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Review: F. Murray Abraham stars in 'Nathan the Wise'

Stark Sands, left, and F. Murray Abraham in "Nathan the Wise."Richard Termine/Photo by Richard Termine

Stark Sands, left, and F. Murray Abraham in “Nathan the Wise.”

Hear that F. Murray Abraham is starring in a centuries-old drama about a Jewish merchant and Shakespeare and Shylock may leap to mind.

But it’s a different businessman being resurrected at Classic Stage Company. In “Nathan the Wise,” Gotthold Ephraim Lessing places his titular Jewish merchant at the center of a drama about religious tolerance.

Written in the 1770s, the story boasts timeless urgency, but sags under a convoluted plot. Outgoing CSC director Brian Kulick’s spare, well-acted revival plays up the strengths.

In 1192 Jersusalem, a trio of cultures live in fragile harmony. Nathan (F. Murray Abraham), forges interfaith friendships. One is with a Christian Templar (Stark Sands), the other with a Muslim sultan (Austin Durant).

Nathan is pressed to say which is the best religion. He uses a fable to prove that the riddle can’t be answered. Good men come from every faith, culture and land.

So far so good. But 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. “Amadeus” Oscar winner Abraham is wry, fiery and smart as Nathan the Wise.

jdziemianowicz@nydailynews.com

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