The Quarrel follows Rabbi Hersh Rasseyner (Avi Hoffman) and journalist Chaim Kovler (Chaz Mena) through a day in a Montreal park. They are old friends, long estranged, each of whom thought the other dead. It is 1948, and they have only narrowly survived Hitler's Europe. After their happy embraces, the men take up their old arguments: Does God exist? And if He does, is He good? These arguments, so often facile games of intellectual one-gunmanship, are given gravitas by the men's shared history and by the necessary uses to which they have put their respective cosmologies — to keep the past in the past, and to keep it live-withable. What results from their fight, and from Mena and Hoffman's soulful and naturalistic acting, is a play that is slow but elegiac and lovely.
You can learn a lot at New Theatre this month. For example, actress Barbara Sloan, for so long typecast as a vengeful cougar, makes a fantastic screwball, or John Manzelli and Katherine Amadeo really should get together more. They have a magnificent and unfakeable chemistry in Raised in Captivity, a play that is both absurd and profound. It figures life as a series of breakups and vanishing acts, which are sad and, because they catch the players so unaware, blackly comic. Manzelli and Amadeo are siblings who cannot understand one another no matter how hard they try; Sloan plays their mother, who was recently killed by a flying showerhead, and Manzelli's therapist, who is so filled with self-loathing that she plucks out her eyes as an act of penance. (She seems to feel a lot better afterward.) Clint Hooper ties it all together as Amadeo's husband: a fellow who learns to follow his bliss and tells everyone else to fuck off.
Distracted is a meditation on medication, a schizo romp through a schizo world that mirrors our own a little too perfectly. Laura Turnbull plays a character called simply "Mom," the mother of a kid who can't focus. But who can? Dad (Stephen G. Anthony) is a ball of anxiety, their doctors are a mess of contradictions, and their neighbors are all getting divorces or doping their children. The play pictures suburban families in search of a moment of peace, which eludes them like Gatsby's green light — slipping further from reach the harder they strain. Lisa Loomer structures her play like a multitasker's workday: Each digression opens into more digressions; each plot line sprouts a dozen more, like Windows multiplying out of control. Eventually, one suspects, the human computers running the show will freeze.