Review: A Delightfully Captivating “The Sabbath Girl” at The Penguin Rep

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  • Pia Haas, Contributing Critic - New York

Living In these disturbing times, in a country filled with division, it is heartwarming to let go and enjoy this delightful romantic comedy. Happily, there is renewed hope that love can truly bring together the most unlikely of people.

The world premiere of Cary Gitter’s play, The Sabbath Girl, Is now on stage at Penguin Rep Theatre. Described as “a contemporary romantic comedy with heart about the loneliness of big-city life and the possibility of finding love at work or even next door.”

Angie Mastrantonio, a hip art gallery curator, has just moved into her upper west side apartment. She is taken by surprise when Seth, an Orthodox Jewish, Knish shop owner, knocks on the door looking for his former neighbor who was his “Sabbath goy”.  In Orthodox households, vital everyday tasks such as turning lights on and off, using electrical appliances and cooking are forbidden on the Sabbath. Religious Jews use all sorts of workarounds – electric timers, pre-programmed thermostats, special hotplates – but sometimes it’s not enough. That’s where the “Shabbos goy” comes in; a non-Jew who can perform forbidden tasks for Jews.  This unlikely encounter begins a relationship with interesting challenges.

Angie is perfectly content with her busy life and does not have much time for relationships. Well, there is the occasional hot artist, Blake, (the amusing Ty Molback) who she is wooing for her gallery. Meanwhile, Angie’s Italian grandmother (the wonderful Patricia Mauceri) known as "Nonna," is concerned for her welfare. Why doesn't this nice young lady have a man who can be her “dance partner” through life? She encourages her granddaughter to find the music, “Life is singing to you, you just have to listen.”

Seth (the terrific Jeremy Rishe) is “adorkable”, he is smart, reliable, gentle, and with a boyish charm. He embodies the qualities favored in Jewish culture as an ideal husband.  He is smitten at first sight with Angie. His sister Rachel (the compelling Lauren Singerman) is not pleased and has other ideas about arranging a proper match for him.

It is an endearing story which delights us with insights into the details and rituals of Jewish life while also taking on a problem that is universal to every culture; How can one make one’s family happy while still being true to oneself and living the life you want to live? 

The clever script delivers some provocative observations on cultural differences, misconceptions, family pressures, loneliness, single life, love, and romantic fantasies.

Beautifully directed with care by Penguin Rep’s Artistic Director, Joe Brancato, with the right blend of humor and pathos, wit and romance. His cast delivers tender, authentically human, emotions.

The set by Christopher & Justin Swader is colorful and clever, using impressive projections by Yana Birykova to transport us to various locations. Well-conceived Lighting by Todd O.Wren, perfectly selected sounds by Matt Otto, and attractive costumes by Gregory Gale complete the magic.

Playwright Cary Gitter is a two-time O’Neill semifinalist and Jewish Plays Project finalist, and an alumnus of the Obie Award-winning EST/Youngblood playwrights’ group. His play How My Grandparents Fell in Love was a New York Times Critic’s Pick as part of the Ensemble Studio Theatre’s (EST’s) 36th Marathon of One-Act Plays and aired on the public radio show Playing on Air.

Do yourself a favor and do not miss this limited engagement of The Sabbath Girl which runs through August 25. Performances are on Thursday evenings at 7:30pm. Friday and Saturday evenings at 8pm. Weekend matinees on Saturdays at 4pm and Sundays at 2pm.

Penguin’s intimate, 108-seat theatre, which is located at 7 Crickettown Road, is converted from an 1880’s hay barn, and offers air-conditioning, a wheelchair accessible entrance, and plenty of free parking. Tickets are priced at $48 (including facility fee and service charge). Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more and young people (30 and under). To order tickets or for further information, visit Penguin Rep’s website at PenguinRep.org or call 845-786-2873.

Photo by Chris Yacopino: Madison Micucci & Jeremy Rishe in The Sabbath Girl.