“Jericho,” Jack Canfora’s 2011 play about two characters directly affected by 9/11, should have repelled me. It uses sitcom rhythms, Jewish stereotypes, the hoary devices of a sympathetic ghost and an out-of-control Thanksgiving dinner to explore the characters’ anger, grief and guilt.
As directed by Marsha Mason for a new company called New Normal Rep, however, this well-acted, carefully-designed virtual production, available online through April 4, moved me and amused me far more than I expected.
The play, which is set in 2005, begins with Beth (Eleanor Handley) confiding to us about her problems, in front of a blue sky with bright white clouds. “You know, there are times, if I’m honest about it, I think my husband being killed is the least of my problems. ..That came out wrong, didn’t it?”
Suddenly, the cloudy sky backdrop disappears, replaced by an office, and what was a single screen becomes a split screen (yes, this is a Zoom play), and we see her therapist Dr. Kim (C.K. Allen), We assume Beth has been talking to him, but our assumption is wrong in two ways. Beth has been daydreaming (“I did zone out there for a second”) . And Dr. Kim is a 67-year-old Korean-American woman, whereas the person Beth sees (and the actor we see) is an African-American man in his forties – her dead husband Alec, who was in the Twin Towers when they were attacked. This is transference gone wild. Later, Alec starts appearing as an independent hallucination not connected to the therapist, which upsets Beth.
“I’m now officially a full blown delusional….”
“You’re not delusional,” Alec tries to reassure her.
“That’s a little self-serving coming from a delusion.”
“You don’t think I’m real. If you were introducing me to people, then I’d start worrying.”
As the scenes unfold, we learn that Beth has started to date a man named Ethan (Michael Satow), and, while they get along, the widow is not ready to have sex with somebody new. Then we meet Ethan’s brother Josh (Jason O’Connell), who, like Beth’s husband Nic, was also in the World Trade Center when it was attacked, but managed to escape. The experience has shaken him, turned him into an observant Jew who wants to move to Israel, and alienated him from his wife Jessica (Carol Todd.)
Their testy exchanges are interrupted by a call from Josh’s mother, Rachel (Jill Eikenberry), who is calling to discuss Thanksgiving. Josh doesn’t answer it, leaving Rachel to prattle on and on into the answer machine.
“There’s a reason we’ve gone through three answering machines in two years,” Jessica observes. “They’ve committed suicide.” This is one of many one-liners in “Jericho,” some of which are funny; some of which try too hard.
All the characters meet for Thanksgiving in the brothers’ childhood home in Jericho, Long Island.
What follows feels enough like a genuine (and in some ways unpredictable) attempt to deal with the aftermath of trauma that it’s easier to overlook (or at least forgive) the formulaic aspects of the play. It also helps that all six members of the cast – three of whom performed in the Off-Broadway production in 2013 – are first rate.
Is this production well timed? Can we make a connection between the trauma of 9/11, an event that was ten years in the past when this play was first mounted, and the current year-long, ongoing pandemic? I don’t see it, really. But I also didn’t find it triggering. (The jokes helped.) I say this as someone who was in my office across the street from the World Trade Center when it was attacked, and is still, nearly twenty years later, getting surveys and telephone calls, emails and holiday cards from the World Trade Center Health Registry. I’m not the only one for whom 9/11 is also ongoing.
New Normal Rep
Available online through April 4
Running time: 2 hours plus 10 minute intermission
Written by Jack Canfora
Directed by Marsha Mason
Virtual Technical Director Adriana Gaviria
Cast: Jill Eikenberry, C.K. Allen,Eleanor Handley,Jason O’Connell,Michael Satow and Carol Todd