Conflict between brothers is a familiar theme in Jewish culture, from warring brothers in the Torah to sibling rivalry in Joel and Ethan Coen’s “A Serious Man.” Now comes Charles Gershman’s one-act drama, “Shooting Abe,” in which an Orthodox Jew bursts into his photographer brother’s nude male photo shoot. The play, which asks how far a Jew can stray from his heritage, continues this week at the Frigid New York Festival on the Lower East Side.
Directed by Eli Taylor, “Shooting Abe” pits Abe (Ethan Fishbane) against Shlomi (Joe Kopyt), who has advertised for only Christian models. Abe, who is a married medical student, answers the ad, pretending to fit the bill in order to confront his brother. But when he shows up for the appointment, he finds a shoot already in session with Ty (Christopher Moss), a buff Christian left fielder for the Staten Island Yankees.
Abe insists on having his turn in the studio, even as he tries to convince Shlomi to break off his engagement to an Orthodox woman and to resume studying with Abe at a yeshiva in Jerusalem. But as the play progresses, both brothers must come to terms with unexplored aspects of themselves as well as with each other.
Gershman is the author of several previous plays, including “Tell Me in Code (or, Milk for Mrs. Stone)” “The Cognac Party,” and “The Prenup.” He grew up in a Reform Jewish family in St. Louis and went on to Columbia University, where he became friends with Orthodox Jews who studied at Aish HaTorah, the Orthodox outreach group.
While he never became observant himself, Gershman told The Jewish Week that he “found the conflict between Orthodox and secular Jews to be dramatically very rich — especially when mixed with issues of sexuality and self-determination.” Rather than dealing with his own issues, Abe “projects them all onto his brother,” even as he tries to get Shlomi to accept his homosexuality. At the same time, Abe tries to get his brother to understand that he is “fetishizing what he isn’t” in adopting an aesthetic that deems only Christian men to be beautiful.
“Abe’s dramatic arc,” the playwright noted, “is to see that what he is doing is backfiring and that he needs to look inside.” In the end, Gershman said, while the play deals partly with the shame felt by Orthodox Jews who are secretly gay, it also embraces a more universal theme: the tension between “clinging to tradition and forging one’s own path” into both Jewish and American life.
“Shooting Abe” will be performed at the Kraine Theater, 85 E. Fourth St. Performances will be on Thursday, Feb. 27 at 8:40 p.m.; Saturday, March 1 at 6:50 p.m.; Tuesday, March 4 at 10:15 p.m. and Sunday, March 9 at 3:40 p.m. For tickets, $15, call (212) 868-4444 or visit www.frigidnewyork.info.