Thursday, August 31, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Larry Rinkel's A Kreutzer Sonata at The Secret Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Larry Rinkel's A Kreutzer Sonata at The Secret Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

A Kreutzer Sonata
Written by Larry Rinkel
Directed by Christopher Erlendson
Dramaturg by Devorah Merkin
Produced by Hindi Kornbluth & Leah Felner
The Secret Theatre
44-02 23rd Street
Long Island City, Queens 11101
Reviewed 8/24/17

Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata, Opus 47 in A Major for Piano and Violin was performed, in part, by Freshman David Lindenbaum (Timothy Oriani) and Sophomore Elena Guerriero (Chelsea Davis) as a duet after being paired together by their Music Instructor, Professor Tomansky (Amanda Boekelheide). David is an Orthodox Jew attending a secular college for the first time in his life. He is a bit of a music prodigy and accepted the offer of a full scholarship, which action was supported by his emotionally and physically absent father, Avram Lindenbaum (Joe Rubino), and opposed by his fearful non-supportive mother, Rebekah Lindenbaum (Lauren Snyder), who also played Avram's girlfriend Carolyn. The Kreutzer Sonata, written by Leo Tolstoy and published in 1889, was an argument for the ideal of sexual abstinence and an in-depth first-person description of jealous rage. 
Larry Rinkel's A Kreutzer Sonata is a play about religious hypocrisy (which could be viewed as justifying anti-Semitism) and the brutal rape of David Lindenbaum, a virgin, by Elena Guerriero, his music partner who is clearly a sexual predator. David's college roommate is Terry Michaels (Jack Turell), a Lutheran/Atheist, who is a sex addict. He is so horny, he brings pornographic magazines to David's home over winter break. Christopher Erlendson directs Elena and Terry to often present themselves to the audience with legs spread eagle in a "come hither" fashion.

In preachy little expositions, David explains what it means to be a Jew. He says, "Being Jewish is more than just caring about money, wearing a skull cap, and saying 'Oy Vey!' all day. It's about obeying God's commandments." He explains to his roommate he does not believe in having sexual intercourse until marriage and that he wears his yamuka at all times (except when in the shower) as "a reminder that God is always above me." He explains what he can and cannot do on Shabbos and makes a big deal about not eating non-Kosher food. Terry, his roommate, even asks David, "Can you lighten up and be a little less Jewish." You would think that such pious, devout, God-fearing Orthodox Jews would be, as my Jewish friend once told me, "a moral example to others." That is not the case in Larry Rinkel's A Kreutzer Sonata. Here, we have a son who lies to his mother; a father who has abandoned his faith, bribes a professor to alter a grade, and has a girlfriend on the side; and a mother who invites a piano instructor over when she is alone so he can "sample her sweets," insults guests to their face in her home, and harbors negative feelings towards non-Jews. The word "hypocritical" comes to mind and it is hard to respect people who make such a big deal of their faith only to abandon its moral prescriptions in their everyday life. Add to that the fact Jews view themselves as God's Chosen People and you will start to see that this play lays the groundwork for explaining the existence of anti-Semitism, making it, in my opinion, an anti-Semitic play.

Elena Guerriero, David's music partner who is attracted to him, is a woman who won't take no for an answer and calls men who won't sleep with her "fags." She disrespects all religion, calls David "Yamuka Boy," makes fun of the fact he is circumcised and gets angry at him when he doesn't accept her "invitation" to go back to her place to have sex. In fact, she takes it as a personal insult since she considers herself to be "a pretty girl." David may be attracted to Elena but he makes it explicitly clear that "there can't be anything between us." Refusing to accept that no means no, Elena sexually assaults David, mounts him, forcibly kisses and gropes him, all the while telling him to "give in" because "no one's around" and "it will be nice." The actual rape (sexual intercourse) is implied but David exhibits all the emotional trauma of a rape victim. He starts missing class, tells his professor he can no longer work with Elena and says he is considering dropping out of school. By not reporting the sexual assault, David is re-traumatized when Professor Tomansky pressures him to continue to work with Elena and when his father invites his rapist, without David's knowledge, to their home for Passover. Elena Guerriero should have been arrested, convicted, and registered as a Sex Offender to warn others of her "charms."

Comic relief is provided by Jack Turell, who plays David's roommate, Terry Michaels. When David explains to him that sex is permitted on Shabbos, Terry makes him uncomfortable by physically entering his personal space with his crotch near David's face, jokingly suggesting they might be able to find something to do especially if David is not permitted by Jewish law to turn on the lights. I have no idea whatever happened to internet porn at that college, but Terry is seen ripping out pages from the Sports Illustrated Summer Swimsuit edition and shoving them in his pocket for future use. His character directly interacts with the audience pouring beer on audience members while supposedly interrupting a concert featuring David and Elena. Finally, Terry regifts a Hindu elephant to David's mother and eventually hooks up with Elena. On the surface, at least, they make a perfect pair. Both are constantly ready for action!

In the end, David finds a Jewish girlfriend, Amy Goldstein, and pronounces, "I am, above all else, a Jew." His mom opens a bakery adding Indian spices to old Jewish recipes. It appears the Hindu elephant was good luck after all. His father gets a divorce, leaves the faith, and moves in with Carolyn, his non-Jewish girlfriend. All the actors were excellent in their respective roles. The point of the play, however, escapes my comprehension. On the surface, it appears to be a simple "slice of life" play - the experiences of an Orthodox Jewish Freshman during his first six months at a secular college. However, the immorality of the characters and the explicit hyper-sexuality viewed while comparing this story with that told in Tolstoy's The Kreutzer Sonata, which also involved rage over infidelity and the suggestion that sexual abstinence should be the ideal instead of people giving into "animal excesses," leaves me wondering whether Larry Rinkel's intention was to make a larger point.

A Kreutzer Sonata is entertaining and provides audiences with a few good laughs. It definitely will leave you with a lot to think about. The play was presented as a part of the UNFringed Festival 2017 at The Secret Theatre. For more information, you can call 718-392-0722 or visit 

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