A Moon Not Forgotten

Let me add that in the twentieth-century dramatic re-creation, rarely have I seen such inherently fascinating subject matter turned into a sleeping potion. This month, which includes Holocaust Remembrance Day and the ongoing terrorization of ethnic Albanians in Europe, a drama that looks at religious persecution ought to be particularly perspicacious. Even without that real-life backdrop, the notion of having the rabbi (played by Bikel) go up against Pablo Christiani (Watson), a charismatic Dominican monk who was born a Jew and converted, is thrilling. How does Maccoby, a Jewish-studies scholar with no playwrighting experience, turn the stuff of gold into lead?

It suffices to say that despite the considerable efforts of this high-caliber cast, not one individual in the story emerges as a full-fledged character. (Witkin plays the king, whose precarious power base is threatened by his extramarital dalliances; Wise is the Dominican instigator Raymond de Penaforte, who proposes the disputation partly as a way for King James to regain credibility in the eyes of the Church.) In place of individuals with human quirks and contradictions, each person who appears onstage in The Disputation is merely a mouthpiece for a particular idea or social custom. Even when they're populated with good characters, courtroom dramas are often little more than a contrived way to air ideas. Here the play's sympathies are clearly with the rabbi (not that I'm complaining), which means there's really no debate going on at all.

If Maccoby's intent was to recount and catalogue the nefarious seeds of anti-Semitism, he should have either stuck to the scholarship that is his forte or hired a dramatic collaborator. Director Bob Kalfin's heavy-handed approach to staging nearly matches the plodding tone of the script. In place of subtlety he gives us cymbal crashes and broad-stroke flourishes. An account of the human price paid by those whose lives were affected by disputations and their consequences is sorely missing.

The Disputation.
Written by Hyam Maccoby. Directed by Robert Kalfin. With Theodore Bikel, Jacob Witkin, Richard B. Watson, Steve Wise, Barbara Sloan, Louis Silvers, Denise Sanchez, Irene Adjan, and Elan Zafir. Through April 18. Coconut Grove Playhouse, 3500 Main Hwy, Coconut Grove; 305-442-4000.

A Moon for the Misbegotten.
Written by Eugene O'Neill. Directed by Roberto Prestigiacomo. With Bethany Bohall, David Kwiat, Bill Hindman, Heath Kelts, and Andy Quiroga. Through April 18. New Theatre, 65 Almeria Ave, Coral Gables; 305-443-5909.

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