Ami Dayan, Kevin Hart, Catharine Pilafas
Conviction at the 59E59 Theaters plays for long periods like a rather dry history lesson instead of a dramatic theatre piece. The printed program not only has a background information section on the Spanish Inquisition to bring the audience up to speed but comes with a rather heavy glossary of Christian, Jewish, and Spanish terms and places. However, if you manage to sit through the first half of this intermission-less play, then you are rewarded with an engaging and moving second half.
The story is introduced to the audience through the use of a semi-contemporary pair of intellectuals in 1960s Spain. These men introduce the story of Andres Gonzales, a Spanish priest from the fifteenth century with a Jewish wife and a problem he confesses to his mentor, a priest named Juan de Salamanca. The story of how Andres fell in love and what he plans to do next provides the bulk of the drama. In the contemporary portion of the play, the director of the Spanish National Archives tries to pull information out of an Israeli professor visiting the archives.
The cast does a fine job with what they are given. Ami Dayan plays Andres in the fifteenth century and the Israeli professor, in addition to being one of the chief writers; Catharine Pilafas and Kevin Hart round out the cast. Each actor shines in either the contemporary section or the fifteenth century portion. The limits of the play did not allow the actors the range to excel in both sections.
Ami Dayan also adapted the piece with Mark J. Williams from the novel, Confession. The play Conviction has played in Israel since 1996 as a one-man piece, and the problem with the piece seems to stem from this beginning. Conviction plays as a series of soliloquies instead of a theatre piece where the actors relate to each other. This removes the show from the audience in an unintended manner. The lengthy speeches tell us what happened instead of showing the action as it happens. The fact that the piece is so moving is a tribute to the acting of Catharine Pilafas and Ami Dayan in the fifteenth century portion of the show.
Jeremy Cole directs the show excellently, pulling the emotion out of the piece and using beautiful original music (by Jon Sousa and Yossi Green) judiciously. The simple setting is enhanced greatly by the lighting design of Jacob M. Welch.
Ultimately this play does an interesting job of bringing a story from the fifteenth century alive. However, the inclusion of the semi-contemporary scenes would suggest that there is a modern parallel that isnt obvious, and leaves the audience question its intentions. The play portrays Catholics as intrinsically evil, their mercy only mitigated by Jewish bloodlines. While ultimately moving, Conviction suggests a sense of 500-year-old Israeli score-settling that is uncomfortable for Catholics and petty for everyone else.