‘Two Jews Walk Into a War…’
MAY 11, 2022
Nathan Keepers, left, and Avi Aharoni star in the Six Points Theater production of “Two Jews Walk Into a War…” The play by Seth Rozin at the St. Paul theater is directed by Twin Cities stage veteran Sally Wingert and runs April 30 through May 22, 2022. (Sarah Whiting)
By ROB HUBBARD | Special to the Pioneer Press
PUBLISHED: May 10, 2022 at 6:20 p.m. | UPDATED: May 10, 2022 at 6:22 p.m.
If enduring some large-scale difficulty like a war, occupation or pandemic, clinging too fervently to the wish that things were otherwise could potentially crush your spirit. It’s best to find something to laugh about.
Zeblyan and Ishaq aren’t really the laughing type, but they could give you some ideas about how humor can help you through an impossible situation. When you’re the last two Jews in Kabul, Afghanistan, the Taliban is in charge, and efforts to depose them are filling your days and nights with explosions and gunfire, it’s easy to look on the dark side.
They’re the two characters in “Two Jews Walk Into a War…,” a comedy by Seth Rozin currently receiving its Twin Cities premiere from Six Points Theater, the company formerly known as the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company. Whether hatching plans for propagation, debating divine intent or barely enduring one another’s eccentricities, Zeblyan and Ishaq are engaged in a kind of “Waiting for Godot” with a Borscht Belt bent.
But they aren’t just waiting: They’re being proactive about expanding the community within their bomb-scarred synagogue. Yes, the Taliban has taken their Torah and many other key elements of Judaic practice, but they think they can attract some followers through conversion. However, that would require a rabbi. And you can’t have a rabbi without a Torah. Luckily, Ishaq has it memorized. So they set about creating one … despite the fact that they claim to passionately hate one another.
Under the detailed direction of Sally Wingert, “Two Jews…” is an engaging, intimate comedy propelled by the admirably life-sized performances of Avi Aharoni and Nathan Keepers. They fully inhabit these comical cranks, filling the small space at St. Paul’s Highland Park Community Center with energy, charisma and piles of discarded paper from failed stabs at their agreed-upon task.
Presented in short scenes interrupted by blackouts (filled with ebullient klezmer tunes), the play moves along briskly, driven by friction between the two. While it’s based upon a true story from the first decade of this century, playwright Rozin uses the scenario as the basis for some often irreverent discussions about what the creator must be thinking, how literally the literature should be taken, and plenty of acid-tongued rejoinders, rim shots from rifles in the streets outside.
While every Six Points show explores some aspects of Jewish identity, they’re always very accessible to non-Jews. And that’s true of this play, although some of the topics bandied about will clearly resonate more with those well-versed in Judaism. Yet anyone could appreciate the humor of a funeral gone awry or the two trying to one-up one another about how badly they’d been tortured. (“Broken knuckles? What I wouldn’t have given for broken knuckles!”)
Aharoni and Keepers bring vivid contrasts to the verbal combat, Keepers’ Ishaq devout, wise and world-weary, Aharoni’s ever-questioning Zeblyan of more youthful outlook (and sex drive). He’s the one who contemplates the idea of “a bored, vindictive G-d” who plays the world like a video game, but he nevertheless falls in love with the book of Genesis. (“I’d see the movie in a heartbeat.”)
There are moving moments of warmth and tenderness, as when the two find common ground in a mutual love of Kabul, vividly describing its smells and spirit. Such scenes underline what enjoyable companions Ishaq and Zeblyan have become, making “Two Jews…” an even more involving tale of faith and duty.
Rob Hubbard is a Twin Cities freelance arts writer. Reach him at email@example.com.
Six Points Theater’s “Two Jews Walk Into a War…”
When: Through May 22
Where: Highland Park Community Center, 1978 Ford Parkway, St. Paul
Tickets: $38-$25, available at 651-647-4315 or sixpointstheater.org
Capsule: An engaging comedy of faith and resilience.