Review: In ‘Diaspora,’ an Ancient Siege for the Snapchat Age

Review: In ‘Diaspora,’ an Ancient Siege for the Snapchat Age


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Connie Castanzo taking a group selfie in the play “Diaspora” at the Gym at Judson.

Credit
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

In “Diaspora,” a muddle of a play by Nathaniel Sam Shapiro at the Gym at Judson, a group of American Jews on a Birthright trip to Israel drink, hook up and occasionally visit a few historical sights, like Yad Vashem, the museum of the Holocaust, where, as one girl confesses, “I don’t know, I was kind of turned on,” and Masada, the site of an armed resistance that ended in murder and suicide. She gets turned on there, too.

As the contemporary tourists check phones and mash privates, the scene sometimes shifts back to the year 73, when a rebellious sect of Jews stands against the Romans at Masada. These characters sometimes express themselves in portentous period-speak (“None of us can hide from God, nor the Romans.”) and sometimes more casually (“O.K., be like that. Great.”). Neither register is convincing, especially as these ancient characters are played by the same actors, wearing the same miniskirts. Maybe they can best the Romans with a really savage Instagram story.

Mr. Shapiro wants to discuss how diaspora Jews, particularly those living in the U.S., approach Israel as a place and an idea. The teenagers he creates don’t have any definitive opinions, though one Birthrighter has big plans for a Star of David piercing. Mazel tov, girl. Mr. Shapiro slams them for their silliness and ignorance and raunch, the women particularly. (He also repurposes some Roman anti-gay propaganda in the Masada scenes, just for equal opportunity offense.)

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In “Diaspora,” a new play by Nathaniel Sam Shapiro, a group of young Americans travels to Israel on a Birthright trip.

Credit
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Trouble is, Mr. Shapiro, at least as evidenced by this play, doesn’t have much of an opinion either. Besides condescending to his characters, he hasn’t found a way to express his obvious confusion. And despite some elegant stage pictures, courtesy of Eric Southern’s lights and Caite Hevner’s projection design, the director Saheem Ali can’t help him much, particularly as Mr. Ali encourages the actors to overplay most moments.

In the contemporary scenes, most of the roles are drawn as broad caricature — the princess, the frat boy, the stoic soldier — except for a couple that are even broader. In the more serious Masada scenes, stereotypes persist and the characters, though tougher and less ridiculous, feel even flimsier.



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