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Paulanne Simmons

Delightful Delusions Abound in The Jerusalem Syndrome

The Jerusalem Syndrome
Directed by Don Stephenson
The York Theatre Company
150 E 76th St. 
Opened Nov. 22, 2023
Tickets: yorktheatre.org
Closes Dec. 31, 2023
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Nov. 28, 2023

L to R: John Jellison, Curtis Wiley, Karen Murphy, Alan H. Green, Jennifer Smith, Danielle Lee James, Lenny Wolpe. Photo by CarolRosegg.

Have you ever heard of the Jerusalem Syndrome? Probably not. In fact, the question probably sounds like the introduction to a joke. But the fact is the syndrome is a psychological phenomenon that affects about 200 visitors to the Holy City every year.

People who are afflicted with the syndrome firmly believe they are the individuals who play important roles in the Bible: Moses, Jesus, King David, Mary. They tear the sheets off the beds in their hotels and parade down the streets of Jerusalem trying to find their biblical partners, raise the dead or lead their people to the Promised Land.

Jerusalem Syndrome is also the title of a very funny and very moving show with a clever book and smart lyrics by Laurence Holzman and Felicia Needleman, and singable tunes by Kyle Rosen. And now, while turmoil prevails in the Middle East, you can see this exhilarating and enlightening show at the York Theatre, and for two hours forget that we have not fulfilled the Biblical commandment of loving our neighbors.

The show focuses on a group of tourists who are led by a bumbling tour guide named Eddie (Chandler Sinks). But the genius of the show is that Holzman and Needleman have brilliantly matched the personalities of Eddie and his band of tourists with the legendary people of their delusions.

Thus Eddie, the inept tour guide, becomes Moses, and as Moses learned how to lead his people to the Promised Land, Eddie learns how to earn the confidence of his tour group (many as deluded as he). But first he wins the heart of Lynn (Dana Costello), a young lady who has been abandoned by her previous boyfriend and now, believing she is God, is searching for someone she can depend on to be faithful.

Charles (Alan H. Green), a bitter gay man who is angry at the Catholic Church, believes he is Jesus. He not only changes his mind about building a resort for gay people on his land next to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher he also starts curing the sick and settling quarrels between the ruling factions in Jerusalem (Oh where is he today?).

Phyllis (Farah Alvin), a middle-aged woman who longs for the child she never had, is convinced she is Sarah. Her real-life husband, Alan (Jeffrey Schecter), is more interested in his cell phone than his wife. But the actor, Mickey Rose (James D. Gish) shows considerable interest when the malady leads him to believe he is Abraham. Phyllis, however, resists his advances and turns him over to the willing nurse Rena (Laura Woyasz), whom she thinks is Hagar.

This is great material. But when you add in particularly strong performances by Sinks, Costello, Green Alvin, Gish, Woyasz and the ensemble, plus a director, Don Stephenson, who perfectly understands how to jump into the fun and pathos, the show blossoms into a musical of biblical proportions.

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