It would have been a treat to sit in the rehearsal room during the first reading of Sabbath’s Theater. The New Group is currently staging the play adapted from the Philip Roth novel by Ariel Levy and the play’s star, John Turturro. Although three, mature adults star in the piece, there is quite a bit of content that is not exactly casual cocktail banter.
Turturro stars as Mickey Sabbath, a former puppeteer forced to retire due to crippling arthritis. Now, he’s reflecting on his past, ultimately seeking some sort of self-redemption. it’s a long haul to get to this point. In the meantime, he’s cheating on his wife with his long-time partner, Drenka (Elizabeth Marvel) and coming to terms with the death of his brother Morty, a solider who was shot down in World War II.
Marvel portrays the many women in Mickey’s life including his mother, his wife Roseanne, and a salty lady with a knack for selling headstones. Marvel is impressive as she makes all of these characters different and distinct.
Turturro is also excellent as a man who revels in his exploits, treating people much like puppets themselves in order to gain self-satisfaction. Still, Levy and Turturro imbue him with regret, reflection, and a sense of humanity. In many feels, he feels like a lost soul trying to find meaning in all of it.
Jason Kravits rounds out this trio and delivers solid work in a myriad of supporting roles.
Sabbath’s Theater is easy to malign given awareness and sensitivities in a post #metoo era. Still, Director Jo Bonney and this marvelous cast throw all caution to the wind and fully commit themselves to the risk of offense. For those honest with themselves, the risk pays off. Deep down, there are elements of Mickey—despicable though they are—to which we will relate. As singer-songwriter Billy Joel observed in his song “The Stranger”:
“You may never understand/How the stranger is inspired/But he isn’t always evil And he is not always wrong/Though you drown in good intentions/You will never quench the fire/You’ll give in to your desire/When the stranger comes along”
Sabbath’s Theater gives in to all desires and is intellectual, bold theater. These days, that is a rare and refreshing find. Although it sometimes meanders, it’s worth seeing solely for the fact that this cast is giving its all and delivering the goods on quality acting.
Just leave the kids—and your sweet mother—at home.
Sabbath’s Theater is now playing through December 17 at the Pershing Square Signature Theater Center (480 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th). For tickets and information, visit The New Group