We all want to see the “happy ever” ending: two people meet, they fall in love, and then skip off into the sunset as the credits roll. Without revealing any spoilers, that’s exactly what happens in Cary Gitter‘s anodyne but generally delightful play, The Sabbath Girl.
Angie Mastrantoni (Lauren Annunziata) is the head curator of a New York City-based art gallery. Her social life is flagging but–as she tells her Nonna Sophia (Angelina Fiordellisi), “A woman’s worth isn’t determined by whether or not she’s in a relationship.” Besides, every guy she meets in the city is a complete jerk. Sure, she attempts to personally and professional court Blake (Ty Molbak), a handsome up and coming artist whose work offers “penetrating insight into human nature.” Yet between his massive ego and complicated past, it’s a romantic premise grounded on quicksand. Fortunately, a nebbish but handsome Orthodox Jewish neighbor named Seth (Jeremy Rishe) needs a Shabbos Goy. Within minutes of the show’s opening, you can tell exactly where the story will lead.
Between Seth’s traditional sister, Rachel (Lauren Singerman) –with whom he works at the family’s knish shop–and his own internal spiritual battle, Seth’s crisis of faith poses a big hurdle if he is to settle down with an Italian-Catholic.
Gitter has essentially written the stage version of a light-hearted, romantic comedy akin to the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan genre from the eighties. His characters, including the self-absorbed Blake are incredibly likable and full of humanity. Yet it’s only when Angie and Rachel exchange conversation at the family business that Gitter dives deep beneath the surface. Upon her defense of Seth, Rachel tells Angie:
“Oh, you think you know who I am! All you goyishe girls think you have us all figured out! You pass us on the street and think we’re just slaves to the men, right? With no minds of our own? Wrong. I choose to live how I do. I choose to wear what I wear. I run a business, or haven’t you noticed? And it’s not because anyone“tells me to.” It’s because of faith. Tradition. What I know in my heart to be true.”
Gitter carefully crafts his work with a bold feminist view and proves that adherence to religion does not equate to patriarchal submission. Yet the harsh reality–as my older, Jewish theater date for the night pointed out–is that this relationship, even by 2020 standards, would be fatal for both parties and would cause familial ostracization.
Perhaps I’m overthinking it. (Damn critic!) Maybe it’s best to just sit back and enjoy all 90 minutes of The Sabbath Girl, gently directed by Joe Brancato. Sometimes breezy escapism like this is a welcome change to the daily mishegas that bombards us.
The Sabbath Girl is now playing through March 8 at 59e59 Theater. (59th Street between Park and Madison) For tickets and more information, click here.