Emerson College's student newspaper

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College's student newspaper

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College's student newspaper

The Berkeley Beacon

A Jewish journey: ‘Prayer for the French Republic’ comes to Boston

Photo Courtesy: Charles Erickson

“Prayer for the French Republic,” a powerful, multi-generational story following the Salomon Benhamou family and their experience with Jewish discrimination, premiered at the Huntington Theater on Sept. 7. 

The play follows a Jewish family that has lived in Paris for multiple generations and jumps between the family’s present life in 2016 and that of the older generations’ lives in the 1940s. The show, directed by Joshua Harmon, addresses many issues, including the traumas of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism in the present day, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

The Beacon spoke with actress Carly Zien, who plays Elodie Salomon Benhamou, the outspoken daughter of the present-day family. 

“Being Jewish is a complicated thing for a lot of people,” said Zien. “Especially for Jewish audience members, the play really tackles that identity crisis from a lot of different angles.”

The play reflects what it is like to be Jewish in a modern setting and encourages audiences to consider the continuation of anti-Semitic acts. In an interview with the Beacon, Emerson alum Josephine Elwood described her unique position as an understudy and how it allowed her to see the performance in a different light. 

“This has been my first time understudying and it’s been a real privilege to watch these actors work,” said Elwood. “I get to witness experiences and that has been very powerful. Although I’m on the team, I’m also an audience member I’m here watching the show every week, and so I get to witness, alongside the audience, the reality of facing such anti-semitism and what a toll it can take, and also the resiliency it takes to go through the world when there is often times such hate directed towards an entire group of people, or you as a member of that group of people.”

The talented cast makes this thought-provoking script even more impactful. All of the actors possess remarkable range, as the production demands skillful comedic timing and strong physicality, as well as the ability to deliver fast-paced, witty dialogue—including a 10-page-long monologue by Zien. 

The monologue explores many topics surrounding the struggles of being Jewish, such as fear for the future and choosing loyalties in the complex conflict between Israel and Palestine, and left the audience in awe oher stamina. The actress’ preparation for this task shows her exceptional dedication to the role.

“Having read the play and gone through two rounds of auditions, I knew that the biggest challenge was going to be that huge monologue in the second act,” Zien said. “While I was on my honeymoon in Switzerland printed out those ten pages and started working on it overseas.”

Throughout the show, the cast delivers emotional depth and a realistic portrayal of coping with serious issues, such as hate crimes, survivor’s guilt, and mourning the loss of loved ones, immersing the audience into the family’s experiences. By contrast, the show’s use of dark humor to cope with tragic events brings an unexpected and entertaining response to hatred in the world. 

While every actor delivered an outstanding performance, one of the biggest highlights of the show was Amy Resnick’s portrayal of the family matriarch Marcelle Salomon Benhamou. The often controlling and blunt mother could have quickly been seen as overbearing or antagonistic, but Resnick portrayed the character with such genuine love and a strong desire to protect her family, making it impossible for audiences not to root for her. When Marcelle’s son Daniel was attacked on the street for wearing a yarmulke, the audience was moved by her performance of earnest concern over her child’s safety.

Resnick’s delivery of the all-consuming worry for Daniel’s safety after he is harassed for wearing a yarmulke shows how she places her family’s safety above all else.  

Another standout performance from the production was Will Lyman’s Pierre, Marcelle’s father and Holocaust survivor. During his brief time on stage, Lyman moved the audience with the story of his relationship with his father during the Holocaust and his message of the importance of family. 

The thoughtful lighting, set design, and staging further enhanced the skillful work of the actors. Scenic details, such as the rotating kitchen table, and the muted lighting that complements the Shabbat candles and heirloom piano, give the impression that the show takes place in a real, lived-in home rather than on a stage.

“Everything is top-notch, the play itself is brilliant, the production values are exceptional, Loretta Greco has done a wonderful job directing, and all of the actors are really really strong, so I think you’re in for a real treat if you come to see the show,” Zien said. 

“Prayer for the French Republic,” which will run at the Huntington until Oct. 8, offers audiences a profound contemplation of the world’s condition, an affirmation of Jewish identity, and a testament to resilience during challenging times.

“Prepare to laugh, prepare to be moved, maybe even shed a tear,” Zien said. 

View Comments (1)

Comments (1)

The Berkeley Beacon intends for this area to be used to foster healthy, thought-provoking discussion. Comments are expected to adhere to our standards and to be respectful and constructive. As such, we do not permit the use of profanity, foul language, personal attacks, or the use of language that might be interpreted as libelous. Comments are reviewed and must be approved by a moderator to ensure that they meet these standards. The Berkeley Beacon requires a valid email address. The email address will not be displayed but will be used to confirm your comments.
All The Berkeley Beacon Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • I

    Sep 21, 2023 at 5:06 pm

    Wow this is a really great article Annie!