“Dreyfus in Rehearsal” – Arizona Jewish Theatre Company

This review aired on KBAQ January 30, 2012


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

There’s a fascinating historical story behind “Dreyfus in Rehearsal,” Arizona Jewish Theatre Company’s current production, but playwright Jean-Claude Grumberg and adapter Garson Kanin never link the history effectively with a small Polish theater troupe that is presenting a play about it.  The result is a long, slow, amazingly dry, and lifeless play.

There are some awkward stabs at making the “Dreyfus Affair,” a rigged trial of French-Jewish Army Captain Alfred Dreyfus in the 1890s, alert Jews in the play’s 1931 Polish setting of upcoming anti-Semitic activities.  The play meanders, though, and rarely connects the historic event and the Polish situation effectively.  It’s easy to see how the actors fail to grasp the historic consequences and how they miss the parallels to their own situation even though one scene hits them over the head with the reality.  Toward the play’s end, the director lectures the audience, in a terrible soliloquy, about the play’s purpose.  That the play has this gratuitous scene is a testament to how bad the play is.

Couple the mediocre dramatic treatment with a weak production and you have sleep-inducing dryness.  Ben Tyler’s lackluster staging never stimulates the plot into anything interesting and bland performances fail to breathe life into the performers or the historic roles they portray.

Of the nine person cast, only Charles Sohn squeezes a tad of excitement into Arnold, an older actor who seems concerned about the real incident.  Michael Cortez’s lifeless director, Morris, has no enthusiasm for the play and that rubbed off on the acting ensemble.  Ted Raymond’s Zalman wanders around with nothing to do or add as the theater manager, while Will Hightower, who plays Dreyfus through the actor Michael, fails to use the characters’ challenges to make him interesting.  The rest of the cast amble through the production adding nothing.

There are much better plays that deal with significant issues impacting Jewish culture and history but “Dreyfus in Rehearsal” takes what should have been an interesting premise and treats the material so didactically that it’s like reading a boring historical lesson.  The play needs dramatic spark to turn it into something viable.

“Dreyfus in Rehearsal” sounded so much better on paper than in production.  It continues through February 5.  For tickets, call the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company box office at 602-264-0402 or order tickets online at www.azjewishtheatre.org.

Grade: D