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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
From Door to Door

Girls should shine at night and disappear during the day— Grandma Bessie
Nobody enjoys a well-written, provocative, thoughtful play more than I. Especially if it has a solid, authentic cultural or ethnic component at its core. And if that ethnic happens to be mine, all the better!

With James Sherman's From Door to Door, now having its west coast premiere at the Electric Lodge in Venice, however, the principals, representing three generations of Jewish women, are so stereotypical that they seem to be caricatures as they incessantly explain themselves and their beliefs to one another. After two hours of banalities and cliches such as "Life is not a dress rehearsal!" you feel as if you'd been force-fed the Cliff's Notes for Judaism 101.

This is not the fault of the actresses, who are uniformly outstanding and capably directed by Howard Teichman. Nan Tepper is suitably kvetchy as the grandmother who fled the pogroms in Russia with diamonds sewed into the lining of her coat and who still anticipates the ominous knock on the door in the middle of the night. She is proud of the son who's gone to college, but she denigrates the artistic ambitions of her daughter: "There are no girl artists!" she tells her, as she nags her to get married. "You get married and then you fall in love," she says, and "It's just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor one." And she offers her essential counsel on the proper role of women: "Girls should shine at night and disappear during the day."

The daughter, Mary, played with charm and vigor by Cheryl David, obediently marries the first man who asks her. In those days girls often got married to get away from their overbearing mothers, but Mary brings her parents with her and spends the rest of her life catering to them, and to her husband, and her kids. Why isn't she angry? Or resentful. Or just plain exhausted.

The third woman of the family is Mary's daughter Deborah, a vivacious Robyn Cohen, who takes her mother to lunch to tell her that she is about to be married. To Richard, who is not Jewish. Which precipitates the best scene in the play as Mary responds hysterically to the thought of her daughter marrying a "shayget." (Shaygetz is the male version of "hiksa", a pejorative way of referring to a non-Jew. It is an expression of contempt and reveals the bigotry of that generation of Jews, which can only be an embarrassment to a more enlightened generation). At any rate, Deborah shows a spark of rebellion as she argues with her mother about their family's habitual indifference to religious observance and confronts her mother's sudden and unexpected objections to a potential non-Jewish son-in-law. "If being Jewish was so important to you, why didn't you MAKE me go to Sunday school?" she demands. It's a powerful scene, and one which will resonate with many contemporary Jewish families. Nevertheless, in the next scene Deborah is preparing for her wedding, inexplicably, to a nice Jewish boy named Ken. So much for rebellion.

It is difficult to figure out playwright Sherman's intended audience. If he is talking to a Jewish audience, they will not learn anything from this play that they don't already know. And a non-Jewish audience can only be puzzled by unexplained Jewish references and the recording of a cantor singing Kaddish---twice! Also, do we really need Grandma Bessie singing that quaint old chestnut, "Oyfn Pripetchik"

From Door to Door is set in Chicago and covers the years from 1936 to 1999, so periodically news from the outside world penetrates the cloistered world of this family. The Second World War, the GIs coming home, Jack Ruby killing Lee Harvey Oswald. Each event merits a brief comment or two, but they are discussed in a vacuum, as the family remains at a distance and untouched within their own self-centered cocoon.

And finally, I have to point out that set designer Jeff Rack was either strapped for time or for cash. His minimal set is tacky, lacks imagination, and couldn't have cost more than $1.98.

From Door to Door
By James Sherman
Directed by Howard Teichman

Cast: Cheryl David (Mary), Robyn Cohen (Deborah), Nan Tepper (Bessie)
Set Design: Jeff G. Rack
Lighting Design: Ellen Monocroussos

Running Time: 2 hours without intermission
Electric Lodge in association with Theater 40, Electric Lodge Theatre, 1416 Electric Avenue, Venice, 310-823-0710
From 05/01/08 to 06/01/08; opening 05/01/08
Tickets: $25. Seniors 62 and older: $20.
Reviewed by Cynthia Citron based on 05/01/08 performance
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