April 13, 2016

Do not give up too early on “Nathan the Wise,” an 18th-century morality play by the German writer and scholar Gotthold Ephraim Lessing being presented by the Classic Stage Company in a production starring the estimable F. Murray Abraham. Midway through the first act of this drama about clashes of faith and family, set in 12th-century Jerusalem, I found myself listing toward boredom. But beginning with the piercing parable that opens the second act — about whether Judaism, Christianity or Islam is the true faith — the play grows increasingly engrossing. Ultimately it proves to be a moving story that speaks, as you might guess, to conflicts that roil the world today. Edward Kemp has provided a new translation, which is in effect more an adaptation. He has sensibly condensed the original, trimming monologues to create fluid dialogue that moves the story forward more briskly. He has also, less felicitously, framed the story with an opening scene in which the characters talk over one another in three languages. (We are not provided supertitles, but you get the gist.) As the play opens the title character, played by Mr. Abraham with a serene dignity befitting the epithet defining him, has just returned from a trading journey to discover that in his absence a fire broke out in his home. His beloved daughter, Rachel (Erin Neufer), was saved from almost certain death when a Christian knight, known as a Templar (Stark Sands), pulled her from the building.