NY Theater Review by Eric J. Grimm
Martin Blank’s The Law of Return is a testament to the actual intrigue and complicated nature of world military and espionage. The brisk one act tells the true story of Jonathan Jay Pollard, an American civilian analyst who passed intelligence to Israel in the 1980s. Pollard’s story is thrilling and Blank does a respectable job of adapting it for the stage, though he makes a distracting structural choice that weakens the emotional resonance. That said, it’s a strong work and the production, running at 4th Street Theatre, is mostly effective.
Anti-hero Jay, torn between allegiances to his country and heritage, remarks a few times on how his life resembles a Graham Greene spy novel. Blank’s lean script plays out just like those Greene thrillers as he concisely lays out the plot and breaks occasionally from the action to have Jay reflect on his dangerous activities. This would be even more powerful if Jay’s wife, Anne, were not an offstage character. Scenes in which Jay speaks to his confidante are undercut by Anne’s absence and are a missed opportunity to add to the complexity of Jay’s betrayal. Not including Anne as a character also makes the play completely male-centric and this seems unnecessary. We only get her perspective secondhand and there does not appear to be any narrative justification.
Elise Thoron’s production is clean and well-paced as it simply and effectively relates this fascinating event in American history. The transitions are smooth and she uses pop music appropriately to give a sense of the time period. Alexis Distler’s simple set is malleable enough to efficiently stand in for different locations. The performances are a mixed bag. Joel Rooks and Andre Ware are solid as Israeli and American authority figures, but Ben Mehl is never quite believable as Pollard. He plays the analyst as a robotic nerd, which is especially grating in scenes where Pollard expresses his emotional turmoil. His diction is overly crisp as he chooses theatricality over a more natural performance. This is especially disappointing given the fluidity of Blank’s dialogue.
Flaws aside, the production is worth viewing, particularly as it is well timed to coincide with heightened focus on the US and Israel’s tricky relationship. Pollard’s case has been consistently in the news for the past thirty years and this is a fine primer for this ongoing spy drama.
The Law of Return is playing at 4th Street Theatre (83 E. 4th St.) from August 1-24. For tickets visit http://lawofreturn.brownpapertickets.com.
*Photos: Hunter Canning