It may sound like the opening of a joke, and certainly it has its funny moments, but Walk into a War also tackles some serious issues. Seth Rozin’s two-man play opens Thursday, Dec. 10, at the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch.
The story was “inspired” by the odd tale of the last two Jews left in Afghanistan during the final days of the Taliban regime.
“For me, ‘based on’ implies adhering a little bit more closely to the facts and ‘inspired by’ is a little bit less,” said Rozin in a telephone interview. He said he came up with the idea for the play after seeing an item in The New York Times about Ishaq Levin and Zebulon Simentov, the last Jews known to be living in Kabul. When Levin died in 2005 at the age of 80, said Rozin, the Times quoted Simentov as saying, “He was a very bad man who tried to get me killed. Now I am the Jew here. I am the boss.”
“One of the things I felt pretty strongly about from the moment I read the article was that I wasn’t terribly interested in this being Grumpy Old Men,” said Rozin. “They’re not The Odd Couple; they’re two people who have a deep-seated loathing for each other. I’d like to think it’s a little bit closer to Waiting for Godot.”
Rozin, the founder and producing artistic director of the InterAct Theatre Company in Philadelphia, is pleased with how the NJ production has progressed, saying he believes that a play should be interpreted by the actors. “I don’t expect every line to sound exactly the way I wrote it. I will speak up if I think the meaning of the play is being marred in some way because of a line reading, but I’m not going to speak up just because the exact rhythm I hear is a little bit different from the exact rhythm that they’re doing — if it works.”
The writer has some experience as a director, although he’s directed only one of his own plays. “It was rewarding, but at the same time I don’t fundamentally believe in it,” Rozin said. “I generally don’t write with the intention of directing. It can be tricky. For me, as I’m writing it, I’m seeing it, so there’s directorial input already in the writing of the script. So I do come into it more with a sense of how I see it play.”
Rozin said he is confident that Two Jews is in excellent hands at the NJ Rep, with direction by James Glossman and starring Reathel Bean and John Pietrowski. “The people who decided they wanted to do it are so enthusiastic,” he said. “That’s great when people are that excited about the work. I certainly have no desire to interfere with that. Usually, when they’re excited that means that something is working and it’s going to make for a good production.”
Rozin, 45, described himself in an article about a previous production of Two Jews as descended “from a long line of atheist Jews on both sides of my family,” without “a religious bone in my body.” This might make him an odd choice to take on such a topic, but he would disagree.
“In the end I have written a play that affirms the value of faith, ritual, community, and culture in ways that I don’t personally ascribe to,” he wrote. “And I am reminded of how refreshing it is to set out into uncharted territory and make such surprising discoveries.”