NEW YORK—Interest in the play “Liliom,” written by Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnar in the early1900s, has persisted over the years. It was adapted by the great musical writing team Rodgers and Hammerstein in the guise of their delicate, tuneful “Carousel,” due for a reprise this spring.
Playwright Michael Weller’s current play based on “Liliom” is entitled “Jericho” and is set during America’s Great Depression, in 1932. Jericho (the unusual Vasile Flutur), as he is named here, a carnival barker at Coney Island, holds great attraction for young ladies. In fact, they flock particularly to his carousel, under the watchful eye of carousel owner Mrs. Mosca (a vivid Stephanie Pope).
It’s apparent that Mrs. Mosca has a hold on Jericho and keeps him on a tight rein. Their relationship is such that in today’s political climate it might be viewed as sexual harassment—by a woman.
Mosca is particularly upset and demanding when she notes that her employee/property is paying too close attention to the young Julie (the appealing Hannah Sloat), who does housework at a nearby, strictly run hostel.
That the rough-edged Jericho is taken with the innocent Julie is puzzling even to himself; he has never known anyone as pure and undemanding of him as is Julie. On an impulse, he defies Mosca, getting himself fired for his impudence. Julie too chooses to ignore the sternly imposed curfew of her employer, and the two throw in their lots together.
The two live relatively placidly, although Jericho is sometimes hard on Julie due to his frustration at not finding work. Then Julie announces that she is pregnant. Now Jericho realizes he must face harsh reality: he must support a family. But he is terrified. He exclaims passionately that he can’t go back to the carousel, and he can’t go forward. He has no skills for anything other than being a barker.
When a shady friend, Tynk (Jack Sochet), suggests a crime that he claims can be committed easily and offers a great pay-off, Jericho reluctantly accepts the offer. But nothing comes easy for the ill-fated young man.
The final scene is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. Even just reading the script brings tears to my eyes. Perhaps it is just one of those things that one cannot fully express in words. There must be a reason, however inexplicable, that justifies the longevity of “Liliom” and its offshoots, such as “Jericho.”
Lovingly directed by Laura Braza, who is artistic director of the Attic Theater Company, the production is a theatrical gem, despite the limits of space and budget, which are apparent in company’s production at the downtown Wild Project.
Others in the cast are Ginna M. Doyle as Mary, Julie’s best friend—a bit overdone but appealing nevertheless; the outsized Jerzy Gwiazdowski as Dr. Ruhl, who shadows Jericho and his misadventures; Jamal James as Fritz, who yearns for Julie; the attractive Noelle Franco as Lisa, and Erinn Holmes as the otherworldly judge.
Regarding Vasile Flutur and his “unusual” quality, he is Romanian born and arguably a European quality pervades his personality. In spite of playwright Weller’s placing the play in Coney Island, the Old Country permeates in its insistent darkness; and I mean that as a compliment.