THEATRE REVIEW: DELIKATESSEN
By Jain Lemos
The confident cast of “DeliKateSSen” serves a two-course feast of emotional soup at the Adobe Theater in this original play by Richard Atkins. Opening night marked a triumph for the East Mountain writer and actor who ideated the plot in 2011 followed by its first public staged reading at Albuquerque’s Vortex in September 2013. Now a full production on the Adobe’s cozy platform, Atkins unleashes a flawless performance as a New York deli owner and Holocaust survivor.
The story takes place in 1972 at Shapiro’s in Midtown where brothers David (Richard Atkins) and Yossi (Scott Claunch) run a kosher eatery. Stressing about the lack of business, David’s pessimism and sour demeanor is contrasted by Yossi’s compassion and brightness for better days to come. But no amount of hopefulness can fix what’s ahead for these troubled siblings, especially in view of what they’ve endured in the past.
Two lonely elderly patrons, Maria Schneider (Sharon Sprague) an unmarried German Jew and Franz Becker (Ray Orley) an Austrian accountant, represent the promise of détente as they encourage David to drop his Aryan loathing and suspicions. Sprague is whimsically sharp and comfortable opposite Orley’s skillful depiction of Becker as a mysterious yet mild mannered gent. David is not amused by the pair’s forgive-and-forget attitude. When Rabbi Weiss (Joel Miller) arrives to reluctantly tell the Shapiro’s about Reinhardt’s, a German deli that’s opening across the street, David’s disdain turns into an obsessive and defensible vendetta.
Atkins shows David’s revulsion of all things German with stellar fervor. In a penetrating monologue detailing the unimaginable level of inhumanity the brothers suffer in a concentration camp, Atkins’ range dives so deep it leaves you wondering what personal well he’s pulling from. Claunch approaches Yossi with equal acumen as he expertly moves along the complex arc of his character’s path. The actor inspires us to root for Yossi and we are eager for his virtue to prevail.
Georgia Athearn (Sarah Shapiro) and Richard Atkins (David Shapiro). Photo © Ossy Werner.David’s wife Sarah (Georgia Athearn) attempts to break the spell of bitterness swamping her husband. Athearn, who over-projects her lines at times, presents the matriarch as uninterested in rehashing old atrocities. Their teenaged daughter Rachel (Marteena Bentley) develops her theology from David’s: Germans are unworthy of grace. Bentley evolves Rachel in a manner that brings a powerful and unanticipated metamorphosis.
Justin Raper as nemesis Klaus Reinhardt steals scenes, elevating the play to incredible heights. At one point, he enters a zone of autohypnotic intensity, displaying an acting ability beyond what is typically seen in community theater. Nazi hunter and TV personality Yaakov Zeiman (Eliot Stenzel) enters the fray as David’s allied hatemonger. If Reinhardt is a Nazi, Zeiman is sure to find proof. Stenzel dons a heavy aura for the part. With impeccable gestures and expressions he delivers a convincing rendering of the shadowy figure. As events unfold during ten days, the pacing stays crisp while the theme becomes persistently absorbing.
Veteran director Cheryl Atkins skillfully steers the effects of hatred through the narrative like a slow poison. She selected players guaranteed to provide authentic accents and sentiments. All actors developed complete backstories as one of her requirements. The dialogue as it stands couldn’t be better, but rest assured any improvisations would be just as good thanks to this extra preparation. Her production team transforms the black box space into a set replete with dozens of realistic touches, right down to the Shapario’s logo created for the menus and aprons. The projected media sequences of historical quotes as scene introductions are also excellent additions and bring even more depth to this thought-provoking experience.
New Mexico play worker and Tony Award winner Mark Medoff—who collaborated with Atkins on the script—will be directing the drama this fall in South Carolina. From there, the show is likely to continue receiving accolades and recognition. Meanwhile, be sure to see “DeliKateSSen” at the Adobe which runs weekends through April 27. You can find performance dates and ticketing information here.