“New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza” strides back into Theater J after its acclaimed 2010 run as an established hit, and the show’s success is no mystery. The David Ives script is fierce, funny and up-to-the-minute in its moral investigations. And the cast knocks it out of the park.
The plot is about the 1656 excommunication of Spinoza — only in his early 20s, but already a daring philosopher — from the Jewish community. At stake: notions of God that rattle Jews and Christians alike, stoking resentment and fear and threatening the delicate political agreement under which Jews were “tolerated” in Amsterdam at the time.
The casual tone of Ives’s writing and Kathleen Geldard’s largely modern costuming — sport coats and turtlenecks, untucked Oxfords — aim to bring these debates into our own time. (Ideological infidelity: Is there any more potent Washington topic?) The judicial air of the hard wooden benches rising to the rafters on Misha Kachman’s set extends into the audience: We, the congregation, are implicated as director Jeremy Skidmore occasionally moves the actors up the aisles to look us in the eye.