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Hannah Sloat and Vasile Flutur in 'Jericho' based on 'Liliom' Ferenc Molnar
Hannah Sloat and Vasile Flutur in 'Jericho' (Dustin Moore)

Theater Review (NYC): ‘Jericho’ by Michael Weller

Jericho is playwright Michael Weller’s sensitive reworking of Ference Molnár’s classic Liliom, the 1909 play best known today as the basis of the 1945 musical Carousel. Liliom plays today as old-fashioned, but its sharp and tender exploration of love and romance is evergreen. As such it still works, at least in large part, as I noted in my review of the Beautiful Soup Theater Collective’s 2014 revival.

So I wondered what Weller’s new version would have to say. It’s not a new translation, but a new script telling more or less the same story. And rather than transposing the Hungarian original to modern times, Weller has set Jericho in Coney Island during the Great Depression.

So what do we gain from this reworking?

Mainly, we gain a good play. The script gives us well-developed, empathetic characters and (most of the way) a gutsy story. And the world premiere production by the Attic Theater Company, now at The Wild Project through Feb. 10, charms via Laura Braza’s direction of a fine cast.

The Liliom character here becomes Jericho (Vasile Flutur), a charismatic Romanian-American strongman making a meager living as a human magnet attracting people to a boardwalk carousel owned by Mrs. Mosca (beautifully played by Stephanie Pope). When Jericho pays too close attention to a young admirer named Julie (a steely portrayal by Hannah Sloat), Mrs. Mosca fires him in a fit of jealousy. Jericho then takes up with Julie in what becomes a fraught not-quite-marriage that seems doomed to a tragic end.

The moral center of Weller’s version of the story is Julie, whose stubborn but half-formed feminism wrestles with her equally persistent love for the abusive Jericho. Putting Julie’s brave modern take on life in high relief, her friend Mary (a wonderful, warmly funny performance by Ginna M. Doyle) goes down a comically traditional path of wifely subservience, her social shallowness redeemed by an irresistible sweetness.

Stephanie Pope and Vasile Flutur in 'Jericho' based on 'Liliom' Ferenc Molnar Attic Theater Company
Stephanie Pope, Vasile Flutur in ‘Jericho’ (Dustin Moore)

Flutur’s convincingly charismatic Jericho compels attention to the very end. His multilayered relationship with Mrs. Mosca; his ambivalence at the prospect of committing a violent robbery; his dreaming of escaping his hard-knock life to a fantastical, flowery China; his posthumous visit to Julie and the daughter he never knew – all these episodes and more comprise a memorable character and propel a timeless tale.

Like Liliom, Jericho‘s weakness lies in its second act, when the story’s fabulistic element pushes to the fore and things get uncomfortably silly. Fortunately, Weller has composed a beautiful closing scene that restores the first act’s gritty, colorful spell.

With minimal sets, Braza and the creative team build a believable world where privation and desperation live side by side with hope, optimism, and, on Coney Island at least, a perpetual carnival. All of which, in fact, you can still find there. Get a deep, old-style taste; tickets are available online or by calling 212-352-3101.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is a Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he's a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.

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