Image credit: George Schiavone
By Christine Dolen
David Ives’ New Jerusalem is set in 1656, and it’s about the herem, or excommunication, of philosopher Baruch de Spinoza from Amsterdam’s Talmud Torah congregation.
But as director Joseph Adler’s new production at GableStage demonstrates, the 2008 Off-Broadway play is no stuffy historical drama (though it does unfold in a 17th century synagogue designed by Lyle Baskin, and its characters wear Ellis Tillman’s period costumes).
Yes, the script is grounded in fact and sometimes dense with philosophical and religious debate. But pause a moment to consider the frequent clash of faith-based ideas in our 21st century world, not to mention the sometimes horrific cruelty that can go along with imposing dogmatic religious beliefs on others. New Jerusalem has plenty to say to contemporary audiences.
Ives, whose plays include All in the Timing, Venus in Fur and adaptations or translations of works by Molière, Feydeau and Mark Twain, imbues his play with the restless philosophical thought of the 23-year-old Baruch de Spinoza (Abdiel Vivancos). Taking place on July 27, 1656 — the day Spinoza was banished for life from Amsterdam’s strictly regulated Jewish community — the courtroom-style drama imagines the audience as the congregation witnessing Spinoza’s examination on charges of atheism and blasphemy.
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