Modern Orthodox a potent comedy

new york | The place of conservatism in the modern world can be a polarizing topic. In “Modern Orthodox,” Daniel Goldfarb’s entertaining new play, it also happens to be a potent source of comedy.

New meets old in this romantic farce, about a young, apathetically Jewish couple on Manhattan’s Upper West Side who come face-to-face with faith.

The play opened this month at off-Broadway’s Dodgers Stages.

Craig Bierko is likable and funny as Ben, a financial consultant shopping for an engagement ring. The man is easily put off by what he perceives to be the condescending attitude of Jews more pious than him.

But thanks to a referral by a “cousin’s friend’s half-brother,” Ben is thrust upon the diametrically opposed Hershel — a young, Orthodox diamond salesman who totes a briefcase, a gun and a bagful of comic neuroses.

Jason Biggs plays the laughable Hershel (“call me Hersh”), who is strongly reminiscent of the character Biggs played in the movie “American Pie” and its sequels — a sexually hyper and confused screw-up on the brink of hopelessness.

The initial clash develops into a strenuous acquaintance, during which Ben and his fiancée, Hannah (Molly Ringwald), employ a Jewish dating Web site in hopes of finding Hershel his perfect match. Their efforts result in a riotous dinner date at a kosher restaurant, a scene stolen by the comical inflection and facial expressions of Jenn Harris in the role of Hershel’s eligible and outlandish bachelorette, Rachel.

Audience members who never attended Hebrew school might feel left out of a few punch lines, but the play’s authentic humor shouldn’t be lost on them.

Adding to the appeal of this play is clean direction by James Lapine and a stylish set highlighted by a towering, artistic backdrop of the Manhattan skyline.

Goldfarb (the playwright of “Sarah, Sarah” and “Adam Baum and the Jew Movie”) seems to beg serious questions about the place of faith in today’s world but doesn’t toil much in serious answers. Instead, he exposes the conventions of what makes a person Jewish, all in the name of a few good laughs.

Though the script is not without predictable humor, the occasional lame joke is offset by an enjoyable sophistication and cadence in Goldfarb’s writing that hints at classic comedy films of the 1940s or 1950s, with some exchanges seeming as though they could have been written for Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn or Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.