Cantorial

Written by Ira Levin

Cantorial
Cantorial

Directed by Michael Leeds

Stage Door Theater

FLORIDA REPORT:

Just a short drive from Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Stage Door Theatre in Coral Springs well worth a visit

The strip mall is derelict, nearly abandoned. Most storefronts are dark, illuminated only by reflected headlights from the line of cars driving into the mall, approaching and then veering around the shops. Their destination is a singular, stand-alone building lying beyond — nearly hidden from the street.

While the mall is dormant, a victim of the economy, this structure thrives – lights stream from the front windows, cars park in an adjacent lot and people emerge, hastening towards the beckoning doors.

Where are they heading so purposefully?

To one of South Florida’s true jewels: the Stage Door Theatre – a double feature of two fine playhouses.

In the larger, 330-seat theater, Bubbling Brown Sugar is closing in two days after much critical acclaim. On the second stage, Cantorial has just opened. While it is not always the rule, this season musicals are featured on Stage One: 42nd Street (Dec 11 – Jan 24), Singin’ in the Rain, (Feb 12 – March 28), and Suds (April 16 – May 23.)

Drama and comedy rule the second house, which seats 150.  Ira Levin’s Cantorial (Nov 20-Jan 3) will be followed by Come Blow your Horn (Jan 22- March 7) and Love, Sex and the IRS (March 26-May 9).

The operative word for Cantorial is “sweet” – a surprising adjective to apply to the work of an author famous for such hair-raising plot lines as those found in Rosemary’s Baby, and The Stepford Wives.

Oh, the supernatural is not ignored, but this time it is the ghost of a Cantor haunting a temple that he had helped build with his own brilliant carpentry.

This Orthodox  synagogue has been unused for seven years until its recent purchase by a charming young couple: Jewish Leslie Rosen (Danielle Tabino) and her Christian beau Warren Ives (Todd Bruno) . They move in, begin to unpack their boxes, and hear plaintive, almost wailing and certainly sorrowful Cantorial solos.  After consulting Morris Lipkind (Kevin Reilley), a local Jewish grocer conversant with temple history, Yiddish and Hebrew, they learn that the specific prayers morn the loss of the synagogue and call for its renewal: “Build your house the way it was.”

One can hardly expect this modern couple – he a commodities broker, she a public relations writer – to be sympathetic. And initially they aren’t.

What’s clever about the play is that the one who does become enamored – indeed, obsessed – is the Christian, rather than the Jew.  When he strips the walls to reveal the beauty of what lies beneath, it mirrors stripping away the triviality of his own life and work.

Suspense is provided by plot turns that in some ways dilute each other: what will happen to the couple as Warren’s obsession stresses the relationship? What will happen to the apartment? What will we learn about Warren’s parentage? And—of course – how will this all be resolved?  The answers may be unbelievable, but they are somehow satisfying. Not to worry – everyone is better off because of the haunting.

The competent cast is rounded out by Konstantine Afthinos playing a psychic expert and Glen Lawrence as Warren’s father, and enhanced by the voice of Cantor Jacob Ben-Zion Mendelson, who is Cantor of Temple Beth Israel Center in White Plaines, New York.

Cantorial, which opened in 1988 at the Jewish Repertory Theater in New York, still strikes a pleasant theatrical note.

Recommended

Beverly Friend

At the Stage Door Theatre, 8036 W Sample Rd, Coral Springs, Florida. Call  954-344-7765 www.stagedoortheatre.com Tickets $38-42, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m., Thursdays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m. Running time is 1 hour 50 minutes with a 15 minute intermission, through Jan 3.