The Arty Semite

Confusion in the Hardware Store

By Curt Schleier

  • Print
  • Share Share

Paul Manuel Kane had ambitious goals for “Dancing on Nails,” including discussions of race, love and family. Unfortunately, these themes play out in the context of a five-caricature play. Not characters, but caricatures, whose motivations are confusing and undermine the best of Kane’s intentions.

Marina Levitskaya

The setting is New York in the spring of 1953. Sam Heisler (Peter Van Wagner) is a 50-year-old Jewish bachelor who seems most comfortable in the successful hardware store he owns.

His only employees are Carlos, a never-seen deliveryman, and Rose Levitt (Lori Wilner), Sam’s unhappily married cousin. Her husband, Joe (Michael Lewis), is a would-be jazz musician who blames the world for his problems.

Luba (Lauren Klein) seems to be a family friend, whose sole purpose is to fill in the many plot holes on the play’s road to an unsatisfying denouement.

Rose has hired a young African American, Natalie Washington (Jazmyn Richardson), to help out at the store. Natalie lives with her grandmother, wants to be an opera singer, and studies music.

At first Heisler is cold to her, insisting she stay late on her first day when she clearly wants to leave. He’s also dismissive of her goals. “Don’t throw your life away with fancy ambitions,” he tells her. “You gotta be practical.”

But by the time she leaves he seems smitten by her, which is not practical at all. This unexpected attraction doesn’t make sense within the context of the play. There’s nothing in Heisler’s back story to indicate that he’d do anything so impulsive.

Eventually, he takes Natalie out to dinner, buys her gifts and prepares to ask for her hand. All despite the fact that she does nothing to encourage him and seems unaware of his romantic attention.

That she is so oblivious seems a stretch, when her boss suddenly asks her out to dinner, gives her a locket and takes a surprising interest in opera.

But there is a lot that doesn’t make sense in this play. When Natalie summarizes Madame Butterfly for Sam, and how Lt. Pinkerton, the white American, abandons his Japanese lover, Sam’s response is, “The guy’s not Jewish, I hope.”

A scene early on has Joe talking to an unseen Army psychiatrist. Joe has put in a claim, though we have no idea for what. He tells the doctor he joined the military so he could play in the Army band, an opportunity denied because of his Irish commander’s anti-Semitism. He was, Joe claims, “a typical Irish hard on.” What’s your name, doctor? “Dr. O’Shaughnessy. Nice to Meet you.” Really?

Rose married misanthropic Joe because she was 36, Jewish, and he asked. Now, two years later, she wants to adopt a baby, but they do not have the financial resources to pass the adoption agency’s financial test. She needs to borrow $15,000 from Sam, a loan threatened by his relationship.

She fires Natalie. Sam allows it. He gives her the money and as the play endsf she heads out to continue the adoption process, though Joe has left her and the agency wouldn’t allow a single parent to adopt a child in 1953.

The performances are unconvincing; the actors seem perplexed by what they are asked to do.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Theater, Dancing on Nails, Curt Schleier

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.