Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Mickey and Joey: Sabbath’s Theater and Pal Joey

Elizabeth Marvel and John Turturro in Sabbath's Theater. (Photo: Jeenah Moon)

Devoted as I am to Philip Roth’s novels, I had trouble with his National Book Award winner Sabbath’s Theater, which he released in 1995. Its stylistic excesses in the service of underlining the sexual indulgences of its sixty-four-year-old protagonist, the one-time puppeteer Mickey Sabbath, whose career was sidelined by arthritis, defeated me; I put it down after a couple of hundred pages. It’s the only one of Roth’s many books I couldn’t finish. But maybe I should give it another try. Ariel Levy and John Turturro’s stage adaptation, produced by The New Group at the Signature Theatre with Turturro as Sabbath, is a majestic piece of theatre, notwithstanding the modesty of Jo Bonney’s production: three actors, two of whom, Elizabeth Marvel and Jason Kravits, play several parts; a small space containing a few props and an upstage screen for projecting a handful of evocative images (and in one scene Kravits’s silhouette); Roth’s 451 pages trimmed down to an hour and forty minutes of text without intermission.