‘Jews and Jesus’ skewers interfaith dating

Photo by Oz From left: Sheilah Grenham, Gretel Roenfeldt and Adam Fleck in "Jews and Jesus," now playing at the Malibu Stage Company.

Special to The Malibu Times

The human animal hasn’t changed much, ever since we found reason to believe that a higher power was up there fiddling with our destinies. We still try to conform to the lessons of our parents or religious figures about what we should believe, how we should act or who we should seek as a mate. Whether our adult faith is merely a concept or a devout practice, finding the right mate to match our beliefs is an essential aspect of the dating game.

In its West Coast premiere at the Malibu Stage Company, “Jews and Jesus” satirizes the mating obsession without mercy. Playwright Oren Safdie and lyricist Ronnie Cohen offer a musical comedy packed with multifaceted insights and funny, resonant observations about the struggle between flesh, spirit and interfaith lust. Live Klezmer music strikes the perfect note to sustain the comical mood. You don’t have to be Jewish or a follower of Jesus to get the jokes. You just have to know people like these characters, or have read, or written, a few lengthy personal ads.

A sparse set that evokes both the “country of Christendom” and “God’s backyard” helps director Craig Carlisle move the story at Internet speed from Manhattan to Jerusalem. First, we meet Luscious (the sexy Catholic woman seeking a nice Jewish man), Steve (a nice Jewish man) and Deborah (a self-assured 20 year old). They share with the audience their hopes and dreams for themselves and their perfect mate. We follow along on their individual quests, where Catskill connections, pepperoni pizza and a trip to the holy land illuminate the positives and accentuate the negatives of dating.

Soon we meet Nick, deftly played by Griffin Shaw, and his father Rabbi Moishe, played by Micki Schloss. Each has the equal desire to study the Torah and to fondle and ogle young women. We also meet Grandmother, Mrs. Gristede, Rivkah and a Tourist, all played by Sheilah Grenham. Listening and watching Grenham as she belted out a tune that reached to the rafters was a joy and highlight.

As the saying goes, God is in the details. A poignant example is when Steve gives Luscious a tree for Christmas and she complains that he forgot the angel. He reaches into his jacket and gives her a shiny, silver Star of David to top the tree. On the other hand, a few moments struck false notes. Why did Steve rush into Luscious’s apartment, professing his desire to be with her? Where or who was he running from? What was his hurry? Roenfeldt’s portrayal doesn’t make Luscious particularly lovable and we don’t really understand his urgency. Also, the newspaper read by Luscious’s father in his Manhattan apartment would more likely have been a New York Times, not a Los Angeles Times. Most importantly, a bat or bar mitzvah is more akin to a confirmation in the Catholic faith, not a baptism as the script reads.

Religion is responsible for more than the troubles and tensions between mates. Jews & Jesus pointedly makes the connection between the faith-based wars we wage with our potential and chosen mates and the religious wars waged among tribes, nations and peoples. Bloodshed and destruction are not easily made fun of, but when, everyday, we are faced with more fear and fanaticism, laughter binds us together and reminds us that we all struggle with demons that are more alike than different, no matter what our faith.

Jews and Jesus will perform through Sept. 14, on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. More information can be obtained by calling 310.589.1998.