The Spanish Prayer Book Review – An Art History Conundrum

Richard-John Seikaly and Allison Blaize in THE SPANISH PRAYER BOOK - Photo by Brian M. Cole

Inspired by real events in the late twentieth century, playwright Angela J. Davis has fashioned a gripping art history mystery weaving fourteenth century illuminated manuscripts into Nazi Germany’s looting of precious art objects during World War II. Fascinating moral and legal issues are unearthed in THE SPANISH PRAYER BOOK – issues which may never have a clear-cut answer. Skillfully directed by Lee Sankowich, THE SPANISH PRAYER BOOK journeys through time as the enigma unfolds.

Allan Wasserman and Allison Blaize – Photo by Brian M. Cole

When Michaela Adler (Allison Blaize) inherits her family legacy, a pair of beautifully illuminated religious volumes, she also falls heir to her grandfather’s and father’s problem – what to do with art treasures of questionable provenance? Alexander Adler (Carlos Lacamara) smuggled the Spanish Prayer Book out of Berlin in 1941 as he tried to protect the volumes for future generations against a regime which was quickly swallowing up great works for their own nefarious ends. Michaela’s father Jacob (Allan Wasserman) kept the family secret his entire life. With his death, the problem leap-frogged over 60 years and landed in the hands of granddaughter Michaela, an unemployed, newly divorced woman with a seriously ill child – and almost no money. While the solution seems simple – sell the books – the ramifications are far from simple.

Tiffany Wolff and Allison Blaize – Photo by Brian M. Cole

But THE SPANISH PRAYER BOOK does not focus purely on legal questions – it also treads on very personal grounds. There is Jacob’s strained relationship with his ex-wife Joan (Tracey Silver), who has been pushing him for years to convert the priceless art objects into cash – and, after his death, has been pushing her daughter, especially in light of her dire economic straits, to do the same. Poignant moment surface as the tender relationship between Jacob and Michaela becomes apparent. The budding connection between Jacob’s protégé, fellow university professor Julien Nazir (Richard-John Seikaly), and the attractive Adler heir begins to surface as the two struggle to come to terms with reality. And then there is the intense father/daughter bond growing between the original smuggler, grandfather Alexander, and the young librarian (Tiffany Wolff) he rescues from certain death in Nazi Germany.

Amy Tolsky and Allison Blaize – Photo by Brian M. Cole

Amid the plots and subplots, THE SPANISH PRAYER BOOK raises some thought-provoking questions. Under the circumstances, who is the true owner of the manuscripts? Can such precious pieces of history be considered anyone’s property? Is it possible to ignore pressing personal needs when coming to any conclusions? You’ll have to see the play to find out how author Angela J. Davis handles these issues.

Yuki Izumihara’s spare scenic design and complex projections fit well into the tale, as do Derrick McDaniel’s lighting and David B. Marling’s sound. The entire production team does a competent job of bringing the esoteric into the real world – helped, in large part, by a talented cast of performers. THE SPANISH PRAYER BOOK raises some provocative questions – but manages to remain entertaining and stimulating as it does so.

THE SPANISH PRAYER BOOK runs through November 23, 2019, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Road on Magnolia is located at 10747 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601. Tickets are $34 (students and seniors $15; Sunday performances are pay-what-you-can). For information and reservations, call 818-761-8838 or go online.

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