The Black Jew Dialogues
nytheatre.com review by Robert Weinstein
March 3, 2009
It is difficult to tell what writer-performers Ron Jones and Larry Jay Tish have accomplished in their exuberant and swiftly twisting show, The Black Jew Dialogues, now playing at the Kraine Theatre as part of the FRIGID Festival.
On the one hand, the production hops across styles as quickly as the jokes, barbs, and facts come flying out of their mouths. The show is part drama, part dialectic, part infomercial, part puppet show, part talk show, part classroom lecture, part sketch comedy show, and much, much more.
On the other hand, it deals with a difficult topic that in less experienced and sensitive hands could easily turn into something rude, uncomfortable, or pretentiously didactic.
On the third hand (stay with me for a moment), it is somewhat didactic, designed as an educational show to spark discussions about race, class, politics, and history and bridge the ever widening divide between two groups of people who, in the opinion of the men involved, are more alike than different and whose interests were and are closely aligned.
On the fourth hand (I'm almost done with this), it is a bona fide drama telling the story of two men who spend the weekend in a hotel room trying to develop a show that will start a new conversation about race and culture, a conversation they feel is in need of a fresh direction. There are moments of genuine conflict between Jones (Black) and Tish (Jew) as they try to push through their own racial and cultural barriers—their own misconceptions about race—to understand what lies on the other side of the great divide.
And on the last hand (we're at five now), it's an abridgement, a small part of a much larger show that has been performed in theatres, high schools, colleges, and religious institutions all over the country. The show in its proper form includes more material and a post-performance talk back between Jones and Tish with the audience. FRIGID Festival time restrictions have forced these engaging performers to shorten their set.
It's this last part that makes it difficult to tell if they've succeeded in their mission. Does the version of the play now showing at the Kraine rise to the lofty ambitions of its creators?
The answer: I'm not sure. I saw the opening performance and the two performers had just arrived from Boston. It felt too quick, lacking the proper time to establish and develop its themes. There are definitely moments during the show when Jones and Tish push at the boundaries of comfortable discussion points. And there are moments throughout that are thoughtful, insightful, and hilarious. (Videotaped interludes follow two puppets quizzing people on the street about their knowledge of Jews, Blacks, Asians, and minorities in general. The answers will surprise you.)
In its present form, the show feels undercooked, not for lack of vision but for lack of time. It's definitely a show worth seeing though and to this end, I would like to make a suggestion. Go see the show. When it's over, wait for the actors in the lobby and begin asking them questions. Talk to them. See what they have to say. Take them out for a beer or coffee or a nice bowl of chicken soup. Talk to them about the show and their experiences with race and religion as well as their experiences performing the show. Jones and Tish have a lot to say about their topic. And their topic, like the themes at the center of the show, doesn't go away when the lights go out.