Playwright Miki Bone’s Division Avenue is the story of Efraim, a widower in his mid-twenties who has returned to live with his parents, for practical (and perhaps emotional) reasons. He is an Hassidic Jew, living in their cloistered community, and when Division Avenue opens, he has just shaved off the beard and ringlets that identify him as such. Efraim’s parents : Gita and Moishe, believe he is being seduced (corrupted) by the secular world, and there may be something to this. But it’s also more complicated. The recent tragedy of his losing his wife aside, Efraim has come to appreciate the larger world outside the Hassidic community where fear and restriction do not reign supreme, where goyishe are not considered de facto infidels. Efraim’s marriage was arranged while he and his fiancée were still children, and they weren’t exactly happy together. Efraim’s reasons for wanting to explore the world outside are never explained as such, but gradually we come to understand the depth of disappointment.
Ironically, Efraim’s first contact with Sarah (a Roman Catholic social worker) occurs when he must meet his father in the park. Moishe doesn’t want to be seen with Efraim, since he recently removed his facial hair. Sarah collapses from a diabetic episode, and Efraim has the presence of mind to phone for help. All Moishe can see is a provocatively dressed shikseh, and yet another cyclist who is impinging upon the parameters of his sacred community. Division Avenue describes this boundary, where some New Yorkers ride bicycles for the sake of efficiency. Of course, Efraim’s dad sees them only as interlopers. Moishe seeks legal remedy for this invasion by consulting Pete, a Baptist lawyer who also happens to be gay, and Sarah’s lifelong friend and roommate. All Moishe knows that Pete is a Gentile attorney, who is willing to take his case.
A great deal of Division Avenue’s charm and propulsion turns on its surprises, so I won’t reveal anymore than I already have, or at least, I’ll try. The point, it seems, is that Efraim and his father take (more or less) the same odyssey, but perceive it in vastly different ways. Moishe sees their community as a refuge, while Efraim sees it as a prison. Efraim sees the secular world as brimming with possibilities, while his father sees them as perils to the soul. Efraim worries his father will construe rebellion as personal rejection, rather than the necessary step he needs to evolve. Division Avenue is also about the distinction between what we’re called and who we are, the underpinnings of intolerance, and the need to seek protection from a not altogether spiritually driven culture. In some ways the Hassidic community might be comparable to other extreme religious denominations, were it not for the long and painful history of Jewish persecution.
Division Avenue is a radiant, humane, funny and exceptionally moving drama, with lots of insight and squeamishly rich, glorious moments. It doesn’t seek to resolve all the issues it raises, but rather, to document a turning point in the life of Efraim, a wandering, searching soul, trying to salvage the spark of awe and delight that makes thriving possible. Efraim’s courage has a chain effect, blessing the lives of the other characters, and the audience as well. The cast of Division Avenue is impeccable, with special kudos
to Nancy Sherrard, as Gita, Efraim’s mother. Rarely do we see such palpable, authentic,
deeply affecting emotion, expressed with such wit and luminosity.
Division Avenue : written by Miki Bone and directed by Dean Nolen. Starring : Jake Buchanan (Efraim) Ian Ferguson (Pete) Marianne Galloway (Sarah) Nancy Sherrard (Gita) Edward Treminio (Lieutenant Bishara) and Ben Westfried (Moishe)
Contemporary Theatre of Dallas presents Division Avenue, playing through December 15th, 2013. 5601 Sears Street, Dallas, Texas 75206. 214-828-0094. www.contemporarytheatreofdallas.com