06 October 2015

Dispatches from Israel 6

by Helen Kaye

[Jerusalem Post reviewer Helen Kaye, a frequent contributor to ROT, sent me a new notice, one for an Israeli adaptation of Cervantes’s Don Quixote by Ro’i Chen, a playwright and translator, called I Don QuixoteHelen’s other contributions to ROT include “Dispatches” 1 through 5 on 23 January 2013, 6 August 2013, 20 November 2013, 2 June 2015, and 22 August 2015 (which also includes an article Helen wrote on the Israel Festival).  (I also posted another of Helen’s JP reviews, Molière’s Tartuffe, on 2 November 2014 as a Comment to “Dispatches 3.”)   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; “Berlin,” 22 July 2013; “A Trip to Poland,” 7 August 2015.]

I Don Quixote
By Ro’i Chen
Directed by Yevgeny Arye
Gesher Theatre, Tel Aviv; 2 & 3 September 2015

Before we start on the ‘why’, let’s begin with the ‘what’. This Quixote dares us, plays us, enmeshes and expels us, assaults and woos us, begs our belief and taunts it, severally and all together.

This Quixote is Theater straight up.

And with actors the stature of Doron Tavori and Sasha Demidov alternating the title role you expect and get excellence, from them and from the rest of the cast. Yevgeny Arye’s is a vast talent that sometimes runs away with him. Not this time.

So what are we seeing?

The big Noga stage, designed by Semyon Fastuch,  is a huge, rusty iron-riveted prison cell that deliberately dwarfs its inmates. These are Prisoner One/Quixote (Tavori/Demidov) and Prisoner Two/Sancho Panza (Alexander Senderovitch). One is a lifer. Two gets out in three years. They’ve been cellmates for five. One has just finished reading aloud, for the umpteenth time, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes to his illiterate bunk-buddy.

It starts there. The stirring adventures of the literary world’s most celebrated duo weave into and impinge upon, the prisoners’ ‘real-time’ lives until Two gets suddenly released. Then the insanity that’s been waiting for One in the wings, pounces, and it all goes downhill from there.

I won’t spoil the fun – and there’s a good bit of that – and spell out the farcical bits of what ultimately becomes tragic.

Tavori’s One/Quixote is more grounded and absolute, menacing and vulnerable at the same time. Demidov is more tenuous, less connected; you almost see the break with reality coming. Both of them have an incomparable partner in Senderovitch’s Two/Sancho. He’s funny, touching, irritating, ingratiating and completely wonderful.

Yuval Yanai as the warder/physician/slavemaster still remains somehow human beneath his mandated, casual cruelty. Natasha Manor’s nurse/wardress/Madam are creative and marvelously individual characters while Karin Seruya neatly cameos as Two’s wife.

Playwright Gilad Evron and director Ofira Henig did what I termed a meaty retake of Quixote in 2008. This one is another look at the great 17th-century classic that rivals the Bible in sales.

So does it all work? Almost, almost, and that brings us to the why.

Once or twice, One/Quixote hums the beginning of the title song from Man of La Mancha: “I am I, Don Quixote, the lord of La Mancha, destroyer of evil am I…” and it’s later reinforced by the Hebrew slaves chorus from Verdi’s Nabucco and Jacques Brel singing “The Impossible Dream” in which one man will strive ‘with his last ounce of courage/To fight the unbeatable foe, to reach the unreachable star,’ so that ‘the world will be better for this’.

There’s a word for that, derived from Quixote. It’s ‘quixotic’, something that’s ambitious, idealistic to the core, and yet completely unrealistic. We’re quixotic if we know that yet try to change things anyway. The ogres and monsters of our day are corruption, needless brutality, indifference, selfishness and the rest, and I think that Chen’s Quixote is trying to address that.  He’s also saying we need each other, that human life is interdependent, that unless we realize that we are lost, as One is lost when Two is released. That’s a huge bite for one play.

We all need our Dulcinea, Quixote’s unattainable love, and Chen’s Quixote closely reaches for her.

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