‘Apples from the Desert’ at Theater J by Doug Poms

The latest offering at Theater J, Savyon Liebrecht’s Apples from the Desert, is an emotional family drama set in Israel. Although the characters in the play come close to becoming stock stereotypical characters, the strong performances add plenty of texture to these roles, resulting in a rich and moving production, directed with finesse by Johanna Gruenhut.

Sarah Marshall, Michael Tolaydo, and Jennifer Mendenhall in ‘Apples From the Desert.’ Photograph by C. Stanley Photography.

Apples from the Desert, which has been produced as part of the Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival, is the story of a religious Sephardic Jewish family living in Jerusalem in 1979. Victoria and Reuven have raised their 18-year old daughter, Rivka, in a strict observant home. Rivka is torn between her home life and a newly discovered a world outside the religious community, which includes dancing and a young man named Dooby. Victoria confides her concerns to her spinster sister, Sarah, who becomes immersed in the family conflict.

The play effectively portrays the angst of religious parents competing with a world they do not understand for their daughter’s future  Reuven refers to his daughter as “ugly” and seeks to marry her off to a much older widower with five children (or alternatively to a much shorter man), and so the audience immediately hates him.  Michael Tolaydo does a terrific job bringing humanity to this villainous character, and helping us see how the orphan that Reuven was has affected his ability to love.

Jennifer Mendenhall effectively conveys Victoria’s anguish over being caught in the middle of the father/daughter conflict.  The always wonderful Sarah Marshall provides much needed humor and compassion to the painful family drama. Blair Bowers is a charming Rivka, and we fall in love with her along with Brandon McCoy’s likable Dooby.

The cast is excellent all around, and many of the ensemble scenes are so riveting that you feel you are right in the middle of the family squabbles.

The set and costumes by Timothy Mackabee, as well as the lighting by Dan Covey, help set the harsh atmosphere in the family home while allowing the second act scenes set on a kibbutz to exude a contrasting warmth and love of life.

Emotional, powerful, and heart-wrenching, Apples from the Desert is filled with performances that you won’t soon forget.

Running Time: Approximately two hours, including one 15 minute intermission.

Jennifer Mendenhall and Michael Tolaydo in Theater J’s ‘Apples From the Desert.’ Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Apples from the Desert runs through January 6, 2013 at the Theater J at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center – 1529 16th Street, NW in Washington, DC. For tickets, call 1-800-494-8497, or purchase them online.

Apples from the Desert is a part of the Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival in conjunction with Boged (Traitor): An Enemy of the People.


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