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Haunting Drama Powers Cantorial at The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
October 29, 2012
Special to The Alexandria Times

Warren Ives is a young, handsome, well-educated Wasp on the rise.  His budding career as a futures trader at Shearson-Lehman is all but guaranteed in Wall Street’s storied halls.  With his editor girlfriend, Lesley Rosen, an erstwhile Jew who works at the esteemed publishing house of Harper and Row, they acquire a converted former temple on the Lower East Side of Manhattan planning to live there in loft-style splendor.  They are from all outward appearances, a typical upwardly mobile New York couple.

From the moment they move in they become captive to strange Hebrew chanting coming from an unknown source within the temple.  They befriend their local grocer, Morris Lipkind, inviting him into their newly modernized space to witness the eerie sound.  The aging Lipkind who worshipped in the shulwhen the neighborhood once had the largest Jewish community in the country, regales them with tales of the former synagogue and its members, eventually identifying the voice as coming from its former cantor.  He translates the words of the chant,  “Build your house the way it was.”   This ominous news becomes the hinge on which the plot turns.  News that affects the couple’s relationship as it wrestles with complex and universally familiar issues of faith and spirituality.

 James Myers (Warren Ives), Steve Rosenthal (Morris Lipkind) and  Heather Benjamin (Lesley Rosen) - Photo by Shane Canfield

James Myers (Warren Ives), Steve Rosenthal (Morris Lipkind) and Heather Benjamin (Lesley Rosen) – Photo by Shane Canfield

You shouldn’t expect author and playwright Ira Levin, who penned such notable suspense and horror stories like Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives and Deathtrap, to hand you a pretty package tied up in a Bendel’s bow.  Cantorial centers around a young man’s discovery of his spiritual self and his subsequent obsession with its origin.  A tender and deeply affecting story – it is perhaps more in the vein of Hesse’s Siddartha – played with moving intensity by James Myers (Warren Ives), Heather Benjamin (Lesley Rosen) and Steve Rosenthal, whose portrayal of Lipkind is riveting, Yiddish-inflected hilarious and linguistically convincing.   Of particular note is actor John Shackelford in a small but pivotal role as Warren’s estranged politician father.  It’s always a thrill to experience Shackelford’s versatility and nuanced performances.  Also memorable are the hauntingly beautiful cantorial vocals by actor/singer Rick Flint.

James Myers (Warren Ives) and John Shackelford (Williams Ives) - Photo by Shane Canfield

James Myers (Warren Ives) and John Shackelford (Williams Ives) – Photo by Shane Canfield

The entire production boasts tightly crafted theatrical elements starting with the design team of Ken and Patti Crowley who have transformed not only the stage in their bold lighting plan, but have also included the very theatre walls.  Their use of uplights, downlights, lights to highlight props, spots, and stage lights all in rich jewel tones combine with Set Designer, Dan Remmers evocative set to make a spare yet dramatic architectural design in this well-acted ethnic comedy slash drama slash personal journey.  See it!

Through November 17th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit

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