On Death and Jewishness

A smart new play takes two well-explored topics to higher, provocative ground

This can be attributed in part to the way the other actors shape their characters around the development of Connors' role. Rachel is the play's emotional and intellectual axis. Her illness is what has jettisoned the family from its spiritual and emotional center, and the other characters reflect that in their insightful use of body language. Apart from the rabbi, with whom she has a powerful confrontation, the other characters rarely interact with Rachel face to face. Dave stands behind her and holds her. Sarah sits beside her and offers her a shoulder on which to rest her head. Nathan throws his arms around her neck or playfully tugs at her wrist. This subtlety on the part of the cast is a reminder that we learn as much about a character from the rest of the cast as we do from the character herself.

As the desperate husband trying to be cheerful, Cantor gives a performance that feels somewhat forced at first. When the façade later cracks, revealing a man trying to protect the last few shreds of his identity, Dave becomes a much more interesting character. The same transformation occurs in Sarah, who is the nice but rather bothersome aunt until she and Dave start talking theology. Dave and Sarah confront each other's religious ideas, and more important, they explore each other's motives for upholding these ideas in a powerful and intellectually compelling dialogue.

Jonathan Cantor and Bridget Connors grapple with the eternal question: Why me?
Jonathan Cantor and Bridget Connors grapple with the eternal question: Why me?

Despite the many viewpoints it explores, The Legacy never comes off as a staged theological expedition. This can be largely attributed to Harelik's script, which remains grounded in the reality of the dramatic situation, and to Rafael de Acha's direction. De Acha ensures that the emotional resonance never falls disproportionately on one point of view. What could be sentimental, frantic, or condemnatory remains realistic, as evinced by the rabbi's conversation with Rachel. In response to her eternal question, "Why me?" he responds with an astounding, "Why shouldn't it happen to you?" The Legacy is not about vindicating the supremacy of one particular religion. Rather it is an affirmation of the inherent human need to question.

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