Funny, she doesn't look Jewish ... 

Bluish, Alliance Theatre's Hertz Stage

Remember the scene in Hannah and Her Sisters when Woody Allen's character, in a spiritual crisis, considers converting to Christianity and brings home Protestant icons such as Wonder Bread? Atlanta playwright Janece Shaffer explores a similar dynamic -- with the conversion going in the opposite direction -- in the world premiere of her play Bluish at the Alliance Theatre's Hertz Stage.

On the verge of marrying Jewish TV reporter Ben (Todd Gearhart), WASPy Southerner Beth (Kati Brazda) discovers that her blood test reveals genetic traces of a disease frequently found in Jewish people. With her mother long dead and her father dying of Alzheimer's, Beth has difficulty tracking down her roots. But her in-laws-to-be Manny and Lillian don't disguise their delight at the prospect of the shiksa turning out to be a nice Jewish girl.

Manny and Lillan barge in quite a bit, reminiscent of the parents from "Everybody Loves Raymond," but Howard Elfman and Joyce Reehling fortunately don't turn their roles into shticky caricatures. Bluish doesn't shy away from the humor in its premise, as when an increasingly devout Beth buys a chintzy menorah at a grocery store. And local actress Suehyla El-Attar sparkles in the plum part as Ben's sister, who cracks wise from the margins.

But Shaffer, to her credit, proves more interested in the serious implications of Bluish's premise, and plays for higher stakes than in her lighter, earlier comedies. Facing her father's death, Beth begins to rely on her newfound religion as a source of spiritual answers -- much to the discomfort of Ben, who always saw his heritage as something to rise above. Bluish intriguingly sets the religious and cultural dimensions of Judaism squarely against each other.

Throughout the play, Brazda maintains a kind of dour intensity that throws the play off balance, flattening the lighter scenes and giving Beth's embrace of Judaism an almost militant edge. As Beth and Ben's engagement becomes increasingly strained, it feels more like she's driving him away than a case of irreconcilable differences between two flawed people. A play called Bluish should embrace some thematic ambiguity, but the Alliance production seems a little too black and white.


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