Sex and the Holy Land
nytheatre.com review by Joshua Chase Gold
August 15, 2009
Melanie Zoey Weinstein's new play, Sex and the Holy Land, felt like a romp down memory lane for me (well, parts of it). My nine years at the Pinellas County Jewish Day School made Weinstein's story feel all too familiar, from the Jewish mother inside her head to the introductions to her best friends: a JuBu (a Jewish Buddhist) and the self proclaimed, "anorexic JAP from Long Island."
Weinstein's play takes us on the journey of Lili (played by Weinstein), a bored college junior who decides to take off to Israel for a few month to discover herself, along with her two best friends Or (the JuBu) and Chaya (the anorexic JAP), played by Sarah-Doe Osborne and Ruby Joy respectively. Along the way the girls encounter Chassidic men, a smooth Israeli-American solider (played very nicely by Gabriel Sloyer), a rough-around-the-edges Israeli solider (Zack Imbrogno), and a slew of Middle Eastern men (all played brilliantly by Adrian Kelly).
The scenic design of the show (by Arthur Peters) works beautifully and flawlessly. Seven pine wood benches are used to create an airplane, a boardwalk, the dessert, a ropes course, and the beach—among dozens of other formations. The simplicity of the design keeps the show moving while creating quite effective settings.
Weinstein's play has a lot of promise. At its heart it's a story about three girls who desperately want to understand who they are—something that everyone can relate to. Their trip to Israel starts off as a party on their parents' dime and winds up being much more of a journey than we would have anticipated.
In its current state, Sex and the Holy Land becomes too whiny. I'm not sure if it's Weinstein's portrayal of Lili, the writing, or a combination of both, but at a certain point I felt like Pippin was singing his 16th reprise about trying to find his "corner of the sky." What began as light and comical, takes a serious turn—too serious. In an effort to avoid archetyping and keep her story from being flighty Weinstein tries a little too hard, evoking way too much melodrama and dealing with issues so heavy it almost seems a little silly. Moreover, the girls' journey to discover themselves is handled through the men they meet, sleep with, and throw away. For a story about self-discovery there is simply too much preoccupation with pleasing someone else. The final moment in the show (which I will not give away, but which appears to be Lili's "ah-ha" moment) is terribly disappointing. Her light-bulb moment comes from the validation of a man, and not herself.
At moments the show seems better suited for the silver screen. There are dozens upon dozens of scenes (some very short), and though the changes are quick and effective the air was taken out of the tires too many times for me to stay in the moment.
There are really good things here. Almost every single performance is really solid – several of them quite outstanding. Weinstein's dialogue is witty, clever, and a lot of fun. Whether you're Jewish, Catholic, Buddhist, or any other denomination (or lack thereof), you will certainly walk away laughing—and perhaps thinking a bit.