If you missed church on Sunday, you might have found redemption at the Footlight Players Theatre, where Ohio/New York-based theater company 34West presented My Name Is Ruth. The two-person play takes the Biblical tale of Ruth and sets it in the 1940s.
If you can't remember exactly what the story's about, you're not alone — I couldn't recall the most basic facts, despite a childhood of Sunday school. Here's the gist: Naomi's husband and two sons die, but her daughter-in-law Ruth stays with her. They move to Bethlehem, where Ruth begins working for Boaz, a distant relative of Naomi. Ruth and Boaz eventually marry, because by law Boaz has the right to "redeem" his kin's widow, and she bears him a son.
But even if you didn't know the story, My Name Is Ruth would still make sense — you just might miss a few references and jokes, though you'll be able to assume where they're coming from based on the laughs from the audience. In fact, the play is predictable even if you don't any prior knowledge of the story. This is truly a simple tale.
Jessica Burger is Ruth, whose husband dies in World War II. Mourning his loss (and that of his brother and father), Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi move to New York City, Naomi's old stomping grounds. At first, Ruth struggles to find a job, until she meets an awkward store clerk who happens to own the city's largest department store. His name is Boaz, and he's played by Jeffrey D. Querin, who plays all of the male characters. There are a few minor complications along the way — like a mean cousin who is out to steal Naomi's estate — but they're able to overcome them when they uncover an antiquated law that says their marriage will solve everything. They're more than happy to comply.
Querin's range is impressive, particularly in one scene in which he plays both Boaz and KR (the cousin) in a courtroom face-off. Burger is also good, but relies too much on her Minnesota accent and cute retro sayings for laughs.
By the time the play ended, I was both relieved and disappointed; relieved because it had started to drag, and disappointed that there wasn't more to it. The 34West gang were constrained to some extent by the source material, but the hour-long play could benefit from a little more development. If you can't elaborate on an old story, why even remake it?
Then again, if you're going to a play like My Name Is Ruth, you know what you're getting into — that is, unless you're like the people sitting behind me who didn't even read the description before plunking down their money for tickets. Sunday night's audience of mainly older folks seemed delighted by the play.