The titular character in Douglas Lackey’s provocative drama The Wayward Daughter of Judah the Prince, directed by Alexander Harrington, is a wild-eyed, free-spirited princess named Hannah (Jessica Crandall). Hannah enjoys, at least by the standards of her time, a privileged life in late second century Palestine. She even has her own servant, Sarah (Amanda Kristin Nichols), who is…well, more than just a servant. The two women enjoy a playful friendship which frequently drifts into intimacy. Hannah’s father (Stan Buturia), a rabbi and compiler of the Mishnah, is loving and supportive– to a point. He is trying to nudge Hannah into marriage and to fulfill her “duty as a woman to produce children”. But this wayward daughter, described by one character as having “a quick mind and a quick tongue”, is ahead of her time. She is interested in more than just playing games, gossiping, and poking fun at the many rigid “rules” of society with her BFF/lover Sarah. Hannah wants to study the Torah. She is also a restless soul who questions religion, politics, and the role of women. Hannah must make the choice between obeying her father and marrying Jonah (Mohammad Saleem), a man she does not love; or leaving Palestine to find the answers to her endless questions. Hannah chooses the latter, fleeing her father’s home and heading north to the city of Ephesus with Sarah. The women are drawn to the Gnostics, a culture which has de-idealized marriage, forbidden slavery and animal cruelty, and has promoted equality between men and women– even allowing women to be priests. Hannah and Sarah are educated by Basilides (also Saleem), a Gnostic holy man who offers a more liberal (Some would say “revolutionary”.) perspective than what the women experienced in Palestine. It all sounds, well… too good to be true. Sure enough, after watching a Gnostic ritual deviate into something of a Circus of the Grotesque, both the women and the audience soon learn that there’s “more than meets the eye” in this seemingly enlightened culture…
The women then travel to Rome, where their proclivities for logic and freedom of thought motivate them to find Plotinus (Anthony Mondesir), a charismatic Platonist philosopher of an ideology which we now call Neoplatonism. Hannah experiences an intellectual epiphany of sorts, which includes becoming an author. In one scene, Judah appears in Rome, having traveled from Palestine to bring his daughter home. Hannah refuses to leave, telling her father, “Plotinus has shown me the sky and the stars. The universe! All the people, not one people. He has taught me forms and numbers, astronomy and mathematics. Why should I care about what five rabbis say about the proper size of a canopy over a fruit-stand?!” In the meantime, the servant-turned-free woman Sarah has experienced her own personal calling; She now identifies herself as a Christian, which subsequently puts her at risk in a time and place where the first organized Christian persecution was set to happen. Once again, the women set sail for a new city– this time, it is Alexandria, Egypt, where they can ostensibly live in safety. Ironically, this would be the final setting of the women’s journey, as well as the final destination for one of the main characters. The conclusion of The Wayward Daughter of Judah the Prince is indeed heavy; however, given the Douglas Lackey’s adherence to historical reality, it is certainly not beyond believability.
Stripped down from its elaborate period piece robes to its basic plot, Lackey’s drama is about two women finding the answers to their own personal and philosophical questions, even if it takes traveling over 2,613 miles to find those answers. Thanks to the aforementioned historical accuracy and the intriguing exploration of the women’s quest for knowledge, the audience gets enlightened along the way as well. The play stimulates the mind with its many thought-provoking explorations of logic, faith, and the gauzy line between the two. It also reveals how history has intervened with both faith and free will throughout time. As serious as its themes can be, The Wayward Daughter of Judah the Prince is certainly not without moments of smart humor, often coming when you least expect them:
Basilides: “You are your father’s daughter. What do you think is the real difference between men and women?”
Sarah: “Men have dicks, women have tits!”
Hannah: “Please excuse my servant’s common Greek!”
The acting talents of the entire cast is splendid, particularly the dedicated performances of Crandall as Hannah and Nichols as Sarah. Their two characters compliment each other exceedingly well, which is so vital for this story. Sameer shows admirable versatility in multiple roles, as does Mondesir. Mondesir is positively charming as Plotinus; it is not difficult to see his character’s appeal for the two female protagonists. Rounding out the main cast is Buturia, who plays Judah the Prince with a nuanced blend of royal authority and fatherly grace. The large stage at Theater For the New City is utilized for maximum effect, with sounds, lighting effects, and projections really taking the production to a higher level.
The Wayward Daughter of Judah the Prince is a spiritual journey worth taking.
The Wayward Daughter of Judah the Prince continues until Sunday, October 10, 2021 at Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave (between 9th and 10th Sts.), Thurs – Sat at 8:00 PM, Sun at 3:00 PM. For tickets, call (212) 254-1109 or visit http://www.theaterforthenewcity.net or http://www.waywarddaughterofjudah.com