'Kosher Lutherans' at Hot City Theatre is Frenzied Fun

By Christopher Reilly
In Culture

KosherLutherans_PostcardIn “Kosher Lutherans,” playwright William Missouri Downs touches on relationships, marriage, infidelity, religion, prejudice and friendship in this humorous story of a couple’s travails trying to get pregnant. The fast and breezy play is currently playing at Hot City Theatre.

In the story, the seemingly perfect couple of Hannah and Franklyn (played by Julie Layton and Richard Strelinger) desperately want to have a baby, but after years of trying every possible remedy, including fertility treatments, the couple is about to throw in the baby towel when they meet Alison (Beth Wickenhauser), a religious and very pregnant Iowa girl looking for just the right adoptive parents of her corn-fed progeny. Just before Alison signs the adoption papers, it becomes clear she doesn’t know the couple is Jewish, setting off a flurry of soul-searching and playacting where the kosher couple pretend to be Lutherans.

As the not-so-perfect couple and apparent best friends, Ben and Martha (played with gusto by Jerry Russo and Nicole Angeli) offer advice and much comic relief as they bicker, wisecrack and ultimately, help Hannah and Franklyn play the Lutheran card for the benefit of the young girl. The question is whether the adoptive couple being Jewish is a deal-breaker for a semi-racist small town girl from the Midwest.

Downs’ script alternately inhabits two different realms: An exaggerated, farcical world and a low-key, very realistic one. Those scenes, in contrast to the manic quality in other parts of the play, become very touching and poignant. Particularly impressive was a scene between Layton and Angeli at the end of Act Two, but there were several examples of very good scene work, indicative of not only good acting, but very good direction by Marty Stanberry. On occasion, the highly farcical scenes seemed a bit strained, but for the most part, they worked.

Ultimately the play is about making assumptions and how, in this play at least, assumptions are always wrong. The play moves fast and there’s some good one-liners and big laughs. Playwright Downs takes lots of digs, including at his own profession when Franklyn, after having already done several things that would be challenging in a relationship, tells Ben he has now decided to become a novelist. Ben says, “Running over your Rabbi, quitting your job, having an affair—these things a marriage can survive, but writing a novel?”

David Blake’s set is impressive, consisting of a neat little California bungalow with a sunken living room, a suggestion of wooden beams, and exteriors visible to either side—including a front door and porch—detailed right up to the half-round clay roof tiles. Michael B. Perkins’ sound design featured some good tunes, Felia Davenport’s costumes helped tell the story and Maureen Berry’s lights were spot on.

“Kosher Lutherans” is light fare perfect for the holidays, especially for those looking for just a bite of something sweet and different to celebrate a merry Christmas or happy Hanukkah.

“Kosher Lutherans” continues at Hot City Theatre through Dec. 21. For tickets and information, visit the Hot City Theatre website or call (314) 280-4063

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