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Nathan the Wise

From 25 critic and 64 member reviews
Members say: Great acting, Thought-provoking, Intelligent, Relevant, Absorbing

About the show

Classic Stage Company presents a play about a wise Jewish merchant (F. Murray Abraham) who tries to bridge the gaps between Judaism, Islam, and Christianity in 12th century Jerusalem. More…

Muslims, Christians, and Jews live side-by-side in Jerusalem, 1192, but their fragile truce could collapse at any moment. As the tension mounts, the ruling Sultan poses a loaded question: 'Which religion is the one most beloved by God?' Nathan, a pious Jewish merchant, is charged with answering this query in order to secure the continued safety of his people. Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham plays Nathan the Wise, perhaps the greatest Jewish character in all of Western dramatic literature next to Shylock.


"Bracing, timely new production...A uniformly excellent cast hits home with Lessing’s then (and still) controversial view of religion...textured by strong performances all around, the production smoothly balances the story’s personal and philosophical aspects...This 'Nathan the Wise' is more than a superb entertainment. It’s a small beacon of light in a dark world." Full Review

NY Theatre Guide

"With Abraham commanding the central role and Kulick consciously and straightforwardly guiding the helm, 'Nathan the Wise' becomes a must-see for the spring 2016 Season...Abraham's greatness, being so subtly innate, fails to cast shadow on his fellow players and instead reflects light onto them...Kulick seemed to bring his cast to a point of truthfulness that left little to focus on but the story, an ideal performance." Full Review

DC Theatre Scene

"The path that Nathan finds is thought-provoking, then and now...'Nathan the Wise' is not mere polemics put on stage...Lessing, an early German champion of Shakespeare, fashioned around his political messages a Bard-like entertainment laced with improbable surprises, absurd coincidences and a happy resolution...A uniformly able cast pulls it off at CSC's first-rate production...Director Brian Kulick has added touches that emphasize the play’s relevance." Full Review

Time Out New York

"Thoughtful and sincere, it combines a dramaturg’s love of theater history with a yen to connect today’s headlines to yesterday’s footnotes...If this sounds a tad academic, perhaps it is...But the play is gently engaging on its own terms. The marvelous F. Murray Abraham brings worldly wit to his early scenes and Biblical fire to his harrowing climactic monologue...Once again, Kulick has applied a judicious highlighter to a worthy text, and the result is a virtuous envoi." Full Review


"Director Kulick has chosen an English translation by Edward Kemp that recasts Lessing's verse dialogue in ear-pleasing prose...Kemp has streamlined the action, making this 'Nathan the Wise' more dramatic than the original and less like a treatise...Abraham is like the concertmaster of a chamber orchestra, leading without calling undue attention to himself...The production is splendid looking...'Nathan the Wise' is an admirable valedictory for Kulick." Full Review

Front Row Center

"The director has helped to create a simple storytelling framework, as actors slip into and out of parts...He has also enlisted his talented company in successfully creating a strong sense of ensemble, and the resulting playing style has the cohesive unity of a family effort. The cast is quite fine, although there is no question that Abraham is giving an extraordinary performance...The play is an impassioned plea for religious tolerance, and its relevance to modern life couldn’t be clearer." Full Review

Edge New York

"'Nathan the Wise' is a rollicking tall tale, full of crazy coincidences, lost and found children, and mistaken identity...Heading the cast in a fantastic performance is F. Murray Abraham...He tones down the (kosher) ham here but lets 'er rip when necessary in a climactic scene. But the entire cast shines...Not only is nothing of importance lost in this freewheeling adaptation, but much is gained in audience engagement, especially given Brian Kulick's innovative and fast-moving direction." Full Review


"This excellent and earnest production highlights just how radical the play's message of religious tolerance was for its time...Classic Stage makes a good argument for the play's continuing relevance...Kulick first introduces us to the actors out of character, suggesting that this performance actually takes place in the Holy Land of 2016. This approach actually complements Lessing's drama...'Nathan the Wise' is as germane to the Jerusalem of 2016 as it is to the one of 1192." Full Review

Theatre Reviews Limited

"Lessing’s play–more in the style of a late play by Shakespeare than in his contemporary German style–is complex. Its characters are well-rounded and interesting; their conflicts engaging and relevant to the theme of the equality of all religions...Abraham’s performance as Nathan is nothing short of brilliant...Under Brian Kulick’s artful and efficient direction, the equally accomplished ensemble cast successfully negotiates Lessing’s path to forgiveness and reconciliation." Full Review


"To director Brian Kulick’s credit, his thoughtful production treads lightly over the obvious reasons that his tiny, vital theater has revived this rarity with just enough overlapping eras and styles to make the point…In Edward Kemp’s lucid and engrossing translation, the play combines straightforward storytelling with the otherworldly charm of a fable…Abraham portrays the successful Jewish merchant with calm, tender humanism." Full Review


"'Nathan the Wise' offers Abraham an opportunity to chill or, more aptly, to warm up some, in a production that with one exception treats the play as a fine romance and not merely some fairy tale...The play is beautifully orchestrated, the characters all in balance even as they look great in Abraham’s glow...The one overstep is the photorealist drop covering the entire back wall, of an obviously Middle-Eastern city in ruins." Full Review

Off Off Online

"The contemporary touches are subtle, and there’s a gentle, friendly atmosphere. All the characters are so good that it’s just a tad dull. By intermission one questions where the conflict is. The second half provides it…How it all plays out is unexpected, although the twists may become apparent shortly before they occur. But there’s such a pleasant atmosphere of idealism, respect and generosity that one comes away delighted by its virtues." Full Review

Broadway Blog

"‘Nathan the Wise’s' company offers satisfactory but not especially illuminating support for Abraham’s Jew. His is not a bravura performance, but, except for a few angry or frightened moments, it’s pervaded by Abraham’s unique blend of deep intelligence and impish humor. This production...leaves something to be desired, but the chance to see F. Murray Abraham in a play of such historical (if not dramaturgical) importance should be sufficient for serious theatergoers to trek to East 13th Street." Full Review

The New York Times

"Do not give up too early on 'Nathan the Wise'...Beginning with the piercing parable that opens the second act, the play grows increasingly engrossing...The staging, by Brian Kulick, doesn’t necessarily help...The cast is mostly good, with Mr. Abraham giving another quietly intense performance...The play is both a thoughtful (if sometimes preachy) exploration of mankind’s seeming inability to shed itself of culturally embedded prejudices, and a savory drama about orphaned children." Full Review

New York Daily News

"The story boasts timeless urgency, but sags under a convoluted plot. Brian Kulick’s spare, well-acted revival plays up the strengths. In 1192 Jerusalem, a trio of cultures live in fragile harmony...The play unravels as ancestral secrets emerge, tricky family trees are shaken and mistaken identities revealed. The ending feels dashed off. Despite the play’s flaws, the cast is uniformly fine. Oscar winner Abraham is wry, fiery and smart as Nathan the Wise." Full Review

Bob's Theater Blog

"A pair of revelations about two orphans provides a rather hackneyed ending. I found some of Kulick’s choices perplexing...What we are to make of this mishmash of imagery was not clear to me. The acting is uneven. Lagerfelt was very good in both roles. Sands coped well with the abrupt changes in his character's behavior. Abraham was blessedly restrained. It was a minor pleasure to be exposed to this rarely seen curiosity." Full Review

The Huffington Post

"This warm-hearted story about religious tolerance has the shape of a Shakespearean romance, the insight of a Michael Frayn drama and the soul of a fairy tale. Kulick hasn’t quite woven all these strands into a cohesive evening of theater...But a fine cast and the probing intelligence on display make it an enjoyable one...The acting was slapdash in style...But it was Abraham who dominated, not by dominating but by quietly anchoring the performances of everyone around him." Full Review

The Huffington Post

"Themes of friendship, the mystery and relativism of God and the nature of acceptance are explored en route. Its thesis—then and now—is compelling...While interesting, 'Nathan the Wise,' a story of familial secrets, is a bit contrived. Still, its solid cast, led by a centered Abraham, carries it off...Directed by Brian Kulick and adapted by Edward Kemp, who shortened the work, 'Nathan the Wise' doesn’t shy from religious cruelty, but promotes an important ideal." Full Review

Reflections in the Light

"What could be more contemporary than a play about the need for religious tolerance?...Always fun to see Broadway vet F. Murray Abraham -- and Stark Sands for that matter -- on a New York Stage. Lagerfelt adds a much needed dose of humor...It's kind of a predictable (in spite of the apparent plot twists and surprises). With two acts running just over two hours it seems a bit tedious, especially since there is a lot of retelling of action we already have seen." Full Review


"German philosopher Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's 1779 entry does play a bit like theatre for young audiences in Classic Stage Company's new mounting directed by the theatre's soon-departing artistic director Brian Kulick...Kulick's production draws obvious parallels between yesterday and today, but while pleasant, sweet and well-acted, there's little in 'Nathan the Wise' to stimulate interest, aside from its value as a theatrical artifact." Full Review

Stage Buddy

"While Lessing’s musings on questions of faith may be of interest to today’s audiences, his antique scenario never quite seems to click for us. The initial setup seems promising...But Lessing’s plot becomes increasingly convoluted as the play progresses...Abraham will be a chief reason for playgoers to see this production, and his performance is exemplary...The other actors give solid turns." Full Review

The Wrap

"A clash of religions and acting styles…Comparisons to some of Shakespeare’s comedies are immediately apparent, but fleeting…As directed by Brian Kulick, this 'Nathan' might be better enjoyed on a second viewing. In the play’s first act, many of the performances seem overbroad, as if the actors had stepped out of 'L’Italiana in Algeri.' That approach makes sense by the time we get to the genuinely madcap conclusion, but much less so at the very beginning." Full Review

AM New York

"Kulick’s bare and unexciting production doesn’t make a strong case for the German play, which mostly resembles an antiquated comedy full of slow exposition and surprise revelations. Kulick tries to allude to the contemporary Middle East via a massive image of a bombed-out village. Abraham appears in a jovial mood, full of good humor. Sands gives a one-dimensional performance that is far too aggressive in tone." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"Brian Kulick's production tries various tactics to make the action more relevant...Oddly, these touches only tend to underline the overall toothlessness of Lessing's script...The play -- well-spoken and infused with sweet reason -- is barely a play at all, and, furthermore, it dwells in an ivory tower, having little of relevance to say about the religious conflicts that continue to confound civilization. It tries to offer resolution without first showing the conflict." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"Kulick has chosen a translation that downplays the classical poetry, introduced a 'modern dress' element, and instructed the whole cast to tread lightly...Any one of these approaches might have been sufficient to sand down the rougher edges of this improbable and overstuffed piece. Taken all together, they rob the work of the weight and the import that might have made it worth doing in the first place." Full Review

Ambitious, Clever, Funny, Intelligent

See it if Caught it last night but alas ,today is the last performance, Great acting by entire cast esp.. F. Murray Abraham , An oldie for our times.

Don't see it if continued from the positive... great set by the "almost in the round: CSC. Actors are super with speaking to the 3 sides of the audience.

Clever, Delightful, Entertaining, Funny, Great acting

See it if you enjoy great acting, comedies, or parables.

Don't see it if you prefer more serious plays dealing with a heavier topic.

Thought-provoking, Relevant

See it if You love an interesting story with a great ending. If you want to come out of the theatre smiling... Great play

Don't see it if No reason not to see this.

Relevant, Thought-provoking, Entertaining, Clever, Great acting

See it if You'd like an 18th century work facing the religious conflict in the Middle East with humor, warmth & suspense led by For. Murray Abraham

Don't see it if You're uncomfortable with Middle East issues-still relevant today-being treated with a touch of humor and old fashioned coincidence

Great acting, Intelligent, Relevant, Thought-provoking, Clever

See it if You enjoy classic theater with striking parallels to the present, fantastic acting, and a great story on religion/people.

Don't see it if You are easily bothered by women's roles in classic theater, don't enjoy plays about religion, or don't like slower moving pieces.

Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Resonant, Slow

See it if The time period-a break during the Crusades-interests you. You'll learn some history & examine time worn questions of prejudice & family.

Don't see it if You want your historical plays aptly treated-no crossed legs by female characters, or brash & insipid portrayals by young male & female lead

Engaging, Thought-provoking, Great acting

See it if you're in the mood for a story about religious tolerance. It's a lovely play and I enjoyed it a lot.

Don't see it if you're put off by religious themes. The show isn't "preachy", but religion is a central point of the story.

Absorbing, Entertaining, Great acting, Relevant, Thought-provoking

See it if you like F Murray Abraham, who is fantastic. The writing itself is okay, though surprisingly relevant given it was written centuries ago

Don't see it if you're looking for a big budget production or something light and fluffy

Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Intense, Relevant

See it if You'd enjoy a well-acted, no frills piece about differing religions under sultan's rule. The unraveling of ancestral trees ends happily.

Don't see it if You do not like shows with religious themes.

Great acting, Intelligent, Original, Thought-provoking

See it if you're a Murray Abraham fan. And if you like plays that make you think. It's a fairly subtle essay on religious tolerance - not for today.

Don't see it if you don't like to think. You're going to need to bring something to the table to enjoy the play.

Great acting, Intelligent, Clever, Relevant, Ambitious

See it if for Abraham's great performance and how a play this old is relevant today

Don't see it if you don't care about what makes a well written matter

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Resonant

See it if You want to see Abraham give a wonderful performance. If you want a fascinating dialogue about religion and humanity.

Don't see it if You're impatient to get to the good stuff; act 1 feels a bit slow as it sets up for act 2, which is wonderful & engaging, & worth the wait!

Enchanting, Great staging, Refreshing

See it if fables are your thing, or the possibility of coexistence among the three major religions hold infinite possibilities

Don't see it if well, you already missed it.

Great acting, Intelligent, Relevant, Slow

See it if You appreciate masterful F. Murray Abraham inhabiting a role and telling a story. All the actors are credible and the last part very moving.

Don't see it if You can't tolerate a very slow first act that sets the dynamics in motion. Lots of talking vs action.

Banal, Enchanting, Great acting, Edgy, Insipid

See it if Good story line

Don't see it if you like violence and gritty realism.

Relevant, Shakespearean

See it if you like Marlowe's Jew of Malta or are interested in the Crusades.

Don't see it if you're Islamophobic.

Delightful, Funny, Great acting, Great staging, Hilarious

See it if like to be entertained, by a group of talented actors. Although the plot it may seem silly afterwords, it did not during the performance.

Don't see it if like serious, profound, intelligent, riveting theater. This play is a charming escape.

Banal, Cliched, Dated, Great acting, Slow

See it if you like dated fairy tales about religious equality and peace. What a waste of great acting.

Don't see it if My advise is not to see it.

Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Original, Cliched, Dated

See it if you want to see a rarely-performed 18th century play that pleads for religious tolerance.

Don't see it if you do not like didactic plays or historical dramas

Excruciating, Quirky, Thought-provoking, Great acting, Intelligent

See it if You enjoy a good cast taking on some classic writing, translated for contemporary audiences.

Don't see it if you have trouble sitting through a SLOOOOOOOOOOW first act,

Cliched, Thought-provoking, Disappointing

See it if You love F Murray Abraham

Don't see it if You're looking for more current theater.

Cliched, Dated, Slow

See it if An interesting update of an old tale told new.

Don't see it if You expect something wonderful other than the acting of the main character.

Banal, Uneven

See it if You like F. Murray Abraham and don't care about the vehicle in which he is being featured.

Don't see it if If you can't handle an excruciatingly slow and boring and awkwardly acted and directed 1st act.

Absorbing, Entertaining, Great acting, Great writing

See it if excellent

Don't see it if I would not say do not see it everyone needs to see this

Absorbing, Ambitious

See it if you like period pieces that are eternal

Don't see it if you find twists in the plot hokey

Cast & Creatives (15)