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Isaac 

This retelling of the biblical tale of blind faith carries new relevance today

Wednesday, Oct 17 2001
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A biblical anecdote with a twist, A Traveling Jewish Theater's Isaac is tremendously relevant. Based on the Old Testament tale in which a man's utter devotion to God leads him to perform a most ungodly act, David Schulner's play, albeit unintentionally, can't help but speak to our current worldwide crisis. In the original story, Abraham (the first Jew and the father of all three major Western religions) prepares to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac, on God's orders; pleased with Abraham's intent to obey, God stops the human slaughter. In Schulner's complex retelling, however, the ending is manipulated to make a different point about trust, worship, and the detrimental nature of blind faith.

At its start, Isaac is a fairy tale of mediocrity; the dialogue is a little silly and the costumes don't jibe with each other (Abraham wears khakis, his wife Sarah sports evening wear, and junior's in beach gear -- and kneepads). But as the story progresses from Isaac's preparation of a lamb for slaughter to Abraham's preparation of Isaac for slaughter, the proceedings take on a more contemplative hue. The play, which takes place on a minimalist, desertlike stage complete with white sand and blowing tents, is told primarily from Isaac's naive point of view; the young son (a compelling Aaron Davidman) thinks he's hiking with Dad in the desert en route to an animal sacrifice. In its traditionally untraditional fashion, ATJT daringly portrays these ancient characters with tragic flaws aplenty -- Corey Fischer's Abraham is a confused man with weak resolve, while Naomi Newman's Sarah is a jealous, godless wife. Schulner's script, though slow to start, does find depth through the exploration of intense religious belief, asking the modern question of why a Supreme Being would relish the destruction of humanity. The answer, unfortunately, is not in the script.

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Karen Macklin

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