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St. Louis Jewish Light

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St. Louis Jewish Light

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Uncovering the secrets and family drama that make NJT’s latest play a must-see

“Passover Pandemonium: New Jewish Theatre’s ‘We All Fall Down’ is a Seder Gone Wild!” Uncover the secrets, costumes, and family drama that make this play a must-see

The current offering at the New Jewish Theatre is “We All Fall Down,” a recent play by Lila Rose Kaplan.

The title is the last line of the classic nursery rhyme “Ring Around the Rosie.” Like children frolicking to the rhyme on a playground, Kaplan’s characters scurry about until they come to a sudden stop. The play then confronts issues that have been lurking in the background all along. The serious ending helps the characters overcome baggage from their past.

The play is set in “the not too distant past” at the Steins’ home in Westchester, N.Y. They are a well-off, secular Jewish family. The parents are intellectuals. Saul is a historian who wrote an important book on the American Revolution. He just left his longtime college teaching position in the middle of the semester. Linda is a family therapist who just published a book on mothering difficult children.

Her own difficult children have fallen far from the tree. Sammi is on the faculty of a charter school in California, where her father’s book can’t be used because he is a white male. She refuses to go to graduate school and lives with her non-Jewish boyfriend, who is a chef. The younger daughter, Ariel, still lives at home and is in training to be a yoga teacher.

Linda’s book is on the verge of making her a star. She is under consideration for a guest spot on the talk show hosted by a celebrity named Ellen (presumably DeGeneres, but the host’s last name is never mentioned).

This kind of exposure could be crucial to the book’s success, but Linda is not the least bit interested in auditioning for Ellen. Linda is laser focused on preparing for a Passover seder she is about to host. This is highly unusual behavior for Linda. The family has never been religious and has never had a seder. Saul grew up in an observant family, but he followed Linda’s lead away from religion when he married her.

Some of Linda’s preparations are eccentric. She puts on a peasant costume one of her daughters once wore in a high school production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” Later, she wears an even stranger costume.

A number of family friends were invited to the seder, but only three guests attend: Saul’s sister Nan, the Steins’ former neighbor Bev and Linda’s graduate assistant Ester. Nan is baffled by Linda’s obsession with the seder. Bev tries to connect the seder to her own experience by referring to Passover as the Jewish Easter.

Even though she comes from a Christian tradition, Ester is deeply invested in the seder. She has learned to chant the four questions in Hebrew and explains the lamb shank to a family member who has no idea how it is used. Ester cowrote a chapter in Linda’s book and keeps prodding Linda to respond to Ellen’s overtures.

The Steins are prone to keeping secrets and revealing others’ secrets prematurely. The characters are quick to anger and quick to get past their anger.

Under Rebekah Scallet’s direction, the cast brings out the humor and the rancor in the interpersonal dynamics. The excellent performers are Alan Knoll as Saul, Mindy Shaw as Linda, Bridgette Bassa as Sammi, Hailey Medrano as Ariel, Taijha Silas as Ester, Jenni Ryan as Nan and Bethany Barr as Bev.

Scenic designer Andrea Ball crams multiple rooms into an impressive two-level set. One of the rooms is the bathroom. It is missing a large portion of one wall so the audience can see several interactions that take place there. Props supervisor Cecile “Cece” Entz gives the Steins’ home a lived-in look.

Michele Friedman Siler’s costumes are highly attuned to the characters and the time, which is the recent past. Michael Sullivan’s lighting, Ellie Schwetye’s sound and Dennis Milam Bensie’s wigs enhance the atmosphere.

For me, the most compelling elements of the play are Saul’s abrupt retirement and Linda’s fixation on the seder. I became impatient waiting for these mysteries to be addressed, but I was completely satisfied with answers that explained more than I expected.

We All Fall Down’

WHEN: Through June 16
WHERE:  New Jewish Theatre’s Wool Studio Theater in the Jewish Community Center’s Arts & Education Building, 2 Millstone Campus Drive
HOW MUCH: $27 to $58
MORE INFOnewjewishtheatre.org or call 314-442-3283


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