Dignity Players has lined up a sumptuous summer theater feast, with the new play "Bloodlines," by local playwright Dan Baum, staged earlier this month, and the coming Stephen Adly Gurgis 2005 play, "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot," now in rehearsal.
In "Bloodlines," Baum sets his story during the Passover Seder. Widowed mother Lila (Lisa Gilbert) invites her dead husband's parents, Miriam (Carol Cohen) and Herb (Edd Miller), to help her college student daughter, Sarah (Hallie Garrison), and her Orthodox boyfriend, Josh (Eric Schaum), sort through Sarah's faith identity crisis.
Through her journey of self-discovery, Sarah also serves as narrator of the Exodus story in the Haggadah, explaining the meaning of various Seder rituals.
Nearly every character reveals an outsider's dissatisfaction to varying degrees.
Always considering herself Jewish because she had a Jewish father, protagonist Sarah is unsure about her beliefs, and realizes that her grandmother does not fully accept her. Sarah has chosen to do an oral history project centered on her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor whose parents died during the war, and who more recently had to cope with the early death of her only son. Miriam is Orthodox and distanced from her son's widow, who remains an outsider because she never converted to Judaism.
It is later revealed that Lila was discouraged from converting by her husband, who resented his mother's interference, and so she remained a Muslim. Bringing a more tolerant view is Miriam's husband Herb, who tries to make peace among family members over the question of what is a Jew.
At every Seder table, "Why is this night different from all other nights?" is asked. This play is different from other plays in its ability to ask and resolve questions about loss of a husband and son, 75-year-old Miriam's need to honor her deceased parents and sisters by her allegiance to Israel and her adherence to her Orthodox Judaism. The audience examines emotionally charged beliefs that may unite or divide those seated at the table.
Occasionally, a character leaves the table to express his thoughts in monologues or in dialogues at stage left, stage right or on the front stairs.
As Sarah, Garrison provided an appealing mix of frustration, confusion and vulnerability in her portrayal of the college student.
And as Herb, Miller lent a soothing, nonjudgmental presence.
Schaum (who also played a male nurse in a later scene where Miriam is hospitalized) summons credible anguish at Josh's detachment from Sarah upon learning of her mother's religion.
Cohen inhabited the role of Miriam in all its complexity, making her rigidity somehow acceptable, her eccentricities humorous and her strength a towering reality.
In the difficult role of Lila, Gilbert was properly restrained and low-key, making the revelation of her Muslim roots more effective.
"Bloodlines" raises issues the audience may continue to confront long after the play ends, and it inspires a greater respect for our ancient faiths.
Judging by a recent rehearsal, "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot" promises to be a brilliant look at one of the most reviled men in history having his day in a courtroom in Purgatory. The infamous betrayer of Jesus is in a catatonic state, about to be questioned to decide his fate.
Directing the Dignity Players production is Frank B. Moorman, who has his work cut out for him with a cast of about two dozen real and invented characters — including Satan, Mother Teresa, Mary Magdalene, Pontius Pilate, Jesus, Saint Monica (mother of St. Augustine), the mother of Judas, and Sigmund Freud among others, often humorously discussing historical and philosophical topics.
Welcoming the task, Moorman said, "Putting order in chaos is what I like. I fell in love with this play's high drama and high comedy and its very contemporary and energetic language."
In addition to directing, Moorman will take on the role of Butch Honeywell, the foreman of the jury who compares his own marital infidelities with Judas' betrayal.
In rehearsal, Sue Struve delivered her opening lines beautifully as the mother of Judas, saying, "I loved my son every day of his life and I will love him forever, long after I stop breathing."
Tanya Davis brought a contemporary country twang to her portrayal of Sister Glenna, and will also play Mary Magdalene.
Brenda Mack became the street-wise, tough-talking Saint Monica, boasting about nagging her son to become "learned enough that he became father of the church — St. Augustine" and she taunted Judas about what he bought with his 30 pieces of silver.
If you go
"The Last Days of Judas Iscariot" runs at 8 p.m. Aug. 5-7 and 12-14 and at 3 p.m. Aug. 8. Tickets: 410-266-8044, ext. 127, or dignityplayers.org.