Zalmy and Shmuely have been best friends from childhood and their excitement over the Mitzvah Tank - and their efforts to encourage Jews to be more observant - is palpable. They also argue about little things, which reflect on their views towards life. One good example is Shmuely’s insistence on playing tapes all the way through, while Zalmy likes mix tapes. (This is the 90’s. We are talking cassettes.) But things come to a head when they find an enthusiastic man who wants to know more about Judaism – but who turns out not to be Jewish. Jonathan’s father was Jewish, but his mother was Catholic. Still, he’s enthusiastic and Zalmy invites him to Crown Heights, where Jonathan finds a real spiritual home and starts on the road to conversion. He also gives Zalmy mix tapes of secular music, listens to him talk about his excursions to the roller disco, and even gets him a ticket to a Broadway show. Shmuely is upset, not just about the secular influences, but because he feels left out with Zalmy and Jonathan’s growing friendship. There’s also an interesting encounter between Shmuely and Jonathan’s (secular Jewish) girlfriend.
This play had a lot of good things to say about differences and similarity and people searching for their paths in life. It’s clear that Lindsay Joelle, who wrote the play, has a lot of respect for Jewish community (and Chabad-Lubavitch, in particular). It’s also very funny. There are a few jokes that I am not sure a general audience would get, e.g. when Shmuely announces he has a date (arrange, of course) and Zalmy asks who the girl is, he says "Chaya Mushka," and Zalmy says, "which Chaya Mushka?" This is only funny if you know that’s the most popular name among Chabad women (after the late wife of the last rebbe), sort of the equivalent of Jennifer in the secular world at that time. But, overall, I think the conflict and the friendship story is more broadly relatable and I highly recommend this show. I really hope it has a long future, including (of course) being performed in other cities.
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