BOTTOM LINE: An engaging new work from Chicago's Victory Gardens Theatre is getting its New York premier; it's worth seeing given its historical background, importance, and solid performances.
Lights up on the national archives of Spain in 1962, where we find a meeting between the archive's director and professor Chaim Tal of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. This is not a pleasant meeting: the director is accusing Tal of attempted theft of a file from his archives. The director is most frustrated and disappointed that someone whom he trusted was really out to steal from him. Tal keeps his lips sealed, even with threats of punishment from the Guarda Civil. To try and get a confession the director begins to read the file, and the play hops in the way-back machine and shoots us out in 1485, with two Catholic priests, Juan and his teacher Andres. Juan is desperate to confess his sins: he has fallen in love with Isabel, a Jewish girl. He has converted and married her, all while leading a double life still preaching to his own Christian congregation. Unfortunately, no good can come from this, especially because they have a child together. The ending is tragic, but it does bring the whole play together and gives it a resolution that I found quite peaceful and calming for the modern Tal.
Interestingly, this play is based on an adaptation of a novel, so this seems to be a third generation work we're seeing (I'm curious now to read the original book). I appreciate that the language used in the play isn't dumbed down and I was glad I had read the short glossary provided in the playbill before the show.
Ami Dayan, Kevin Hart, and Catherine Pilafas all give solid, polished performances. This is a good example of what continued development and refinement of a play can bear, a work with very few weak links or loose strings. The men play their dual roles quite well, seamlessly moving back and forth, including costume changes.
The production has original music that you can purchase on the way out of the show. This is a first for me, and I found a unique twist to have it for sale. I really enjoyed the music in the show, I found it all very appropriate and well composed, the thing that was disappointing to me was the lack of subtlety with which the cues ended. They could have really used a fade out here and there.
I thought the lighting design inclusion of pages of calligraphic old script was very effective and quite classy. The scenery is minimal, but appropriate, although I was a little perplexed by the oversized pewter-esque goblets that hold water: they look appropriate for giants, not us mere mortals.
To wrap it up, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with Conviction. It's well rounded and balanced and asks some interesting questions about faith, religion, devotion, and what one will do in the name of love. I personally didn't find it as emotionally moving as I would've liked, but I did enjoy the educational aspect as well as hearing a personal tale from those dark times.
(Conviction plays at 59E59 Theatres, 59 East 59th Street, through March 21, 2010. Performances are Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:15pm, Thursday and Friday at 8:15pm, Saturday at 2:15pm and 8:15pm, and Sunday at 3:15pm and 7:15pm. Tickets are $35 and can be purchased at ticketcentral.com or by calling 212.279.4200. For more information, visit www.59e59.org.)