By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
Fourteen-year-old Jason Edelstein makes a respectable acting debut as Adam. Through Adam we glimpse Samuel Baum as a loving, concerned parent. We also see how differently Baum and Hampson think about manhood. For Baum it's about survival. He tries to teach his son how to shake hands properly, scolding him: "Adam, you lack strength. You shake hands like a Jew." Hampson gives the boy tools and launches into a minilecture about the value of building things with your hands.
LeGette is somewhat stiff at first, as if he and Baum don't really know each other, but ultimately he delivers an ardent Hampson. He capably toes the line between subservient script writer and belligerent insubordinate. This is largely owing to Joe Adler's keen direction. In a script that is almost all diatribe and discourse, Adler takes advantage of the mounting tension and skillfully instructs his actors when to hold back and when to go full throttle. The timing between Kwiat and LeGette is crucial. Like two men sparring, one moves in and the other pulls away. The result is engaging verbal combat.
Kwiat plays the role of Baum with an eccentric bent. (Samuel Goldwyn was known to be a tyrant.) He prods, praises, and manipulates. When he finally expresses his true feelings, he is powerful and convincing.
The play comes down to the inevitable question: What makes a Jew Jewish? Hampson believes Hart's script, which whitewashes Jewish-American culture, is a mediocrity. Baum reproaches Hampson for his inability to understand the work's ingenuity.
At the beginning of the play, a clip from 1947's Gentlemen's Agreement is projected on the backstage wall. As the stage lights go down, an enormous American flag blowing in the breeze appears on the screen, providing a nice visual texture and a final dose of irony. At the end of Adam Baum and the Jew Movie, one realizes that what has appeared onstage is at least partially what Hampson envisioned onscreen -- no whitewash but two educated and successful men seriously grappling with the issue of anti-Semitism. The play's dramatic ending provides no conclusive answer but leaves us enthralled by an innovative portrait of the American dream's Tinseltown origins.