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G-d’s Honest Truth

April 28th, 2015 No comments

Save a Torah

I went to see G-d’s Honest Truth, a play by Renee Calarco, at Dobama’s space last night. The play was staged by Interplay Jewish Theatre in partnership with Dobama and made possible by the strong work that Faye Sholiton always puts into her projects.

G-d’s Honest Truth is a good, solid play that, I’m sure, started its life when Ms. Calarco heard the tale of Rabbi Menachem Youlus, who trolled the Eastern seaboard of the United States from 2004-2010 selling Torahs with fake histories.

As a playwright—-hell, as a person, like many other people—-I’ve heard my share of strange stories or stories that are pretty incredible. But as a playwright in particular I’ve thought to myself: “Myself, how do I dramatize this.” With the peculiar case of Rabbi Youlus in mind, I think Calarco has really done something impressive: not only has she managed to contextualize the events, but also she has managed to frame them in the history of a family and a community—not just in the sense of how the events impacted a family and community adversely (and the implications of it), but also how the events, in an odd way, lifted a family and community and enlivened it. These are contrary impulses, but life is filled with contradiction and Calarco does a great job of balancing them.

Youlus, in Calarco’s play, is named “Dov,” and was read by Stuart Hoffman: who seems to be everywhere these days—which is good because Hoffman is quite talented and always fun to see. Dov first appears with a married couple (Laura Perrotta and Scott Plate) whose son (Greg Violand) is about to be married. Larry (Plate) is carefully and meticulously inscribing the ketubah while Roberta (Perrotta) is having her dress made and ranting about how Larry has waited until the last minute to create ketubah when he had the whole of a two-year engagement to get it done. Dov casually drops the story of the “Holocaust Torah” and how a Polish priest unearthed it at Auschwitz, miraculously. The torah was wrapped in the torn clothing of the prisoners and even had bloodstains on it. Dov comments that a nearby synagogue is considering purchasing it, a fact that stings the impulse of Roberta and Larry. The two convince the board of their own synagogue to purchase the Holocaust Torah, which it does for half-a-million dollars. This story of the play winds on until we learn that another synagogue has a Holocaust Torah with the identical story, and, perhaps more egregious still, Dov locates a long lost copy of Anne Frank’s Diary that Anne was translating into English for practice. She had only completed two or so pages.

The absurdity of the background of these ‘holy relics’ and the bidding wars that they inspire in a community of people is another piece of the backdrop for this play, as is the microcosm of the family and individuals who have to consider their own faith and reliance on stories.

Ultimately, Calarco makes effective use of the Youlus story turning it into a launching point for her play, creating a deeper and more important meditation on what faith is, what family is, what history means, and how each of us fits into it.

Valerie Kilmer, a member of the chorus, played Violand’s fiancée; as well, both Tim Keo and Khaki Hermann filled out the chorus of the very entertaining play which was read before a full Dobama house.

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