The world premiere of “The Temple Bombing,” the Alliance Theatre drama adapted from the book by Melissa Fay Greene, is sweeping through audiences as a clarion companion to America’s current political fury and hate crimes.
The play centers on the 1958 bombing of Atlanta’s oldest and most prominent synagogue, The Temple, and that historic event’s aftermath. The show gets an A for creativity and relevance but brings along some risk of character confusion.
The lead actors, Todd Weeks as Rabbi Jacob Rothschild and Caitlin O’Connell as Janice Rothschild, could not have been more compelling, clear and believable. But many of the other actors shift in and out of different characters, regardless of sex or race. While that approach is trendy, as seen in the Broadway smash “Hamilton” and with Cate Blanchett playing Bob Dylan in “I’m Not There,” it led to awkwardness in following the plot line.
A black man, a finely trained and versatile actor, flips from a Jewish female congregant carrying a purse to a male white Klan witness. A black woman portraying a Temple member suddenly becomes a white judge.
If the message is that we are all interchangeable in regard to race and sex, one might ask why the four accused haters are portrayed only by white men.
Set designer Meredith Ries gets high marks for a snazzy stage with moving parts — dashing, flashing up and down, in and out of focus as scenes change.
The lighting design by Jake DeGroot has shadows, shades and backdropped tones that soar. The lighting in the scene with Rabbi Rothschild being consoled by Mayor William Hartsfield exemplifies the effectiveness.
The play works in the finest and edgiest of ways. Civil rights, hate crimes, the role of “moderate” Jews to blend in (or not), and the importance of clergy leadership could not be more relevant.
A chilling quote in the play comes from Atlanta Constitution Editor Ralph McGill: “When the wolves of hate are loosed on one people, then no one is safe.”
And don’t miss the comment in the play that the “new synagogue on Northside Drive,” Ahavath Achim, was the initial target, even though it’s believed that Rabbi Rothschild’s outspoken support for civil rights led to the dynamiting of The Temple at 3:30 a.m. Oct. 12, 1958.
Lawyer Bob Fierman recalls that he was 9 years old when his father, Frank, then the director of the Atlanta Jewish Community Center on Peachtree Street, awoke him at 6 a.m. to view the minor damage to the center grounds that could be observed from The Temple. He remembers the chilling fear of seeing the devastation of The Temple from a distance.
After seeing the play, Fierman said: “J.B. Stoner (a segregationist and bomber) may be dead, but ‘The Temple Bombing’ reminds us that the cycles of anti-Semitism, like Leo Frank, are still with us. … There are plenty of young people ready to replace them with new haters.”
The play, written and directed by Jimmy Maize, is a must-see. Just as Berlin schoolchildren are required to go to their Holocaust museum, every Atlanta high-schooler should experience this re-enactment.
What: “The Temple Bombing”
Where: Alliance Theatre, 1280 Peachtree St., Midtown
When: Through Sunday, March 12
Tickets: $20 to $77; alliancetheatre.org/production/the-temple-bombing