“Two Jews Walk into a War.”
It sounds like the start of a bad joke, but it’s actually the title of a new comedy opening today at Barter Theatre that promises to tickle the funny bone and touch the heart.
Inspired by real-life events, this hysterical and poignant comedy follows the story of the last two Jews in Afghanistan whose temple has been ransacked and their Torah stolen. Together they wish to rebuild and restore the community — but the problem is that these two pillars of society can’t stand each other.
With precise comic timing, this unusual comedy cleverly poses provocative questions about faith, freedom and intolerance while reminding us that religion can bring us together even in impossible times.
“This play can connect with anyone with any belief system. The appeal of this play, and great theatre for that matter, is that it doesn’t really make a difference whether it is set in our backyard or across the world, one religion or another, when you get right down to it, it’s about the human condition,” said Lori Hester, Barter’s director of patron services. “We all love, sometimes we hate, we laugh, we cry, we get angry, and sometimes we make ridiculous comments and do ridiculous things, but in the end, the important thing is to come together for a greater cause, and that is exactly what these two men are doing.”
At one time, Jews in Afghanistan numbered 40,000 strong. By 1996, under the fundamentalist Taliban rule, only five Jewish families remained in Afghanistan, and by 2001, with the NATO removal of the Taliban from power, only two Jews remained in the country.
Playwright Seth Rozin penned “Two Jews” after reading an article in the New York Times about the two men living in Kabul.
Barter Resident Acting Company members Rick McVey and Michael Poisson star as this real-life Middle-Eastern odd couple in an extraordinary situation.
Imagine this: your place of worship, destroyed. Your holy writing, stolen. Your tools of worship, gone. And there is only one other person in the whole country who worships the same as you do.
“It’s got inherent drama in that these two guys are being repressed and that they hate each other, and it’s both existentially funny and appropriately Jewish,” Rozin said.
Ishaq (Poisson) is a stubborn, devout, cerebral-type, who believes Zeblyan (McVey) is boorish, crude, hedonistic and ignorant. Yet, together, they are tasked with the future of Afghan Jewry.
The immediate problem is that they don’t have a Torah, and they can’t just print one off the Internet or buy one. They need a Torah to attract a Rabbi so that he can convert a woman to Judaism and she can have Zeblyan’s — or in the worst case, Ishaq’s — child and thus begin repopulating their community.
As a devout man, Ishaq has memorized every single word and punctuation mark in all five books of Moses and will dictate it to Zeblyan, the younger, more able-bodied of the two.
This means the two men who despise each other will have to spend a lot of time together.
“This piece has some beautiful, poignant moments, but don’t mistake poignant with sentimental,” said director Mary Lucy Bivins. “They are not sentimental slobs. These two men are tough survivors with extraordinary strength. They have to be. What is poignant is what they give to each other despite their mutual dislike.”
“Two Jews Walk Into a War” will play through Aug. 10 at Barter Stage II.
For reservations or more information, call the Barter box office at (276) 628-3991 or visit www.bartertheatre.com.
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