Abraham’s Daughters, written by Elissa Lerner and directed by Niccolo Aeed, premiered at the New York International Fringe Festival this year along with over 200 other talent-filled plays. Lerner, currently a graduate student at NYU, penned the script as a thesis for her double major in Religion and Theater Studies at Duke University. After reading a great deal of text about Abraham’s Biblical sons, the playwright pondered, “Even to provoke half of a thought: What if? How would things be different? How would women tell the story of their religious experiences?” Lerner, as the female pseudo-Abraham, scribed the lives of the Jewish Sarah (Rebecca LaChance), her Muslim roommate Ranya (Dea Julien), and their Christian friend Kate (Keely Flaherty). Additionally, Lerner cleverly throws Will (Aryeh Lappin) into the mix, representing a belief that is becoming increasingly contagious throughout American youth. He is an atheist who repeatedly insists on being called a rationalist. In a contemporary and relatable context, these four friends come to understand that religious values can be as fragile as budding friendships.
Throughout the play, each character is faced with the challenge of reevaluating his or her relationship to religion. Ranya develops concerns about wearing her hijab, stating that it stands out and attracts attention, rendering its use counterproductive to its actual meaning; it went from being a “sexual commodity to a cultural oddity.” Further into the story, when a friend confronts her and asks, “Where did Ranya the Muslim go?” she poignantly replies, “She’s all just Ranya to me.” However, Will makes a conscious decision to remove himself from his religious ancestry, resulting in a bold argument with his longtime friend, Sarah. As the Jewish New Year commences, she urges him to remember the importance of observing Yom Kippur; he expresses that he would rather rush a frat that night. Yet when he later makes an irrevocable mistake, Sarah jabs: “Yom Kippur or not, someday you’re going to answer for it to someone.” Will eventually comes to the realization that while he thought he was following a moral compass of rationality, it hadn’t necessarily made him a better person.
My mind was sent reeling when Sarah proclaimed to Will that it is easier to be Jewish now than ever before. And here I thought one of the main questions presented by the subtext of the play was: Is organized religion becoming passé for generation Y? As a college student in a major metropolitan area, I continue to meet a great deal of people who identify as atheist, agnostic, or simply “spiritual.” Lerner’s play does not seek to unfold the complexities of this query, but rather to begin the conversation. “Religion is very much a part of contemporary culture and at the same time we don’t really like to talk about it,” says Lerner. She craftily combines the discoveries of Greek life, sexuality, and beer pong strategy with the revisiting of ancestral theology and intimate connections with God. While the dialogue is appropriately trickled with humor and wit, the reconciliation of these seemingly unrelated experiences is profoundly relevant for many emerging adults. Lerner felt that theater provided a wonderful medium through which to have these conversations. It doesn’t matter if you are a college generation kid or if you parented one, religious discussion will always be vital to revisit or to start anew.