Set in the late 1930s and ‘40s, the plot swirls around the 17th-century Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza, who was issued cherem and cursed by the Jewish elders of his native Amsterdam for his radical pronouncements. Believing that life and death are fundamentally the same thing, and that God and Nature are likewise synonymous, he was at odds with religious society, both Orthodox and Christian.
In Harrison’s fantasy, the elders’ curse is that he should live forever (or as long as there are Jews) as the “Eternal Jew.” By 1937, Spinoza is 305 years old and sick of living. When he hears about Hitler’s attempt to exterminate the Jews, Spinoza delivers himself to the Gestapo in the hope that he can vanish with his race.
Harrison is surrounded by some of the region’s ablest bodies in the characters of Professor Sir Arthur Midget, also appearing as Tommy the Cat, Arnie the Guard, Carl Schmitt, Albert Einstein and God (Phillip Levine); Mary-Jane Hammond, also appearing as Dick Whittington, the Principal Boy (Kris Lundberg); Hermann Goering, also appearing as Mrs. Sausagemacher, the Pantomime Dame (Rick Bennett); Salvador Dalí, also appearing as Adolf Hitler and King Rat, the Villain (Mick O’Brien); and Baruch Spinoza, also appearing as Idle Jack, the Lazy Boy (Mikhail Horowitz); with various Munich party guests, Auschwitz inmates and Pantomime Rats played by Andrea Maddox, Violet Snow, Neil Howard, Terri Mateer and Marcus O’Really.
Watching Harrison work a rehearsal with “his darlings” is to behold something tender. He gently coaches, demonstrates gestures, contemplates aloud as if including them in the decision-making process and thanks them generously when asking them to go over it all again. His voice never rises. In fact, one cannot imagine him ever losing his temper; and perhaps this is the crux of the matter. Solidly good-natured all the time, it might be that Harrison works out his own existential angst and all accompanying anger through the lines of script and the manipulation of characters. And this he does well.
Midget in a Catsuit Reciting Spinoza will staged by the Woodstock Players’ Theater Company on June 17, 18,19, 23, 24, 25 and 26 at the Byrdcliffe Theater in Woodstock. Costumes and set design are by Claire Lambe. Showtimes are at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets cost $18 for adults, $16 for seniors and students, and can be purchased by calling (845) 901-2893 or by visiting www.thewoodstockplayers.com.