Moses’ Sixth Book
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Moses’ Sixth Book

Ted Merwin’s column appears monthly. He writes about theater for the paper and is the author of the award-winning “Pastrami on Rye,” a history of the Jewish deli.

According to Jewish tradition, the most important book in the history of the world came from his hand, but most of us think of him more as a prince and prophet than as a writer. In Andrew Heinze’s new comedy, “Moses, the Author,” the leader of the Israelites comes back to life as a struggling wordsmith facing a plethora of perplexing personal problems. The play, which was performed at the Fringe Festival in August, will return as part of the Fringe Encores series. It runs at the Soho Playhouse over the last weekend of September and the first weekend of October.

Directed by Amy Wright, “Moses, the Author” shows the 120-year-old lawgiver on his last day on earth as he races to finish the Torah. Afflicted with writer’s block, Moses (Mitch Tebo), tries to use his remaining time to reconcile with his son, Gershy (Hazen Cuyler), who has come out as gay, and to repair his rocky relationships with his wife, Zippy (Judy Rosenblatt) and mother, Yocheved (Janine Hegarty). Ultimately, Moses realizes that he may need to write a brief sixth book in order to clear up the contradictions in the first five; he enlists the aid of his assistant, Thusie (Ramzi Khalaf), the great-grandson of Methusaleh.

Heinze, who taught American history at San Francisco State, authored two pioneering scholarly books: “Adapting to Abundance” (Columbia University Press, 1990) and “Jews and the American Soul” (Princeton University Press, 2004), before leaving academia in 2007 and moving to New York to pursue playwriting.

In an interview, he told The Jewish Week that “Moses, the Author” is a “midrash” that imagines how Moses might have dealt with the series of crushing setbacks that faced him, from having a speech defect to being told that could not enter the Promised Land. In writing the play, Heinze noted, he maintained fidelity to the actual outlines of Moses’ life and career.

“I was concerned about the integrity of the text,” he said. “My love for the Bible comes through” — a love nurtured by his years of going to Congregation Beth Israel, a Modern Orthodox congregation in Berkeley, Calif., and by his reverence for a prolific Jerusalem-based Orthodox rabbi named Zelig Pliskin.

Nevertheless, Heinze mined dramatic potential from having Moses realize that his work is flawed — that he has misrepresented his family members’ lives and painted himself into a corner in terms of the Bible’s ban on male homosexuality. As he comes to terms with his own imperfections, Heinze said, “Moses realizes what it means to be made in the image of God.”

“Moses, the Author” runs at the Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam St. Performances are Friday, Sept. 26 at 7 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 28 at 3 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 5 at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. For tickets, $18, visit www.sohoplayhouse.com.

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