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Black Box Spirituality

Black Box Spirituality

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.

Can a Jewish parent forgive a child’s gravitating toward another faith? In Antonia Lassar’s one-woman show, “The God Box,” a Jewish mother discovers, after her 30-year-old daughter, Rebecca, has been killed in a car accident, that the daughter had been experimenting with a plethora of religious traditions.

The play, which has no relation to Mary Lou Quinlan’s bestselling memoir of the same title, opens next weekend at the Red Room in the East Village as part of the Frigid Festival of new American plays.

In “The God Box,” directed by Nikki Diloreto, Lassar plays an elderly Jewish woman named Gloria who finds a box marked “God” among her late daughter’s personal effects. Inside the box, Gloria is shocked to discover a Buddha, Koran, prayer beads and other holy but non-Jewish objects. Desiring to give her daughter the appropriate funeral, Gloria tracks down the various people who have served as her daughter’s spiritual guides. In the process, she develops a closer relationship to her daughter than the two ever had in life.

The playwright, who now lives in Brooklyn, grew up in Boston as the daughter of a South African Jewish mother and Belgian Jewish father. While studying theater at Boston University, she did a year abroad at the University of Cape Town, where she started having deep, non-Jewish spiritual experiences that she was afraid to tell her parents about. “The God Box” is her first professional play.

“So many young Jews are on a spiritual quest that draws them toward other religions,” Lassar told The Jewish Week. “But it’s possible to come home after going off on other spiritual paths.” In fact, she noted, “we often end up back with what we were raised with, but we may need to explore other traditions in order to strengthen our faith in what we already have.”

Part of the symbolism of the title, Lassar explained, is the dangerous tendency that people have to stereotype members of other religions, putting them in “boxes” or categories in their minds. “Humans can’t be placed in boxes,” she said, “and, of course, neither can God. But because it’s impossible to conceive of God’s full power and love, we are always trying to put Him in a box.”

While the title may be a joke in itself, the overarching irony that she is performing her play in a “black box” theater is also not lost on Lassar. “The play is making a commentary on itself,” she said. “Sometimes we need to put ideas in a box and shake them up to see just how powerful they can be.”

“The God Box” runs from Feb. 20-March 3 at the Red Room, 85 E. Fourth St. It will be performed five times, but on an irregular schedule. For tickets, $10-$16, call SmartTix at (212) 868-4444 or visit

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