Pioneer Playhouse closes season with ‘Kosher Lutherans’

Published 8:40 am Friday, July 21, 2023


Pioneer Playhouse is closing its 74th season with the play “Kosher Lutherans” by William Missouri Downs, opening on Tuesday.

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“Kosher Lutherans” will run Tuesdays through Saturdays, from July 25 through Aug. 12, at 8:30 p.m. The optional pre-show dinner is at 7 p.m.

The play is a modern comedy that revolves around a seemingly perfect LA couple Franklyn and Hannah, who desperately want to have a child of their own but can’t. They meet a pregnant 18-year-old runaway from Iowa named Alison, who is willing to give her baby up for adoption.

However, the God-fearing Alison does not know that the couple are Jewish. So, Franklyn and Hannah pretend to be Lutheran in order to appeal to Alison’s Midwestern sensibilities, which leads to some funny, yet heartwarming, twists and turns.

Robby Henson, artistic director of Pioneer Playhouse, said they did this play 10 years ago and that their audiences enjoyed it. He said it’s a quirky comedy but is ultimately heartwarming.

“Our audiences respond to stories about families struggling to make it work and stay together despite all odds,” Henson said. “There’s a lot of well-written quirky comedy bickering in this play, but it very much underscores how the family unit is important.”

Playwright William Missouri Downs said in writing this play, he was inspired by the word ‘happiness.’

“Many years ago, I was looking up a name in the phone book and saw the word ‘Happiness’ and a phone number beside it,” Downs said. “I blinked, my eyes re-focused, and the word ‘Happiness’ became ‘Hapgood.’ But the idea stuck with me. What if one day you randomly found happiness in the phone book? That’s how ‘Kosher Lutherans’ was born.”

He continued, “‘Kosher Lutherans’ is about how chance events and curveballs change our lives. It’s a comedy about a childless couple and their desperate attempt to find happiness in a world full of crumbling marriages, unhappy jobs, and fertility clinics.”

Downs will be traveling to Danville from out west to see “Kosher Lutherans” on Saturday, July 29. Pioneer Playhouse will host a talk-back with Downs immediately following that night’s performance with an opportunity for audience members to ask him questions about the play.

“A year ago, I attended Pioneer Playhouse,” Downs said. “It was magical to sit under the stars and watch my comedy. So, I had to come back to see ‘Kosher Lutherans.’”

The playhouse hosted Downs last year for the first time for a talk-back on their performance of Downs’ play “Cockeyed.” Henson said that with “Cockeyed,” audiences last year responded to Downs’ fresh and unique writing for his characters. He thinks people will love the quirky characters in “Kosher Lutherans.”

“We’re huge fans of William Missouri Downs’ writing,” Henson said. “His dialogue is sharp and funny, and his characters are very relatable. I think it comes from his early background in writing for television and sitcoms, such as the original ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.’”

The play features just five actors in this final show of the season. Alison is played by Peyton White, who is returning for her third show, along with Erika Lee Sengstack, who’s playing Hannah. Jonny Maldonado is playing Franklyn, who is returning for his second show ever at Pioneer Playhouse after “Farce of Nature.”

Darius Fatemi is playing Ben, and Suraya Shalash is playing Martha, who are both new to this season. They play the Jewish friends of Hannah and Franklyn, who also try to help keep their secret.

The playhouse will have an ASL-Interpreted night for “Kosher Lutherans” on Tuesday, Aug. 1, sponsored by Whitaker Bank.