Theatre review: 'Kosher Lutherans' is a hoot with sticky situations

For the News-DemocratDecember 12, 2013 

Just the title alone is comical, but those partaking in a contemporary comedy of manners can laugh along with two married couples at crossroads "Kosher Lutherans," HotCity Theatre's latest work.

Four nimble comic actors boost this cleverly written play by William Missouri Downs, as they struggle with the ups-and-downs of married life, eager to see what's next around the bend. Julie Layton and Richard Strelinger are Hannah and Franklyn, a childless couple with fertility issues. They decide to adopt a baby, but the naive college girl (Beth Wickenhauser) -- soon to decide about signing the papers -- doesn't view Jews in the best light.

So they pretend to be Lutherans. Their best friends, a bickering couple Martha and Ben played effortlessly by Nicole Angeli and Jerry Russo, aid in the ruse. Hilarity ensues. But there is a deeper discourse that touches on our intolerance of other people's faiths. We color our opinions with stereotypes and jokes.

The performers are believable as flawed characters whose shortcomings are played for laughs, and work well together as a tight ensemble. Wickenhauser doesn't arrive until the second act as Allison, so the first act sets up the couple's relationships.

Again, the show is deceptive. It could easily be pigeonholed as a typical lightweight modern comedy, but there are more layers there, and they are plumbed by director Marty Stanberry. His crisp direction, aided by the skilled actors' expert line delivery, helps keep the show engaging.

David Blake's sunny recreation of a home in Van Nuys, Calif., is splendid, as is the lighting design by Maureen Berry.

The setting is Purim and the first night of Hanukah, so it's nice to see different views of faith in an artistic viewpoint.

You won't soon forget these "Kosher Lutherans," and how the sticky situations ring true.

The show runs through Dec. 21 at the Kranzberg Art Center in St. Louis. For more information, call the box office at 314-289-4063 or visit the website, www.hotcitytheatre.org.

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