NEW YORK—Playwright Motti Lerner’s “Hard Love” is a thought-provoking love story—a kind of triangle, actually, with God arguably serving as the third protagonist.
The story, set in present-day Israel, concerns 37-year-old Hannah (Victoria Mack) and her former husband, 40-year-old Zvi (Ian Kahn). Both were born into an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect; however, Zvi renounced his religious ties early on.
The couple has not seen each other for the past 20 years, not since Hannah delivered their infant son as stillborn. This tragedy led to their divorce. Both subsequently remarried, Hannah to a much older man, who is now desperately ill. Zvi is presently in the midst of divorce proceedings with his second wife.
At play’s opening, Hannah has invited Zvi, perhaps summoned would be more accurate, to meet in her small apartment in the Me’ah She’arim district of Jerusalem. Her topic is a serious one: Zvi’s son, Eran (not seen), has been paying court to Hannah’s daughter, Revka’leh (not seen). This relationship must be terminated, Hannah insists, as their religious differences would make marriage for the two young people impossible.
Hannah and Zvi argue back and forth, but ultimately their old physical attraction surfaces, leading to an unexpected sexual encounter.
Act 2 takes a sharp turn. Hannah’s husband has died. After much thought and discussions with her religious advisers, she has come to the conclusion that she and Zvi are now permitted to remarry, a wish on both their parts. And she goes to visit Zvi in his Tel Aviv apartment.
But there is a fly in the ointment: Zvi has been having a strong relationship with another woman but insists he can break it off quickly. Hannah, though very concerned initially, accepts that he will keep his word and that they, he and Hannah, will remarry soon.
However, now it is Zvi who brings up the ultimate barrier: He insists that Hannah renounce her religion if they are to become bonded once again.
The play ends with a decisive move on Hannah’s part.
Under the direction of Scott Alan Evans, artistic director of TACT (The Actors Company Theatre), the two actors admirably meet all demands of the highly dramatic text.
Victoria Mack develops her character from an initially shy, modest woman to a passionate, articulate fighter for her beliefs and desires. Ian Kahn’s portrayal is strong and passionate throughout, with his final scenes particularly powerful and moving.
In the program notes, director Evans details the circuitous route he followed to discover award-winning Israeli playwright Motti Lerner. Lerner’s works, though much admired and performed throughout Israel and Europe, were lesser known in the United States.
TACT’s production marks the official off-Broadway debut of “Hard Love,” and it is a welcome one.
Again, from the notes: “TACT is a company of theatre artists that reveals, reclaims and reimagines great plays of literary merit … focusing on the text and the actor’s ability to bring it to life.”
The Beckett Theatre
410 W. 42nd St.
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or Telecharge.com
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes (one intermission)
Closes: Oct. 31
Diana Barth publishes “New Millennium,” an arts publication. For information: firstname.lastname@example.org.