"Empty Sky" by Sarah Treem is the Reva Shiner Award winning play at the Bloomington Playwrights Project in a skillfully mounted production directed by Richard Perez with an exceptionally appealing cast.
At the center of "Empty Sky" is a question that comes from the story of Abraham’s apparent willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac. The tale is a parable and like all good parables it has more questions than answers. For Sarah Treem the question is, "What kind of God asks a man to kill his son?"
The Playwrights Project’s set offers a homey kitchen on the left and an Atlantic beach framed with a board walk and a backdrop of projected waves on the right. Lee Burkes lighting makes the sand look romantically blue and green in moonlight and harsh and hot in the light of day. As you might expect from the serious subject, that sand isn’t the only grit in "Empty Sky.".
Frank Buczolich is a sixty year old rabbi who is either crazy or exceptionally clear headed. Wait a second, the play isn’t that simple. There’s no doubt that the rabbi is crazy, but there’s also no doubt that he’s clear headed. There is however a lot of doubt about which is which. It appears that like the Biblical Abraham, the rabbi did have an affair with Hajar, the mysterious Jessica Ciucci, which produced a son, Isma’il, the sincere Torlando Hakes. It also appears that he did in fact try, at least briefly to murder his son Zach, the sympathetic Freddie Rodiguez.
It takes a while for this to all come out and "Empty Sky" is full of little twists and those enjoyable theatrical moments that I call "Got yas." The play mixes parts of the tale and in the Playwrights Project’s production even deftly overlaps some of the scenes. There are a couple of dramatic moments that seem unmotivated and over the top from the rabbi and from Zack, but otherwise the flexible movement progresses nicely.
To get us this far in the narrative of "Empty Sky," I’ve left out some important characters. There’s the long suffering, though not in silence, Sarah, Gail Bray and the quirkily kindly Becca of Jennifer Whitney. And…I’ve skipped over a key character in the rabbi’s mind, a young boy he calls Eliot. Eliot may be a figment of the rabbi’s imagination or he may be God or he may be something in between. David Sernick’s Eliot comes across as an alternately appealing and maddening sort of Jerry Lewis teenager.
As appropriate for a play based on the questions of a parable, one of the final lines certainly left me bemused. Eliot, who seems to be the God that the rabbi imagines, exits saying, "That’s what I like about you Abraham, you always make me laugh."
"Empty Sky" at the Bloomington Playwrights Project plays Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at eight and Sundays at two through April Seventh.
You can find an interview with playwright Sarah Treem and director Richard Perez on our Arts Interviews page .