New Yorkers will never easily be able to forget September 11. Those directly impacted may attempt to overcome the loss of a loved one, but without faith, grief counseling, group therapy, drugs, psychiatry, meditation and/or other treatments, it is a near impossibility. It is easy to say “one must move on with one’s life.” It is much harder to do so.
This is the central focus of Jericho, by Jack Canfora and directed by Evan Bergman – or it attempts to be, through the perspective of Beth (Eleanor Handley, who is adequate in the part,.). We learn Beth is a casualty of the events surrounding 9-11. She has lost her husband Alec in one of the towers and cannot move past her hallucinations of him which are extreme. She actively engages Alec in conversation and projects him onto her psychiatrist, a Korean woman. She looks at Dr. Kim but only sees Alec; of course, she is on meds. (Don’t even go there; such is the stuff that crazy is made of.)
The roles of Alec and Dr. Kim are played by Kevin Isola who is sensitive and quite excellent as Beth’s ghost guide (Alec). He is appropriately funny, matter-of-fact, and down-to earth as Dr. Kim. We accept Beth’s warping of these two individuals because the playwright has cleverly tweaked our intense sympathy for those, like Beth, who lost someone dear on September 11th and are trying to get out from under the horror. On the other hand Canfora throws in an interesting monkey wrench. Beth was about to divorce Alec but he died before the process was complete. Four years later her emotions are still running along a continuum of guilt, remorse, anger, confusion, grief and frustration spurred by a heady mix of unresolved issues. It is an understatement to say that Alec’s haunting is reflective of her inability to deal.
The play develops when we discover that Beth has been centering on becoming healthy. In an attempt to “move on” she is dating Ethan (a competent Andrew Rein). Perhaps she is drawn to him because they have been swapping stories; he knows about Alec and Ethan has shared that his brother, in attempting to get over his experiences escaping from the second tower on that fateful day, has embraced Judaism to the extreme (He prays 500 times a day, etc.). Ethan invites her to share a Thanksgiving dinner with his family out in Jericho. Jack Canfora could have selected any other area on Long Island, in fact Babylon might have served, except that that historic place no longer exists and the association of Iraq would imply something different.
Instead, Canfora selects this suburban, upscale locale with its historical and modern counterpart in the Middle East whose name implies something greater. The ancient Jericho is where Joshua led the first battle to bring the Israelites into the promised land, which he did it in a most unusual way. On God’s orders, Joshua and his troops marched around Jericho seven times and on the last time blew their trumpets. Following this signal, the angels leveled the impenetrable city walls which FELL DOWN FLAT. With no walls to overcome, the Israelites took possession of the city and eventually the promised land.
Does this thematically resonate with the plays’ themes? Does the TV series Jericho an action/drama9/11 based TV series relate? Unfortunately, the playwright and the director don’t develop the allusions adequately. They should resonate clearly through the work. There was an attempt with the set: a wall of debris used as a prop pile. But the director never picks up this important symbol to viably connect it throughout the rest of the play.
When Beth gets to Ethan’s house at Jericho, L.I., a humorous Thanksgiving Dinner unfolds, replete with craziness, irony, backbiting, angst and revelatory explosion. Beth watches bewildered and seeks out the comfort of discussion with her hallucination of Alec. Confronting his family, Josh (an excellent Noel Joseph Allain), reveals he has been damaged by his experience in the tower. He is determined to overthrow his wife and his past in his move to Israel. If she doesn’t go with him (She won’t.) he’ll go alone; if she divorces him, so be it.
We learn why he is leaving during his private conversation with Beth. He cannot face his cowardice and selfishness during the cataclysm; he pushed people out of the way instead of answering their cries for help, and got down the steps before the structure flattened. Now, he can’t abide New York or America. His self-loathing and inability to extirpate his despicable identity, inner pain and self-recriminations are the electric currents that prod him to escape. He rejects his reformed Jewish family and everything, including the materialism and comfort it stands for as anathema. Does he know he is running and there is no where he can hide? Jessica, his wife (excellently played by Carol Todd), tells him. It doesn’t matter. He is convinced that what he is doing makes sense.
An ironic and humorous Jill Eikenberry as the mother, Rachel, takes his Thanksgiving revelation badly as does Jessica, who sometimes wishes he would have died that day because he has become dead to her. Both women and even Ethan are upset he has become so judgmental and is rejecting them and their lives as vapid and meaningless. Jessica especially lays into him, spitting out truthful vitriol. Josh neither hears nor understands. He can only experience numbness, running from the pain within. The family meal turns into unpleasant awkwardness, and once again the playwright’s humorous lines careen from character to character. It is a funny and sad mash that brings indigestion with the meal which is far from thankful.
However, the vital exchange between Josh and Beth that occurs in another room away from family is why they are in Jericho; some walls have to come down for others to “move on.” Beth and Josh discuss their intimate reactions and accept what only they can about the impact of 9-11. Others will never understand. The playwright doesn’t show (at this point) that the characters recognize the significance of this discussion in Jericho. Yet, we infer that they have released something within as they express how they were impacted by the towers falling and the walls of their world crumbling from the loss and death of others. Indeed, Josh says that it may even have been Alec that he pushed aside in his race ahead of death. The admission is a turning point.
The dinner concluded, Beth, Josh and the others “move on.” Beth no longer dates Ethan and loses touch with him. However, Josh calls her from her Israel, motivated by the discussion he remembers they had at Thanksgiving. He says he is feeling better and making a life for himself that he can be proud of. He is comforted by a country at war with danger all around. Somehow they won’t let him get away with being a coward there; he is pleased at that. We see he is still running, but perhaps he is closer to an epiphany in Israel, than if he had stayed in the U.S.
Will Josh ever recover? Will Beth overcome Alec’s loss and the issues that it created? Beth closes the narration she started at the beginning by leaving us on an upbeat note. She discusses the varied meanings of Shalom, a word which Josh says to her over the phone. Most vitally for her, it means hello and goodbye. The play ends with Alec saying Shalom as the light fades on him and perhaps he has said his final goodbye. Canfora leaves us with no definite conclusion. We walk away wondering if it is ever possible to “move on” after the walls of one’s world have been pulverized. Perhaps for some, but for others, most probably not.
Jericho, produced by The Directors Company is playing at 59E59 Theaters until November 3rd.