When Stuart called Phyllis to cater his Orthodox dinner party, he never expected that their initial meeting could set in progress the events that would tear apart a marriage and rock a synagogue to its core. Stuart isn’t just a potential client; he’s also a client of Phyllis’s husband, Jay. And he’s Jay’s boyfriend. The play explores what happens when Phyllis discovers their relationship and how the characters’ Orthodox Jewish background influences their responses.
One of the most successful parts of this play is the presentation of the religious culture and practices in an accessible and understandable way. Although the title A Strange and Separate People seems to most aptly apply to the Orthodox community in this play, it can equally refer to LGBT people and the autistic community represented by Phyllis’s son. This play hammers home the idea that just because someone is different doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for understanding, growth, forgiveness, and acceptance. It just takes time and the will to do so.
A play is not meant to be experienced by simply reading it; the story’s nuances come from the production’s actors, directors, and designers. With just reading the play, some of the dialog seems stilted, especially when characters address the audience or unseen other characters. These divergences might be better handled in performance, but in the reading they seem to break the rules of the play by taking the reader out of the experience.
A Pulitzer finalist, playwright Jon Marans is no stranger to the stage. His other works include Old Wicked Songs, The Temperamentals, A Girl Scout World, Jumping for Joy, and Irrationals. A Strange and Separate People had its first performance on October 6, 2005 with the Penguin Repertory Company in Stony Point, New York.
This play is recommended for any library that collects contemporary drama or has a strong collection in Jewish studies or the relationship between religion and LGBTQ persons.
Reviewer: John Mack Freeman