Arts theater review

All that’s left

A comedy under the guise of a seemingly dark tragedy

8596 torri yearwood   two jews
Ishaq (Joel Colodner) banters with Zeblyan (Jeremiah Kissel) in 'Two Jews Walk into a War.'
Andew Brilliant — Courtesy of Brilliant Pictures

Two Jews Walk Into A War
Directed by Will Lebow
By Seth Rozin
Mosesian Center for the Arts
April 28 – May 20

It was a black-and-white film of the 1930s resurrected from the dead. It was a play that brought out both mankind’s inner cruelty and innocence. Two Jews Walk Into A War invites its audience to put aside their religious differences to watch its depiction of the human spirit in the face of religious persecution.

Placed in 1998 at the tail end of a Jewish diaspora in Kabul, Afghanistan, Two Jews Walk Into A War is an unexpectedly humorous look at two men trying to keep their faith alive. The overly-traditional Ishaq (Joel Colodner) maintains the only remaining synagogue in the city. Accompanied by Zeblyan (Jeremiah Kissel), who is more reluctant to express his faith, he struggles to find a way to bring Judaism back to the city. At the start of the production, we are introduced to these characters with the droning tones that are associated with traditional Jewish religious services. Lights go up on two men, separated by a coffin that holds their deceased mediator, Yakob.

I was fully expecting to be plunged into another philosophical exploration of the human condition. However, the first few moments of the production were filled with levity and humour. Despite my initial expectation of an exceedingly dark play, I was pleasantly surprised to see how much slapstick comedy and vaudeville this production managed to stuff into its approximately 90-minute runtime. Director Will Lebow takes care in setting up the slapstick at the very beginning by having the two men be impossibly aggressive towards each other. Like an old married couple, Zeblyan and Ishaq banter incessantly. I kept finding myself writing down jokes that they would launch against each other in the off chance that I could use them with my friends. There was even the cheesy drum motif from time to time. It was as though I was watching a love letter to Chaplin’s style of comedy.

Performed as a collection of comical vignettes, the production tells a disjointed story of the two men trying to rewrite the Torah to attract more followers. Of course, this isn’t without a side joke by Zeblyan as he slyly comments on how the Jewish population in Kabul could be doubled after nine months. In any case, Zeblyan reluctantly agrees to be Ishaq’s scribe as he slowly recounts the entire Torah to him over the span of several agonizing months. Darker moments, though, are never too far from the moments of humour.

Zeblyan runs back to the synagogue after a close encounter with the Taliban. Meanwhile, Ishaq progressively gets weaker with each passing scene. The pressure is on as they scramble to finish their reproduction of the Torah. That’s not to say that the journey to do so is any less enjoyable. The frenetic energy that Kissel brings onto the stage conflicts perfectly with Colodner’s calmness.

Backed up by a gorgeous set design and music tailored to bring out the undertones of Judaism present in the play, Two Jews Walk into a War is a poignant statement against the religious persecution of the world. An exemplar of the season’s theme of resilience, this production is truly a vaudeville comedy that will make you consider how we connect with other people in our lives and the ways that war can test that bond. In this time of international tension, having this carnation of peace placed on top of the rifle of aggression is more important than ever.