Looking Through Glass,’ a modern adaption of ‘The Dybbuk’ is an ethereal send up to the intensity of love and the power of a promise, produced by Jewish Repertory Theatre.

In short, it was lovely, sparse and spare with staging to emphasize the beauty of the words, and very well executed by a stellar cast. Yes, on opening night there were some stutters and stammers and dropped lines, but then again, real life isn’t about perfection. Neither is love, and that’s the heart of this story.

Leah is a doctor living with her mother in New York, happily dating a fine young man, and waiting for him to pop the question. She’s ineffably attracted to Jacob,a stranger who is just as mysteriously drawn to her window. Silent sparks fly, curiosity is aroused, and her cautious mother and suspicious intended are wary. After Jacob takes his life, Leah intends to wed her beau Shmuel, and that’s when it happens. Jacob’s restless soul – his dybbuk – has unfinished business with Leah.

Kaissar’s adaptation of S.Ansky’s 1914 story is fierce, with enough contemporary updates to pull you into this character study and capture your imagination. It’s the casting and the character that put it over the top. Arin Lee Dandes is a fine Leah. She’s sweet and skeptical, romantic, and career-focused, and truly wants to do the right thing, whatever it is. When the dybbuk possesses her, she’s visibly, audibly changed. No stage magic here, it’s all her, and her fine actor’s chops.

Zachary Bellus is equally on point as Jacob, the stranger no one wants to know any better, a Kabala-quoting pseudo –intellectual, he’s every mother’s nightmare in sneakers. Yet he charms and beguiles Leah and he does it oh so well. Angelo J. Heimowitz is the even-keeled, dependable Shmuel, a perfectly good guy whose heart will be strangely broken. Heimowitz is rock-steady, just as his character should be. Tina Rausa is Leah’s mom who delivers the outstanding level of performance we expect and love from her.

The complete and unabashed stand out in the cast is David Lundy in three distinct and demanding roles. Some of them brief, but each one requires a change up in accent, demeanor, and delivery. Most of the time he’s playwright Ansky, guiding the early development of the story. Later he’s the Rabbi at Leah and Shmuel’s wedding who tried to exercise the dybbuk. Then he’s two generations of Mordecai, Leah’s father, who gives context and the delivers the surprise twist that gives this story its soul. His performance is brilliant.

‘Looking Through Glass’ is full of metaphor and allegory and suspended reality in the context of beloved Jewish mythology. JRT’s delivers  a fine night of theatre with this one.

Sidenote: this is intense and riveting theatre in a small, quiet, dark space. For the love of all things holy and mystical, before you enter this space, turn off your cell phones and keep them off.  All the way off. Not just the ringer. The whole device. No text that you may receive is all that important and your social media feed can wait. There were the usual distractions from audience members who put their need to stay connected above the respect live theatre deserves.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with a 10-minute intermission

‘Looking  Through Glass’ is onstage now to June 2, 2019 and is presented at the Jewish Repertory Theatre. For more information, click here.