13 July 2016

Dispatches from Israel 7

by Helen Kaye

[Last spring, my friend and frequent ROT-contributor Helen Kaye sent me a couple of her Jerusalem Post reviews, but I was so loaded on the blog at the time that I couldn’t shoehorn them in for posting until now.  As late as this is, I’m running Helen’s “Dispatches from Israel 7,” the latest in her occasional series of drama notices from Tel Aviv, where she lives, Jerusalem, and frequently elsewhere around the country.  Below are presented Helen’s assessment of a Hebrew translation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew and a British Play, Daytona by Oliver Cotton, both produced in Tel Aviv by Bet Lessin.]

The Taming of the Shrew
By William Shakespeare
Translated by Dori Parnes
Directed by Udi Ben Moshe
Bet Lessin, Tel Aviv; 10 January 2016

Scrumptious, irreverent, farce with an edge! This is a 21st century Shrew to revel in from A – Z and back again.

It starts with a nifty monologue by Yossi Segal on how it’s the guys’ turn in these our “anything you can do I can do better,” days and never lets up for 100 captivating, rollicking minutes.

Dori Parnes has worked his usual sleight of hand with Shakespeare’s text. His wordplays, puns and other verbal pranks preserve Shakespeare’s spirit via up-to-the-minute Hebrew that has the audience in stitches.

Then there’s Udi Ben Moshe’s rib-splitting visual pranks as well as his thoroughly smart take on what this play’s about (won’t be a spoiler – sorry!) that carries through to Lily Ben Nahshon’s enclosing set of doors and revolving panels, Orna Smorgansky’s apt-to-all-times costuming, Adi Cohen’s clever music and Keren Granek’s no-nonsense lighting.

We all know the story. Rich merchant Baptista (Ilan Dar) has two daughters; blond Bianca (Agam Rodberg), a sweetie (?), and redhead Katarina (Maya Dagan), the shrew. Until Kate marries (a remote possibility), Bianca cannot, and who in H… would marry Kate? Enter Petruchio (Yuval Segal) and we’re off!

Shrew is all about Kate and Petruchio, so you’d better make sure you have good ones. Dagan and Segal have us rooting for them from the getgo.

Dagan’s Kate is bruised and bruising, violent and vulnerable, smart and smarting. When we meet her she’s in riding pants and a shirt, mean as an adder, and unloved to boot. We watch, enthralled, as she succumbs oh-so-gradually to being loved and to the elation of partnership.

Yuval Segal’s Petruchio is a riot from his s*#t-kicking grin to his beef-cake swagger compounded by Israeli macho. He transforms too, from gold-digger (“I’ve come to wive it wealthily in Padua)” to joyous appreciation of endless possibilities, getting there with more changes than a chameleon.

Not that the other actors are standing about. We have Vitali Friedland’s yummy, slippery Grumio, Yaniv Biton’s ebulliently posturing Tranio, Ilan Dar’s gorgeously clueless Baptista, Agam Rodberg’s fleety flirty Bianca, Mordy Gershon’s marvelously inept Hortensio among the splendid rest, not forgetting the delicious cameos by Yossi Segal and Albert Cohen.

This is a Shrew with brio in shovelsful, but you know what it has most of? Ease and fun!

*  *  *  *
By Oliver Cotton
Translated by Yosef el Dror
Directed by Alon Ophir
Bet Lessin, Tel Aviv; 16 March 2016

They’ve made a life for themselves after That Time. What happened Over There is never talked about. Not ever. This evening in 1986 Elli (Liora Rivlin) and Joe (Rafi Tavor), now in their 70s, are rehearsing to Frank Sinatra’s “Dancing Cheek to Cheek” for tomorrow evening’s Seniors Ballroom Dancing event. They’ve won cups that are squashed on a shelf in the living room of their modest Brooklyn apartment. It’s not the cups, it’s the dancing, you see, and in a bit Elli is off to get her dress for the competition.

Then Billy (Avi Oria) arrives. No luggage, but enough Chinese takeout for a small army. He’s all smiles, talking a mile a minute, apparently oblivious that Joe’s welcome is, shall we say, lukewarm. He’s on the run after putting three deliberate and lethal bullets into one Franz Gruber in the swimming pool at his vacation hotel at Daytona, Florida; SS Franz Gruber, now blameless Chaney, formerly a sadistic killer at Stutthof  concentration camp, and whom Billy recognized because of the birthmark on his neck.

After all, where else would he go?

Now? Now he arrives, 30 years after disappearing without a word, demanding his brother’s help.

Yes, Billy and Joe are brothers. The relationship between them and with Elli, when she returns, is the meat of Cotton’s tight family drama. You have to gulp a bit, here and there, but dramatically, theatrically it works. Orna Smorgonsky’s set and costumes – lots of beige and browns - and Nadav Barnea’s lighting add to that.

Director Ophir has wisely elected to avoid pathos, reflected in the actors’ speaking reticence. We get the sense (as it should be), that there’s so much they’re not saying and this adds real punch to their performance.

Rivlin’s Elli is tightly reined in. Even when she spills her guts – and she does – she doesn’t raise her voice; her voice and body are barely there, she holds with effort onto Self. Oria’s Billy is at once overwhelmed at the enormity of what he’s done yet convinced of its correctness and he lets us see the conflict. Rafi Tavor as Joe is more volatile. Of the three, he’s the one who’s managed to grip at life more securely but Billy’s arrival shakes him to the core and Tavor does a gorgeous job with that.

The gulp or two aside, Daytona has heart.  Its humanity holds us.

[Helen’s previous contributions to ROT include “Dispatches” 1 through 6 on 23 January 2013, 6 August 2013, 20 November 2013, 2 June 2015, 22 August 2015 (which also includes an article Helen wrote on the Israel Festival), and 6 October 2015.  (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.]

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