‘God Box’ : A wandering Jew’s spiritual journey

Antonia Lassar in "God Box" at the Black Box Theatre at the Arsenal Center for the Arts. Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

Antonia Lassar in “God Box” at the Black Box Theatre at the Arsenal Center for the Arts. Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

WATERTOWN — We human beings are wired to find the humor in the most tragic, dark situations, as a way of keeping our sanity or as part of the healing or grieving process.
The mother in Antonio Lassar’s one-woman piece “God Box” — Gloria Edelman — finds her life turned upside down by the sudden death of her daughter Rebecca in a car accident.
Then, while going through her things of her daughter — whom she assumed was still attending law school — she comes upon a “God Box,” a box that chronicles the spiritual journey of a daughter who had decided to explore paths other than Judaism, to the complete shock of her mother.
With “God Box” — part of the Next Rep Black Box Festival at the Arsenal Center for the Arts through April 19, performed in 65 minutes without an intermission — Lassar, who first developed the play at Boston University as a small family comedy that became an interfaith teaching tool, has based her piece on a real-life situation that confronts many parents who are themselves observant Jews.
According to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, the proportion of Jews who say they have no religion and are Jewish only on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture is growing rapidly, and the overall Jewish intermarriage rate is at 58 percent, up from 43 percent in 1990 and 17 percent in 1970. Among non-Orthodox Jews, the intermarriage rate is 71 percent.
For Gloria, the “God Box” opens the door to more shocking revelations that come one after another, much like punches to various parts of the anatomy. Rebecca has been baptized a Christian and a female priest explains that Rebecca left law school to pursue a degree in theology.
Then came her involvement with a vegan farming group.
Gloria makes cheesecakes incessantly as a coping mechanism during her grieving and the discoveries, and the cheesecakes become a running joke, along with the irritable bowel of her husband.
The situations in “God Box” come from the heart, as Lassar explains in program notes that she was raised a Jew but decided to explore other spiritual paths, first informing her grandmother and then her mother of her decision.
There are times when she goes pretty far afield to get her laughs, concocting a Irish Muslim financee poet for Rebecca named Abdullah T. David — the David part at first gives Gloria momentary hope — and at one point comparing the penises of various ethnic groups. Note to playwright and director: The penis laughs aren’t worth it.
“God Box” is a heartfelt plea for tolerance and unconditional love and benefits from the experiences of Lassar, who has walked the walk.
Its humor is also heartfelt, but Lassar shouldn’t feel she has to work so hard for every last laugh.. The message still gets through.
The Next Rep Black Box Festival production of “God Box.” Written by Antonia Lassar, directed by Christine Hamel. At the Black Box Theatre at the Arsenal Center for the Arts through April 19. http://www.newrep.org.

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