THE LEAGUE OF NATHANS written and directed by Jason Sherman, with Ben Carlson, Rami Posner and Michael Schultz. Presented by Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst). Runs to March 23, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Sunday (and March 22) at 2 pm. $22-$30, Sunday pwyc-$22. 416-504-9971. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Like many early works, Jason Sherman's 1992 play The League Of Nathans shows lots of promise. There's a firm grasp of dialogue, a smooth-ish sense of scene structure and some clever punning.To be fair, there are just as many naive touches: contrived situations, great big yawning symbols and, frankly, those puns quickly grate.
So why bring the thing back?
The play, which looks at three Jewish boyhood friends named Nathan who grow apart and question their faith as they get older, won a Chalmers Award when it premiered. It wasn't exactly ignored.
But it's been revised since, and Sherman himself is at the helm directing three hot young Stratford and Shaw actors in the roles of Nathan Abramowitz (Michael Schultz), Glass (Rami Posner) and Isaacs (Ben Carlson).
And obviously, the Factory Theatre thought the work's themes of religion and racial tension would resonate in these politically charged times.
But apart from Astrid Janson's majestic, dominating set, which evokes everything from a centuries-old synagogue to the stark interior of an urban watering hole, there's not much to support the revival.
Sherman grafts biblical themes onto the piece with undergraduate awkwardness (see Adam Pettle's Zadie's Shoes or Sunday Father to see how to do it properly), and the arcs the trio of Nathans take feel forced rather than organic. That said, Posner gets deep into his role as a militant Israeli soldier (he even convinces in the play's worst line, "My home is Judea"), and Carlson's fast-talking sellout amuses.
I think Sherman relates most to Abramowitz, though, who spends most of act two looking perplexed, guilt- and angst-ridden, not knowing what he's doing. That's not a good place for a writer to be.