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May 6, 2018:

Knife to the Heart reviewed by Rob Stevens

Andrea Bowen, Anne DeSalvo and Josh Zuckerman (all photos by Kim Beavers)

To circumcise or not to circumcise? That is a question Shakespeare never had his Hamlet pose. But in their new play, Knife to the Heart The Circumcision Comedy currently at The Complex, that is a question writers Stan Zimmerman & Christian McLauglin have their young interfaith couple ask. The intermission-less show plays like a double length sitcom pilot with a scene from a “very special episode” tucked into it. Marshall (Josh Zuckerman) and Julie Ann (Andrea Bowen) are finally going to be parents, much to his fanatical, obsessive mother’s delight. Rhonda (Anne DeSalvo) despises her older son’s wife and their offspring so she thinks of Julie Ann as her daughter and the upcoming birth of twin boys as her first grandchildren. She lets Julie Ann’s gay BFF and fellow schoolteacher Deacon (Todd Sherry) plan the baby shower—Rhonda is busy planning the Bris of the Century. When Deacon clues in shiksa Julie Ann to what actually takes place at a bris, the family dynamics greatly alter. The offended Rhonda takes off for a cruise of the Greek Islands after Julie Ann browbeats Marshall into agreeing to a no snip approach to their soon-to-be-born boys. All is resolved happily before the final curtain with Rhonda’s recounting of heretofore never revealed family history (a somber Holocaust remembrance).

Todd Sherry, Josh Zuckerman and Andrea Bowen

Zimmerman has directed with a zippy pace although the show does feel overlong at 90 minutes. Some judicious snipping could easily be done to the script—is there a playwright mole in the house? The script is filled with implausibilities and inconsistencies, especially Rhonda’s backstory. The cast is competent but can’t overcome the stale dialogue and situations they are given to play. And it often seems like they are from three different plays. DeSalvo has a strange way of focusing as she says her lines, seldom looking at her scene partner but rather concentrating on the furniture. Her portrayal of the typical Jewish mother adds nothing new to the folklore. Deacon is written way too gay and stereotypical and played full out to the nth degree by Sherry and is way too big for the tiny theatre. His one serious, revelatory scene is undercut by Borscht Belt humor. Zuckerman and especially Bowen seem able to ground their characters in a more solid reality. This show could really use some of the joy found in “The Bliss of the Bris.” That song from Naked Boys Singing exudes more heartfelt laughs and exuberance than a Knife to the Heart manages to deliver, although it desperately tries.

The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood. Ends May 20. www.brownpapertickets.com

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