New Jerusalem Press

Washington Post

‘New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch De Spinoza’ returns to Theater J

“New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza” strides back into Theater J after its acclaimed 2010 run as an established hit, and the show’s success is no mystery. The David Ives script is fierce, funny and up-to-the-minute in its moral investigations. And the cast knocks it out of the park.

The plot is about the 1656 excommunication of Spinoza — only in his early 20s, but already a daring philosopher — from the Jewish community. At stake: notions of God that rattle Jews and Christians alike, stoking resentment and fear and threatening the delicate political agreement under which Jews were “tolerated” in Amsterdam at the time.

The casual tone of Ives’s writing and Kathleen Geldard’s largely modern costuming — sport coats and turtlenecks, untucked Oxfords — aim to bring these debates into our own time. (Ideological infidelity: Is there any more potent Washington topic?) The judicial air of the hard wooden benches rising to the rafters on Misha Kachman’s set extends into the audience: We, the congregation, are implicated as director Jeremy Skidmore occasionally moves the actors up the aisles to look us in the eye. CONTINUE READING

Washington City Paper

New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza By David Ives Directed by Jeremy Skidmore; At Theater J to April 1 Heresy Loves Company

Utterly Divine: Spinoza's views on God land him in hot water.

It’s been a mere 20 months since Theater J staged the first non-New York production of New Jerusalem, David Ives’ brilliantly imagined account of the 1656 inquest that resulted in pioneering philosopher Baruch de Spinoza’s excommunication from a Jewish congregation in Amsterdam. Not familiar? I wasn’t, either. The events depicted are probably newsier to me—a Gentile who got a B in Philosophy 101 and inquired no further—than they will be to many who attend this taut, absorbing theological courtroom drama. But this is no dry helping of nourishing cultural vegetables. Anyone who caught the magnificent production of Ives’ Venus in Fur at Studio Theatre last summer (only the most recent of his area triumphs) will know the playwright is a first-class wit who brings a light touch to heavy questions.

New Jerusalem’s are the black-hole heaviest—nothing less than the nature of “Nature, which is to say God,” to cite one of the heretical notions that got Spinoza in Dutch with the, um, Dutch. In Ives’ telling, it was under pressure from the regents of the majority-Christian city that Spinoza was summoned to demonstrate before fellow congregants (played by we, the audience) that his unconventional beliefs—his rejection of a soul that outlives the body, for one—did not constitute atheism. CONTINUE READING

Washington Jewish Week

"New Jerusalem" returns to Theater J

by Andrew Sargus Klein
Special to WJW

n the middle of the of the trial to determine his excommunication, the young Baruch di Spinoza asks those present, "Would you say a play is still going on after the actors' final exit, or when the last candle onstage has been blown out?" Theater J's production of New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza has a clear answer, as evidenced by the porous fourth wall, the tremendous and subtle lighting that casts the title character's shadow across the stage after he is excommunicated, and, not least, the "Spinozium" conference that will cap the show's run, complete with a mock trial.

"A soul is like a play or a trial," Spinoza said earlier. "A trial isn't the judge or the accused or what gets said in court. It's an event that occurs when all these elements mix together; it's what happens amongst all these things; or in-between them." And thus this play, in its sweeping historicity and religious reflection, is an event meant to be experienced far beyond the stage.

New Jerusalem, written by David Ives and directed by Jeremy Skidmore, isn't a straight-laced portrait of a heterodox philosopher as a young man. It is fun, pithy, self-serious and self-deprecating and earnest in its attempt at keeping all this threads together. With few exceptions, it is successful. CONTINUE READING

Metro Weekly


David Ives's portrait of a city and citizen in crisis features sharply crafted language and a star turn by Alexander Strain

By Jonathan Padget
Published on March 8, 2012, 5:38am |

Who over 30 hasn't thought at some point that know-it-all twentysomethings -- lounging in their skinny jeans, tweeting about their favorite CW shows -- will surely be the downfall of civilization as we know it? It happens, you roll your eyes and sigh audibly, and life goes on.

But man, back in 17th century Amsterdam, the oldsters just couldn't let it drop. Let word get out that some 23-year-old wannabe-philosopher is questioning the nature of God and the universe, and bam, they're all over him like icing on a Georgetown Cupcake, pushing his faith community to excommunicate him before a more sinister fate befalls him.

It's been less than two years since Theater J dived into this milieu with New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza, but David Ives's portrait of a city and a citizen in crisis proved so popular that the company has brought it back for a month-long run. The appeal is obvious: sharply crafted language that brings lofty ideas down to earth, brisk pacing by director Jeremy Skidmore and a star turn by Alexander Strain that makes Spinoza far more likable than threatening. CONTINUE READING

DC Theatre Scene 

New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza

Some shows leave audiences humming a tune on their way out of the theatre. The hum you feel as the lights fall on New Jerusalem is a deeper vibration: the mental buzz that lingers after a wave of big thinking. Mental gymnastics are performed with flair in this invigorating drama, re-mounted at Theater J this month after a hugely successful run in 2010 (you can read the DCTS review of the original production here). Playwright David Ives is orchestrating points of philosophy rather than notes of music, and this team attains his velocity with a crisp, elegant, and better-than-ever production.)

We turn back to the year 1656 for this one, but the air in Amsterdam is palpably electric from scene one. Baruch de Spinoza, an ardent young Jewish student of philosophy (Alexander Strain, showing seemingly effortless grace) is passionately vocal about his spiritual quandaries. So entrenched is he in shoring up his burgeoning system of beliefs — about the universe, the spirit, and nature of God — that he doesn’t realize, at first, how much his talking has everyone talking. CONTINUE READING