Family holidays have much in common no matter what religion they are. In The Face in the Reeds, which premiered Friday night, August 22 at the Ruskin Group Theatre in Santa Monica, a Jewish family gets together to celebrate the holiday of Passover. This is a perfect play for the Ruskin Group Theatre’s intimate stage, literally bringing the audience into the dining room to share the joys and heartbreak that surround one family’s Passover dinner.
Christina is the newest member of the family, a second wife and a recent convert to Judaism. Husband Barry is a doctor, trying maybe a little to hard to provide his family with the best. Rachael, the older daughter and a product of Barry’s first marriage, is trying to find her path in life and her sexual awakening as well as the love she wants from her family. And Mose, Barry and Christina’s son, is just trying to get past his Bar Mitzvah and onto the next step in his life. Add to this family Grandpa, recovering from a bout with cancer and chemotherapy and perhaps enjoying too much the release that medicinal marijuana gives him.
Thrown into this mix is Patrick, a young doctor at the hospital that Barry works at. Barry sees him as a replacement for a doctor who is retiring, while Patrick is not quite sure where his career path will lead him yet. An Irish Catholic, Patrick finds himself invited to his first Passover dinner and ultimately into the lives of the entire family. On the surface, the play is about a Jewish family, but in reality this could be any family, of any religion, celebrating any holiday. The Face in the Reeds presents an interesting take on the family dynamic, with enough laughter to keep you happy and yet enough touching drama to make you really care about the characters.
Part of what makes the play such a pleasure to watch is the performances of the characters. Stacey Moseley, as Christina, is easy to identify with, as any one who has tried to join an existing family can understand. Perhaps she tries too hard in some ways, but it is a sincere attempt to make not only the family join together but to find the faith in God that she has been missing. Chip Bolcik, as Barry, brings a solid performance as the rock of the family, working hard for his to bring them the best.
Julia Arian brings solid acting to the role of Rachael, while Aidan Blain, 12 years old just like the character Mose that he plays, performs with a maturity much past his real age. As Grandpa, Paul Zegler brings to the role a character that is so well-defined and played that some of his scenes can tear your heart out. Finally, Tom Berklund, as Patrick, does an excellent job of creating a character who is a contradiction, at once an outsider and yet more involved in the family than possibly any one.
The ensemble works together well, bringing the playwright’s words to life without the comedy seeming to be forced. Most importantly, the meaning of the Passover holiday is woven into the story, providing a solid base for each character’s role not only in the dinner, but in helping to recite the story of Passover. It is the holiday that serves as a reason to bring the family together and in a way, shapes each character’s idea of what the holiday really means to themselves. Several unexpected twists between characters keep the tension high as the time gets closer to what Christina wants, her first (and perfect) Passover dinner with her new family.
The Face in the Reeds, written by Robin Uriel Russin and directed by Sara Figoten Wilson, is running at the Ruskin Group Theatre Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm through October 11, 2014. The Ruskin Group Theatre is located at 3000 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90405. Information regarding tickets can be obtained by calling (310) 397-3244 or online at www.ruskingrouptheatre.com.