Jewish Rep opens with `Roots'

Roots Play by Arnold Wesker. Directed by Edward M. Cohen. The Jewish Repertory Theatre here in New York has turned to early Arnold Wesker for the first production of its 13th season. ``Roots'' (1959) championed the cause of Beatie Bryant, a Norfolk provincial who comes back home from London filled with awakened dreams of culture and other cosmopolitan advantages. Although she cannot yet articulate the visions that dance in her head, Beatie is determined to arouse her sluggish family from its parochial torpor.

Beatie's much-quoted London mentor, with whom she has been living, is an ardent socialist intellectual named Ronnie. Part of the purpose of Beatie's home-front campaign is to prepare her family for Ronnie's visit to Norfolk. Mr. Wesker uses the device of a dismissive letter to dash poor Beatie's hopes, but not before she makes the exhilarating discovery that she can grapple with ideas and express her thoughts.

The production staged by Edward M. Cohen says more for the Jewish Rep's theatrical eclecticism than for its grasp of Wesker's didactic family drama. Nealla Spano attempts to catch Beatie's spirit, but she never quite comes to terms with the restless young striver. There are some amusing passages, as when Beatie challenges her mother (Gloria Barret) on the subject of pop music vs. the classics. The performance as a whole, however, lacks the vitality and feeling of homogeneity that might have inspired a greater degree of credibility. Geoffrey Hall designed the two Norfolk cottage settings, with costumes by Karen Hummel and lighting by Dan Kinsley.

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