by Cynthia Citron
The play “Somewhere in the Middle” is about three generations of a family living together somewhere in the Midwest.
For once, they are not a dysfunctional family, a subject that many playwrights these days tend to focus on. This family is an affectionate, intelligent, funny, and reasonably harmonious company.
The older generation is represented by Roz (Cynthia Kania), who was a self-described “hippie” during the turbulent decade of the ‘60s, marching for civil rights and the end of the Vietnam war, but always maintaining her identity as an ardent and vehement Jew.
Her son David (Richard Van Slyke), the head of the household, considers himself a “secular” Jew: emotionally tied to his culture and its traditions, but not religiously observant.
David’s son Adam (Adam Simon Krist), a teenager, had a Bar Mitzvah at 13, but is not currently involved with Judaism.
And David’s wife Lauren (Joanne McGee-Lamb) is not Jewish at all. She is Catholic.
As the play opens, the family is waiting for daughter Sarah (Julie Lanctot) to return home from Stanford to join them for the Passover holiday.
When she arrives, however, she is dressed from head to foot in an abaya traditionally worn by Muslim women, with a scarf draped over her head and covering the lower part of her face. She is greeted with an assortment of reactions.
Her father and brother recognize her immediately, but are bewildered by her costume.
Her mother is apprehensive. But her terrified grandmother thinks she is a terrorist come to kill her and she approaches her granddaughter defensively, armed with a frying pan.
When Sarah finally uncovers her face, her grandmother only wants to know why she is wearing “that shmatta.”
It turns out that Sarah is taking a class in Religious Studies and has chosen to wear a Muslim costume to gauge the reactions and prejudices of the people she meets. This explanation opens a barrage of questions and accusations.
When Sarah accuses her father, David, of being a “half-ass Jew” because he doesn’t adhere to his religious obligations, he tells her he is a “modern” Jew, and “being Jewish is our identity.”
And when she continues her attack he responds with “We’re not prejudiced, we’re human.”
And when she points out that Jews have always chosen to segregate themselves, Roz counters with “Segregation is the Torah’s choice!”
Eventually Sarah reveals that she has invited her friend Jamal to join them for the Passover holiday. The family is happy to include him, but when he arrives they are startled to discover that he is black.
(“A schwartze?” Roz exclaims.) Which opens a new round of racial and ethnical discourse that becomes more heated as the evening progresses. When Jamal informs them that he is a Palestinian, the conversation devolves into an angry argument over Israel.
The discussion is cogent, forceful, and provocative and the six players handle it beautifully. They are guided effectively by director Gary Lamb, who is also the author of “Somewhere in the Middle,” a play so impassioned that one can’t help but surmise that this work comes directly from his own life.
Lamb is Jewish, but his wife, actress Joanne McGee-Lamb, who plays Lauren, David’s compatible wife, is probably not.
Even though the play is set in 2007, the familiar arguments voiced by David, Jamal, and Sarah are no closer to being resolved than they ever were.
So it is left to Roz to offer the final word. “The truth,” she says, “lies somewhere in the middle.”
The World Premiere of “Somewhere in the Middle” has been playing at the Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., in North Hollywood, but is currently scheduled to close this Sunday, October 22, after the 3 p.m. performance.
You can still catch it, however, this Friday or Saturday at 8 p.m.. To order tickets and to check on possible extensions, call (818) 605-5685.