Religion’s the Thing in God Box (3 Stars)

*God Box, written and performed by Antonia Lassar, directed by Christine Hamel. Part of the Second Annual Next Rep Black Box Festival at the New Repertory Theatre, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown through April 19.*

*God Box* opens with a story – the story of Schlemiel, a Jewish wanderer from Chelm, Poland. Schlemiel is in search of Warsaw, but a mix-up while he’s asleep leads him back to Chelm. Unaware that it’s his hometown, Schlemiel labels it Chelm Two. The teller of the tale, the garrulous Mrs. Adelman, informs us that all roads, in the end, lead to Chelm.

Mrs. Adelman is speaking to us from her daughter Rebecca’s apartment. Rebecca, we are informed, has died two days earlier in a car accident. While straightening out Rebecca’s apartment, Mrs. Adelman stumbles upon a box labeled GOD. Inside the box are various objects that must have held meaning for their owner – a crystal on a string, flags of Jewish Buddhism, a Koran, and a Bible. This leads the very Jewish and very horrified Mrs. Adelman to believe that Rebecca, a law student, had rejected the faith of her birth. Taking her clues from the box, Mrs. Adelman goes off in search of her daughter’s religious beliefs, ostensibly to give her an appropriate funeral. Along the way, she discovers that there were large pieces of Rebecca’s life that were hidden from her, including a baptism, a career change and a Muslim fiance.

Antonia Lassar is a very capable and engaging actress, artfully playing multiple roles over the course of this 65-minute piece. She moves from Long Island Jewish mother to benign female minister to Muslim fiance with ease. Her delivery is very funny; she is skilled at timing.

The biggest problem I had with the piece is the suspension of disbelief. Ms. Lassar couldn’t possibly have children and write a piece like this – it’s just not credible to have a woman, two days after losing her daughter in a freak car accident, telling funny stories and freaking out because she doesn’t think her daughter was a practicing Jew. Really? Her daughter is dead and she’s worried about what religion she was practicing? This did not endear me to the character one bit, who seemed parochial, petty, and unsympathetic in the wake of such a devastating event. That said, my theater companion, who doesn’t have children, didn’t seem to share my sense of outrage.

I wouldn’t want to rewrite the play – parts of it were very funny, if you could forget about the dead daughter – but perhaps a more credible premise would be that Mrs. Adelman is in her daughter’s apartment after getting a letter saying that Rebecca had eloped, not to worry, she would be back soon. Then Mrs. Adelman’s humor, her subsequent searching, and the end of the play, where all roads really do lead to Chelm, would be more appropriately felt. Instead I left cursing this portrait of small mindedness in religion, which seemed to take precedence over the death of a seemingly thoughtful and soul-searching young woman.