When picking a partner, Esther Perel, a couples psychotherapist, says that we each cast the other in the role we need them to play. Even if the partner we pick doesn’t agree with our casting choice, we nonetheless enlist them to give us what we need.
Michael Weller’s new play JERICHO, presented by The Attic Theater Company and based on the Hungarian play LILIOM by Ferenc Molnár, explores the complications of the heart through the lives of two lovers living on the fringes of New York City in the economically stagnant Coney Island during the Great Depression. The love affair between Jericho (Vasile Flutur), the brutish carousel barker, and Julie (Hannah Sloat), the innocent maid at a Catholic inn, troubles friends and onlookers, but, against all warnings and her own better judgment, Julie makes no apologies and casts Jericho in the role of her desires.
Despite Jericho’s physically abusive outbursts, which unfortunately were sometimes more heard than felt in Mr. Flutur’s performance, Julie loves and pursues him at all costs. But Mr. Weller shows us that to view Julie’s desires and choices as foolishly weak – as nearly everyone in the play does – is shortsighted. Jericho is a deeply flawed man, forced to cheat and hustle for a living, who believes himself unworthy of Julie, but the unshakeable Julie persists and finds the intimacy she seeks in Jericho. Ms. Sloat’s fully felt and entirely committed portrayal of Julie sustains the complications of watching a woman stay in an abusive relationship. Mr. Weller achieves the difficult task of empowering a woman to go after what she desires, clear-eyed, even when what she desires may be unsafe and unpredictable. He respects her enough not to protect her.
Under the skillful direction of Laura Braza, JERICHO’s narrative moves briskly in a high stakes game of survival. Visually appealing and meticulously capturing the feel of Coney Island’s boardwalk, our tour guide Dr. Ruhl, played by the Jerzy Gwiazdowski, enlivens this world with the snap of a finger, cueing the sound of distant waves, the carnival buzzers, and Edison light bulbs strung overhead, brightening the night sky.
Within this forgotten fantasy land, the play is inspired by Stephanie Pope as Mrs. Mosca and Jack Sochet as Tynk. The gritty realness of Mr. Sochet’s performance as a stop-at-nothing schemer and dreamer thrills, while Ms. Pope commands the stage, shifting masterfully between dominance and submission when navigating her desire for Jericho.
The play takes a fantastical turn in the second act as Jericho is given the opportunity to make amends for the many ways he has gone astray. In Jericho, we see a deeply insecure man who has relied on looks, strength, and charm to survive. More like putty than a man, he reflexively molds and morphs to give those around him what he thinks they want. And while this may not be his fault, it is his curse. As Dr. Ruhl reminds us at the play’s end “what people believe and what is true are worlds apart.” Jericho is trapped, forced to play the same part forever, cast in a role and doomed not to see his costume.