New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza at Talmud Torah Congregation: Amsterdam, July 27, 1656
Sacramento, CA 95815
The battle between the true believers and atheism has been brewing for as long as there has been someone to make up religion, and the manic struggle for power continues even in these most modern and enlightened times. It was always thus.
The 17th-century city of Amsterdam was divided but at “peace.” The Christians maintained power while the Jews prayed in silence; followers of both faiths, however, came together to stifle the perceived-atheistic murmurings of Jewish philosopher Baruch de Spinoza (Brian Harrower).
David Ives’ masterwork New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza at Talmud Torah Congregation: Amsterdam, July 27, 1656, directed by Shannon Mahoney, is a stunning piece about ideas that break convention in a religiously oppressive society.
Harrower plays Spinoza as an ebullient schoolboy who hasn’t lost his faith, but has definitely found a new way in which to celebrate it. He plays well with his friend Simon de Vries (Casey Worthington) and rabbi (Patrick Murphy).
The cast holds the court drama together well, especially with great timing from Murphy, Harrower and Eric Baldwin as Christian prosecutor Abraham Van Valkenburgh.
Despite some heavy-hitters in the cast, the nettlesome interruptions of Spinoza’s half-sister tend to slow the play significantly.
The set is Spartan, with the layout of the synagogue surrounded by a somber black background. The message is clear and the imagery is powerful. Ives outdid himself with this script, and Big Idea Theatre has created a production that tells the story with poise and attention.