No ‘Quarrel’ With Dark Shabbat


A prominent Off-Broadway producer decided last year that she would stage a production of “The Quarrel,” a play about the meeting between estranged friends — one, an Orthodox rabbi; the other, a secular writer — after years of separation.
Daryl Roth, producer of five Pulitzer Prize-winning plays, wanted Reuven Russell, an actor-comedian who has portrayed the rabbi on and off for a decade at small theaters in the New York area, to play the role again.

Russell, who himself is Orthodox, stipulated that he would not do it on Shabbat.
Roth had no quarrel with that.

So a production of “The Quarrel” will open next week at Roth’s DR2 Theater in Union Square, and will run until Sept. 28, with no performances on
Friday night or Saturday night.

As far as is known, the shomer Shabbat schedule will be the first in Manhattan for a non-Jewish theater at the Off-Broadway or Broadway level.

“It’s OK with me,” Roth says. “We usually accommodate what is best for the audience. This time we’re accommodating the actors.” Roth dismissed questions about the economic impact of closing on Friday and Saturday night, saying any money the play is fated to make will come in on days when it is staged.

“There is a symmetry” of a play with a Sabbath-observant character taking a Sabbath-observant schedule, says Russell, a baal teshuvah who is the son of actor-comedian Joey Russell.

“The Quarrel,” adapted from a short story by the late Yiddish writer Chaim Grade, depicts a battle of wits and debate about friendship, God and faith after the Holocaust, which takes place on a bench in a Montreal park.

“This play speaks to everyone,” Russell says. “That’s why it appeals to the whole spectrum of Jews.” Veteran actor Sam Guncler plays the writer.
Russell, who teaches theater and public speaking at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women, was introduced last year to Roth by the college’s dean, Karen Bacon. (Roth was honored by the school a few years ago.)

During a discussion about Stern College’s theater program, Russell mentioned “The Quarrel.” He told Roth about his enthusiasm for the role of the rabbi. “It’s one of the few roles that really depicts an observant Jew in a truthful way,” he says. And he told her how the Playwrights Theatre in Madison, N.J., which first staged the play a decade ago, cast him as the rabbi, with no Shabbat productions.
“She immediately took interest in the idea,” he says.