Could a rabbi be the chaplain of a hospital elevator as well as the hospital itself? This seems to be the possibility of an entertaining and thoughtful comedy not surprisingly entitled “Love In An Elevator.”
Hyman Popper, the knitted kippah-sporting rabbi of Temple Beth El in an unnamed Midwestern city, effectively presides in the present day setting of Richard Rivosa’s world premiere play. Declaring that it “looks like we have a full house,” Popper proceeds to invite the diverse passengers to reflect on their experiences with love and relationships while they wait for the stuck hospital service elevator to be repaired.
While the stuck elevator scenario may sound familiar, the revelations that follow at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Plaza Black Box Theatre from a strong cast prove lively under the sharp direction of Tim Lawton.
During the 90-minute no-intermission play, the 10 passengers – what some theatergoers may think of as an ecumenical take-off on a minyan – engage in a combination of discussion and debate about their respective experiences and feelings about love. Rivosa challenges a cross-section of human beings with very different religions, beliefs, and occupations to engage in an open-minded dialogue even as they struggle to understand each other and themselves.
The colorful rabbi – who speaks both Hebrew and Yiddish and notes that a “Shabbos Goy” may be needed as the Sabbath approaches – draws out the passengers’ individual stories. A lesbian hospital nurse becomes a would-be social worker as she alternately comforts conflicted passengers and supports more confident ones.
Along the way, the widowed rabbi (whose wife died of leukemia in her 20s) shares a lively intellectual exchange with a confirmed bachelor professor, and a loner anarchist moves from defensive attitude to a painful and moving confession about his suffering and that of his mother at the hands of his abusive father. A notably reassuring narrative finds a devoted African-American couple – a construction worker and his pregnant fiancée – looking to marry before the child arrives. Though the rabbi unexpectedly officiates as the nurse prepares to deliver the child, Rivosa does keep the situation from becoming a sitcom sequence.
While an intermission could have preceded the strongest revelations of the anarchist, and the ending seems to arrive a bit abruptly, the play proves consistently absorbing and its talented ensemble fully convincing.
David Lee Vincent captures the rabbi’s remarkable blend of pride in his heritage, respect for the beliefs and views of others, singular sense of humor, and sincere caring. Megan Paluzzi has all of the nurse’s insight about her own relationship and embraces the concerns of her fellow passengers. Damian Parker and Elisabeth Castellon Gonclaves have good chemistry as the marriage-approaching couple. Johnny Mooers is a standout as the lost soul anarchist moving from isolation to understanding. John Brownlie catches the angst of a gay chef dealing with an alcoholic husband. Norman B. Bendroth has persuasive authority as a philologist referring to the likes of Wittgenstein, but could do with stronger projection. Vidisha Agarwalla has the right astuteness of an Indian lawyer, and Floris Liu possesses good feeling as the flute-playing musician. Carol Drewes makes the most of her initially subdued patient’s eventual reflections.
Kudos goes to M. Berry’s nuanced lighting and Grace Kroeger’s sound design for the temperamental elevator.
Characterizing the elevator odyssey, the rabbi concludes that “God has been busy this evening.” Audience members – no matter what their affiliation – should find this well-crafted production both enjoyable and enlightening. Θ
“Love In An Elevator” runs through Aug. 13 at the Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont St., Boston. For tickets, visit bostonarts.org.