“Hard Love” – Arizona Jewish Theatre Company

This review aired on KBAQ November 4, 2010


Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, John Paul Theatre, Phoenix College
Phoenix, AZ

“Hard Love,” the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company’s season opener, appears to have everything going for it. It’s written by one of Israel’s leading playwrights, Motti Lerner, and it deals with the struggle to reunite between a faith believing woman and her ex-husband who lost his faith.

But the play disappoints because the confrontation and solution is abrupt, is poorly developed, and is implausible. The characters are weakly etched so it’s difficult to relate to or care about them. If only all the talent displayed in the production could not have been harnessed on a better play.

Lerner’s characters are superficial with no dimension. Hannah is so steeped in her religious beliefs that she uses the ritual and dogma to disguise and hide her inhibitions and fears. She doesn’t always appear to believe in the faith she uses to run her life. She’s also manipulative and she uses everything to get Zvi to conform to her beliefs and ideals. Interestingly, she abandons her faith when it gets in her way. 

She married Zvi but immediately had problems with him after he lost his faith. She had a stillborn baby and the pair divorced. Zvi never got over her even though he remarried and had a son. Hannah married an older man and has a daughter. They reunite in the conservative Jerusalem neighborhood where Hannah lives when their kids fall in love. Hannah hopes to end the romance while Zvi encourages it. The strained meeting ends with the pair consummating their ongoing love.

After her husband dies, Hannah tries to link with Zvi in Tel Aviv. She claims to be pregnant from the one-night stand. The two don’t see eye-to-eye so the play ends abruptly with Hannah leaving. The opening night audience found the situation so far-fetched that at one point in the ridiculous plot they laughed inappropriately and applause came at awkward moments.

The production is fine from Janet Arnold’s meticulous, clean, and straight-forward staging to the two fine performers who have little characterization to develop. Eric Schoen’s Zvi is initially compliant to get Hannah back but as he realizes his lack of faith, he grows more strident and dogmatic. Lesley Ariel Tutnick’s Hannah is stark and she is married to her religion but Tutnick can’t disguise Hannah’s insincerity in letting the dogma run her life.

Arizona Jewish Theatre Company has returned to Phoenix College after several seasons at Paradise Valley Community College. It’s too bad a better play wasn’t selected. “Hard Love” continues through November 7. For tickets, call the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company box office at 602-264-0402 or go online at www.azjewishtheatre.org.

Grade: D