"The Last Schwartz" sounds like the title of a Jewish comedy, and the Harlequin Productions play, which opened Thursday, is that. But it also is much more.
“ ‘The Last Schwartz’ is rollicking, sad, shocking, goofy and thoughtful,” T.L. Ponick wrote in a 2003 review in The Washington Times. “It is a comic drama firing on all cylinders.”
The play is centered on a family reuniting a year after the death of the patriarch for the unveiling of the headstone. Director Linda Whitney said it definitely is a comedy, but it also is a deep story about coping with change and letting go of old ideas.
“It’s almost a metaphor for where we are right now in sociopolitical history,” said Whitney, who runs Harlequin with her husband, Scot Whitney. “There have been all these rigid patterns of adhering to a belief system, to traditions, to rituals that are going to have to change.”
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In the play by Deborah Zoe Laufer, the rigid one is the eldest daughter of the deceased man, who is the only one really interested in maintaining the family’s connection to Judaism and who has insisted on the ceremonial unveiling that brings them together.
Linda Whitney invited members of the local Jewish community to advise her on the ceremony and the family conflict it causes in the play. “That’s been really helpful and enriching and informative,” she said.
Like Laufer’s “End Days,” which Whitney directed last winter, “The Last Schwartz” mixes religion with science. One of the sons of the family is an astronomer.
Although it’s more realistic than “End Days,” “Schwartz” also is a story about members of a family, each member finding his or her own way to cope with big changes. In this case, the family members are adult siblings – a situation that’s naturally funny, the director said
“I would really feel bad for any family where you got the adult siblings together and funny things did not happen,” she said. I really enjoy Laufer’s dialog. The way the characters interact is rich for interpretation.”
The key is to find the right balance between the play’s humor and its depth, Whitney said.
“You could take this play, and it could be a complete cartoon end to end, endlessly funny and very shallow, or you could explore it and enrich those characters and mine the text – find out what’s really going on with those people, and then it’s funny and meaningful, too.”
And that is precisely what the playwright intended.
“I like funny. Even in a heavy drama,” Laufer wrote in a playwright’s note for Florida Stage in West Palm Beach, Fla. “Life’s funny if you’re paying attention. I worry when there’s nothing funny in a play.”
‘The Last Schwartz’
What: Following last winter’s “End Days,” Harlequin Productions offers another comedy by the same playwright, Deborah Zoe Laufer.
When: 8 p.m. today, Saturday and Feb. 3-5, 10-12 and 17-19; 2 p.m. Sunday and Feb. 6 and 13; 3 p.m. Feb. 4
Where: State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia
Tickets: $20-$35, rush tickets $12-$20. For the 3 p.m. Feb. 4 show, pay what you can.
More information: 360-786-0151 or www.harlequinproductions.org