THEATER REVIEW: “Teeth of the Sons” at the Cherry Lane Theater

Teeth of the Sons by Joseph Sousa, at the Cherry Lane Theater, examines family and faith from the perspective of two brothers, each vying to be the one regarded as successful by the rest of their family – and in one’s case, his God.

Jacob, played by Sousa, is the younger of two Jewish brothers. Jacob looks after the family house, studying Torah and being pursued by all the families at temple with girls of a marriagble age. His older brother is the family fuck-up, or so we are shown throughout the character’s familial interactions. It turns out that Sam, who has a habit of disappearing on his family for extended periods of time, has re-connected with the boys’ estranged father and his side of the family – who are Greek Orthadox. Meanwhile, Sam’s fallen for – and knocked up – a Polish girl, and now they want Jacob to let them stay for a while.

Over the course of Teeth of the Sons, Sousa says many things about Judiasm, family, brotherhood, decency, judgement, acceptance and tolerance. To discuss them here in specifics would take much from the playwright and star guides his audience through during the play. At some times, one brother has the clear moral upper hand. At other points, the status is reversed. Dramatic events ensue. There are reveals and surprises, although the final twist receives no exploration and relies entirely on its audience members, who have hopefully stayed engaged in order to pick up the shades of nuance that bring this play one step beyond a traditional kitchen sink drama.

It is only in the last few moments of the production where one can identify a clear bias in Sousa’s approach to his characters and their stories. To me, at least, the final change in Sousa’s protagonist seems to undercut everything that has been represented about his personality and point of view previous to this moment. If Jacob were presented more fully – if we were able to see what was “normal,” before his conversaion/rededication to the Jewish faith – and if he were more prone to compromise throughout the production – and the audience had been more able to witness the stages of his transformation manifesting themselves externally – it might have connected the final moment to those which went before. As performed, we can understand that Sousa is an intelligent enough writer to have mapped out his characters’ motives, but the final transformation is so understated and reserved that it might play better on camera than on stage.

There are moments of beautiful language in Teeth of the Sons, particularly in those “teaching moments” between Jacob and Maddy (Casandera M.J. Lollar). Josh Iacovelli’s scenic design is specific and naturalistic.  Nicole Haran deserves credit for humane and sensitive direction. There is plenty to think about here even for those who are not familiar with Judaism, and Sousa’s ultimate message about choosing family over culture is universally recognizable.

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