In April 1926, Lithuania-born Russian violin virtuoso Jascha Heifetz gave a fundraising concert in a stone quarry by Ein Harod kibbutz in Mandatory Palestine, the future State of Israel. Afterward, it is believed that the Jewish musician took a stroll with composer and kibbutznik Yehuda Sharett, brother of Moshe Sharett, who would become the second prime minister of Israel nearly thirty years later. In A Walk with Mr. Heifetz, a Primary Stages world premiere continuing at the Cherry Lane through March 4, former Gramophone editor and Time magazine journalist James Inverne imagines what took place while the twenty-five-year-old Heifetz (Adam Green) and Yehuda (Yuval Boim) wandered around the quarry area. In the first act, the two men talk about music, Zionism, ego, walking, and responsibility as Itzhak Perlman protégée Mariella Haubs plays the violin in the background. In the second act of the hundred-minute play, Wilson Chin’s set turns from the quarry to Yehuda’s cluttered apartment in 1945, as he’s visited by his brother, Moshe (Erik Lochtefeld), who has taken on a critical role in the burgeoning government. They talk about music, Zionism, ego, coffee, and responsibility, Moshe somewhat hopeful about the future as he name-drops such Jewish leaders as Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion, Yehuda despondent as he can’t get over a family tragedy that upended his life.
It’s a very talky, didactic play, each act involving two characters arguing over theoretical propositions in dry, matter-of-fact ways, more of a debate than a piece of theater, dueling essays on the formation of the State of Israel. There’s little palpable tension and no conflict; it’s just an excuse for first-time playwright Inverne to share his views — which can be intriguing — but he and director Andrew Leynse have left out any hint of drama. Boim (Two Thousand Years) speaks in a thick Israeli accent, Green (Venus) in a heavy Russian one, and Lochtefeld (Small Mouth Sounds) in a British lilt, to help differentiate among the three men, even though none of the accents are based on how they actually spoke. Haubs, however, speaks beautifully with her violin; unfortunately, there is not nearly enough of the Juilliard graduate, particularly in the second act. Eventually, by the time they get to “The Hatikva,” what would become the Israeli national anthem and which means “The Hope” in English, all hope has been lost.