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Little Theatre of Alexandria Cantorial

By • Nov 6th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Cantorial by Ira Levin
Little Theatre of Alexandria
Little Theatre of Alexandria
Through November 17th
90 minutes, with intermission
$17-$20
Reviewed November 4th, 2012

What’s the opposite of an “exorcism?” An “enorcism?” Whatever the term may be, it describes Cantorial, the last play written by Ira Levin (1929-2007). 

Levin, for most of his professional life, was the go-to guy for scary fiction, plays and movie scripts: notably “Rosemary’s Baby,” Deathtrap and “The Stepford Wives.” Levin had truly mellowed by the time he got to Cantoral. The play has its spooky element. It’s a ghost story after all. But it is less a thriller than a fable — a magical story of spiritual possession that has a happy ending.

Warren and Lesley are a young live-together New York couple. They have good jobs, she in publishing, he in commodity futures trading. Their search for a place to live leads them to a decommissioned synagogue on the Lower East Side. The neighborhood changed from Jewish to Latino, the congregation dwindled and eventually disbanded.

Warren and Lesley buy the synagogue. No sooner have they moved into their exotic new home than they … discover that it is haunted!! Yes, a cantor (a liturgical singer) who had served the old congregation keeps right on singing — even though he died some 40 years ago. Obviously, Levin’s main concern here was not unflinching realism. But as the fable progresses, it makes up in charm what it lacks in plausibility. 

Lesley, by the way, is Jewish and secular. Warren is a secular gentile. 

Now here comes the enorcism — or whatever you want to call it. Warren, unwillingly at first but then enthusiastically, is possessed by the uneasy spirit of Isaac, the ghostly cantor.

Helpfully providing background information about the synagogue’s history is Morris, who owns a nearby delicatessen. At the urging of Isaac, and despite the outspoken misgivings of Lesley and Morris, Warren turns what was to have been a yuppie showplace worthy of a spread in “Architectural Digest” back into a modest synagogue. Isaac’s influence includes inspiration for restoration and remodeling. The cantor’s day job was carpentry and construction.

The current Little Theatre of Alexandria production of Cantorial is efficient as storytelling and poignant when Levin’s story morphs into a spiritual fable. C. Evens Kirk, who directs, makes the bizarre come across as matter-of-fact. Without much fuss, his set design accomplishes a tricky transformation: a modern yuppie lair becomes a late 19th Century sanctuary.

James Myers as Warren, Heather Benjamin as Lesley and Steve Rosenthal as Morris accomplish similarly unfussy transformations — the latter two change from nay sayers to yea sayers. Myers goes from casual materialism to enthusiastic mysticism.

Myers, who has a beautiful voice, brings off a charming final moment when this preppy WASP starts singing liturgical Hebrew. As his voice gains confidence and volume we realize that Isaac’s unsettled spirit has found a good home.

Director’s Notes

I was first introduced to the works of ira Levin in fourth grade through a cousin who loved horror novels. “Rosemary’s Baby” was a must read. You can only imagine the letter home to my parents from the school concerning my choice of reading. My mom’s response was “You mean he’s actually reading a book!”

Having directed area productions of Stephen King’s Misery, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I was excited at the prospect of adding a work by Ira Levin to my resume. And as I read Cantorial for the first time, I kept turning the page waiting for that moment like Rosemary walking down the long hallway to see her baby for the first time.

I don’t think I’m giving anything away by stating that the moment never came! From the mastermind behind “Rosemary’s Baby” (and its unfortunate sequel), “The Stepford Wives,” Deathtrap and “The Boys From Brazil” is this realistic story. Yes, a “ghost story,” but or because there’s a ghost in it. Instead of horror, suspense, or espionage, Levin has given us a personal journey…a story of an adopted boy searching for his missing link.

The world we live in is enchanted and mysterious. It is not a symbol or metaphor. However, we often make up symbols and metaphors to explain the unknown. In fiction it may be hard to believe in vampires and time travel, so it becomes a work of horror and science fiction. But what if they were real? Do you believe in angels and miracles? If so, do you actually see them, and are they a part of your everyday life? In magical realism writers write the ordinary as miraculous and the miraculous as ordinary. As Freud might have said, “Sometimes a ghost is just a ghost.” In short, there is no answer, you just believe.

I hope you enjoy this production of Cantorial as much as I have enjoyed working on it. Don’t be afraid to believe. You may just discover something new or missing in your own life.

Photo Gallery

Heather Benjamin (Lesley Rosen) and James Myers (Warren Ives) James Myers (Warren Ives) and Heather Benjamin (Lesley Rosen)
Heather Benjamin (Lesley Rosen) and James Myers (Warren Ives)
James Myers (Warren Ives) and Heather Benjamin (Lesley Rosen)
James Myers (Warren Ives) and Heather Benjamin (Lesley Rosen) James Myers (Warren Ives) and John Shackelford (Williams Ives)
James Myers (Warren Ives) and Heather Benjamin (Lesley Rosen)
James Myers (Warren Ives) and John Shackelford (Williams Ives)
James Myers (Warren Ives), Steve Rosenthal (Morris Lipkind) and Heather Benjamin (Lesley Rosen) Steve Rosenthal (Morris Lipkind) and James Myers (Warren Ives)
James Myers (Warren Ives), Steve Rosenthal (Morris Lipkind) and Heather Benjamin (Lesley Rosen)
Steve Rosenthal (Morris Lipkind) and James Myers (Warren Ives)

Photos by Shane Canfield

Cast

  • Lesley Rosen: Heather Benjamin
  • Philip Quinn: John Franklin
  • Warren Ives: James Myers
  • Donna Quinn: Fe Vivas Patriciu
  • Morris Lipkind: Steve Rosenthal
  • William Ives: John Shakelford
  • Cantor: Rick Flint

The Crew

  • Producers: Jamie Blake, Eileen Doherty
  • Director: C. Evans Kirk
  • Stage Manager: Rebecca Patton
  • Assistant Stage Manager: Zell Murphy
  • Set Design: C. Evans Kirk
  • Lighting Design: Ken and Patti Crowley
  • Costume Design: Annie Vroom
  • Sound Design: Janice Rivera
  • Assisted by: David Correia, nna Hawkins, Jennifer Lyman, David Rampy, Alan Wray
  • Set Construction: Dan Remmers
  • Assisted by: David Toll, Tom McLaughlin, Eddy Roger Parker, Tjaarda P. Storm van Leeuwen
  • Set Painting: Leslie Reid
  • Assisted by: Bobbie Herbst, Kevin O’Dowd
  • Set Decoration: Donna Reynolds
  • Master Electrician: Mary Abahazy, Pam Leonowich
  • Assisted by: Pat Durako, Peter Halverson, Jim Hartz, Mike O’Connor, Doug Olmsted, Nancy Owens, Donna Reynolds, Sherry Singer, Adam Wallace
  • Property Design: Heather and Ben Norcross
  • Assisted by: Sarah Boyd, Rachel Brown-Glazner, Carter Diggs, Gayle Nichols-Grimes, Barbara Helsing, Margaret Snow
  • Wardrobe: Megan Murphy
  • Assisted by: Mary Beth Smith-Toomey
  • Hair and Makup Design: Brandy Morgan
  • Rigging: Russell Wyland
  • Special Effects: Brett Alexander
  • Photographer: Shane Canfield
  • Videographer: Jim Hartz
  • Audition Table: Maria Ciarrocchi
  • Assisted by: Mary Lou Bruno, Barbara Helsing, Margaret Snow
  • Double-Tech Dinner: Larry Grey
  • Assisted by: Ronald Carter, Isabel Zorro
  • Opening Night Party: Ronnie Hardcastle and Ben Robles
  • Assisted by: Erblin Nushi, Joseph Robles, Joseph Zachry

Disclaimer: Little Theatre of Alexandria provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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lives in Arlington with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. Before retiring last year at age 70, he was theater critic at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for 27 years. Prior to that, he reviewed plays for the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Texas Observer and the Swarthmore College Phoenix. Non-reviewing journalistic jobs include writing for the Houston Chronicle, the San Juan (Puerto Rico) Star and El Mundo de San Juan. Think about it: most of the papers he worked for no longer exist. Maybe this internet gig has better longevity prospects.

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