02 June 2015

Dispatches from Israel 4

by Helen Kaye

[My friend Helen, who writes for the Jerusalem Post, has sent me three short reviews on recent productions in Tel Aviv and Beer Sheva.  Helens reviews, though the paper only gives her a small amount of space to express her assessments, are always interesting and revealing, but these three just strike me as especially intriguingboth from the perspective of Helens expression and in her descriptions of the productions themselves.  These three seem particularly provocative.  See how you feel.  ~Rick]

By Roy Chen
Inspired by Lewis Carroll
Directed by Yehezkel Lazarov
Gesher Theater, Tel Aviv

Alice is A) theatrical, B) bold, C) questioning, D) all of the above. The answer is D, and one is tempted to say ‘of course’. Alice is also a mite self-conscious, with almost a freeze-frame quality, as if creators Roy Chen and Yehezkel Lazarov – he also designed the set – were struggling with that bugbear of our almost-too-connected age – tmi or too much information.

The story of Alice Liddell and Charles Dodgson – Lewis Carroll – is sad, and both went to their deaths their lips firmly sealed. He was 24 when they first met in 1856 and she was four years old. Of the letters he wrote her, none remain. Her mother burned them. That there was a rift between the Liddells and Carroll is documented. There is no evidence at all to suggest that the relationship between Carroll and the Liddell girls (there were three sisters), was improper.

This Alice follows its heroine from childhood (Bar Sade), to the troubled teen years (Neta Shpigelman), to womanhood (Efrat Ben-Tzur) bringing her together with the characters in both the real world, Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass, and especially with The White Knight aka Carroll aka Doron Tavori – is there anything this actor cannot do? He stands on his head for an appreciable time while Alice/Sade is right side up –what’s topsy and what turvy? - against a two meter high white wall that extends clear around the theater, and on which video images flicker.

The White Knight and the wall’s flickering images are central. They relate not only to human vulnerability but to its fallibility. To the almost abyss between childhood experienced and childhood remembered. The Knight is both feeble and strong, comforting and distanced. The images are mostly flickering lines as if to illustrate the thin line between reality and illusion. They become raging flames when teen Alice/Shpigelman is (rather unnecessarily) raped, and shadowy – are they clouds and soldiers? – when grownup Alice/Ben Tzur is traveling a mysterious train/timeline with all the other characters including her husband/Humpty Dumpty (Alexander Senderovich) and the Knight, now a grave watching presence.

The Gesher actors are here a formidable ensemble and Lazarov’s dancer past affords his staging the grace and fluidity of a ballet. It’s not inappropriate to say that Alice is theater-dance, very watchable, with the kind of go-for-broke attitude that belongs in repertory theater and more often than not, to Gesher. This Alice is to savor.

*  *  *  *
Oedipus – A Case Study
By Sophocles
Translated by Shimon Buzaglo
Directed by Hanan Snir
Habimartef (Habima Basement), Tel Aviv

You might say the title says it all. The original is Oedipus the King, one of the greatest among the surviving canon of classical Greek theater. Fifth-century BCE Greek audiences would have known the Oedipus legend, an ancient myth of incest and patricide, of fate, gods, and that fatal self-blind pride the Greeks called hubris, but they’d have eagerly watched to see what Sophocles did with it, as have audiences down the centuries since.

So Hanan Snir’s bold and stimulating take in which the story of Oedipus becomes a therapeutic technique to jolt a near catatonic patient back to reality.

We are in a psychiatric facility, in one of its lecture halls complete with viewing gallery (Roni Toren’s set), where the white coated staff psychiatrists are having their daily meeting. Under discussion is a young man. PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) is mentioned.

“If we do this,” cautions head psychiatrist Gil Frank, later Creon, “we have to go exactly by the protocol,” meaning they cannot deviate from the script, come what may. The others agree save for Dvora Kedar who’ll as reluctantly play the blind Tiresias later on.

And that’s what this Oedipus is about. The causes and effects of moral, emotional and finally physical blindness, how denial, suppression, repression can cause disease in mind, body and the body politic.

A reference to us here? Of course. It lashes out in the speech Oedipus makes to the citizens of Thebes on finding Laios’ murderer.

And the doctors begin. There’s no attempt to be ‘real’. It’s dispassionate. A research project.

Enter Oedipus (Alex Krul). Hoodied, head down, body slack, he’s seated in a chair. Gently Frank/Creon draws back the hood, takes the hair out of his face, prompts him with the king’s first lines to the people of plague-stricken Thebes, and we are off.

The doctors/psychiatrists play all the parts while keeping a watchful eye on Frank and their patient as he’s stripped of layer after layer. We follow Krul as he’s sucked more and more into the role, as he sheds lethargy and dives from the high board into the arrogant and imperceptive man that is Oedipus before the truth clobbers him.

The violent scene between Oedipus and the furious coopted ‘Tiresias’ is a tour de force in a bravura yet completely disciplined performance from them both.

Tying on long skirts over their clinical whites, Aharon Almog. Michael Koresh, Dov Reiser and Ghassan Abbas ably take on the chorus, with the latter two enjoying a delicious comic turn as shepherd and messenger. Under Frank/Creon’s watchful eye they sensitively prod, lead, inveigle Oedipus/the patient. These are strong performances as is that of Frank who switches seamlessly between Creon and mentor, never losing sight of either. The only one who seems a bit unsure is Yevgenia Dodina who plays Jocasta. We can only surmise why. Is it that she is also her patient’s personal therapist? Does she feel a more than professional interest so that playing Jocasta gives rein to forbidden feelings? Dodina’s deliberate ambivalence reaches out to us.

This Oedipus works for me. Go see for yourselves.

*  *  *  *
Romeo and Juliet
By William Shakespeare
Translated by Eli Bijaoui
Directed by Irad Rubinstain
Bersheva Theater, Be'er Sheva

The heart breaks. Of course it does. This is Romeo & Juliet, the most tender, lyrical, wrenching perception of young love that anybody ever wrote. Set it anywhere, anytime and its beautiful simplicities will transcend whatever shape it takes. So it is with this R&J and what director Irad Rubinstain calls a “post-apocalyptic” vision when all that remains of the world we know is the unpredictable predictability of human nature.

Its most moving moment is when the bereft Old Capulet, played by the never-more-superb Amir Kriaf, kneels wordlessly to comfort the bereft Lady Montague (Adva Edni) beside the bodies of their children. Words have no place in this merciless world. The irony of their resting place is wordless too. They lie in the center of a kind of mandala, symbol for a sacred space. As the light on this sacrilege slowly fades to black we have to think on the heavy price we pay for baseless hatred.

Heaven knows we have enough of it here.

The production is 2 hours long, and we’re not used to that any more. Too bad! And this one works on all levels.

Strangely, as with Gesher’s Othello [earlier this year] we have a set of catwalks and steps, except that in Svetlana Breger’s version they’re curved, and there’s two of them, both broken and rusty. Maor Zabar’s seemingly makeshift costumes are rusty and patched too. There’s lots of tattoos because it’s not so much families we have here as tribes.

The masks at the Capulets’ ball, and if tribes then the accompanying ritual, are gasmasks, and remember the plastic we covered our windows with in the Gulf War? That’s also there. Poor Friar Laurence, played with a loving desperation by Muli Shulman, wears a tatty orange-pinky robe over his grubby tee.

More acting honors go to Avigail Harari’s high-octane Juliet, a sustained, luminous performance, to Tom Hagy’s hyperactive, mercurial Mercutio, to Tom Avni’s gut-stunned Romeo, to Sarit Vino Elad’s garrulous, protective, old-servant-taking-liberties Nurse, and indeed to the entire and splendid cast.

Albert Einstein’s famous comment that we’ll fight WWIII with sticks and stones resonated strongly with Irad Rubinstain. Maybe words will desert us too. Is this provocative production a warning?

[Helens other contributions to ROT include Dispatches 1, 2, and 3 on 23 January 2013, 6 August 2013, and 20 November 2013.  ROTters might also enjoy looking back at “Help! It's August: Kid-Friendly Summer Festivals in Israel,” 12 September 2010; “Acre (Acco) Festival, Israel,” 9 November 2012; and “Berlin,” 22 July 2013.]

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