In “A Serious Man,” the Coen Brothers return to their Midwestern Jewish roots to examine the conundrums created by their religion and culture. With humor and humanity, they inject life into tired stereotypes. “High Holidays” playwright Alan Gross could take a page from their book.
It’s 1963 in Iroquois, Illinois, a small-town Jewish enclave. Bar Mitzvah boy Billy (Max Zuppa) can’t memorize his torah portion, and collegiate brother Bobby (Ian Paul Custer) returns with upsetting demands for parents Nate (Keith Kupferer) and Essie (Rengin Altay).
The overlong first act is crammed with Yiddishisms and pop-culture references in a desperate attempt to establish setting. The shrill characters start out one-dimensional and stay that way for an hour and fifteen minutes. Subsequently, the stereotypes soften and we are shown, rather than told, the characters’ reasoning. If the first half had the second act’s humanity, this could be a really great piece. (Lisa Buscani)
“High Holidays” plays at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, (312)443-3800, through November 29.