17 June 2017

Dispatches from Israel 11

by Helen Kaye

[Below is Helen Kaye’s newest installment of “Dispatches from Israel,” a small collection of her reviews from the Jerusalem Post.  The first is the review of a Hebrew translation of Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters, written by Hanan Snir, the adapter and director of 2016’s stage version of the novel To the Edge of the Land by David Grossman, Helen’s review of which appeared on ROT on 12 September 2016 in “Dispatches from Israel 8.”  (That play will be part of New York City’s Lincoln Center Festival in July 2017 under the English title of the novel, To the End of the Land, and I will be seeing it there and reporting on it on this blog over the summer.)  The other  JP notices cover a stage adaptation of George Orwell’s famous futuristic novel, 1984 (currently playing on Broadway with an official opening on 22 June), and The Play that Goes Wrong (also now on Broadway).  All these  productions took place in Tel Aviv, but in three different theaters: the Cameri,  the Habima, and  Bet Lessin.  As usual, Helen’s comments are perceptive and I’m delighted to be able to share them with ROTters.]

Three Sisters
Translated, adapted and directed by Hanan Snir
Set/costumes/masks by Polina Adamov
Music direction by Yossi Ben Nun
Cameri Theater, Tel Aviv; 11 April 2017

Hanan Snir and his team have produced a masterpiece.

This Three Sisters looks at Olga (Lea Kenig), Masha (Gila Almagor) and Irina (Evgenia Dodina) 50 years on, still living in a provincial town, still relying for their intellectual and social stimulation on the garrison’s army officers, and still longing, longing to go back to Moscow, their Promised Land.

Chekhov always insisted that his plays were comedies and was furious with Stanislavsky who turned them into brooding tragedies, thereby ensuring generations of often pompous, pretentious productions that would have made Chekhov livid!

But this Three Sisters is as fresh, as lively, and as funny as if he had dropped the manuscript into Mr. Snir’s hands, page by page. And because of that it is also able to be touching to heart-breaking, with all the layers in-between as the well-known tale unfolds, at whose end the three sisters stand watching as the utterly superb marching brass quintet leads off the garrison.

That same quintet starts the show, marching down the aisle as the Prozorov household watches from behind the (none-too-clean) French windows of the definitely gone-to-seed mansion. And music pervades the production from the band’s solos to the folk-songs it accompanies, to the younger soldiers’ very neat dancing to Vershinin’s (Eli Gornstein) elegant cello solo.

As always in a Snir production, the acting leaves you both exalted and wrenched to the core. As always the characters are rounded, speaking as much from their silences as from their words. As always the characters are talking to rather than at each other so that they are spontaneous, immediate.

Lea Kenig gets laughs just by walking onto the stage, never mind the beloved little schticks she employs. Not this time. The laughs come because her Olga is compassionate, wise, ironic, a woman who knows she’s missed the boat to fulfillment as a woman, but isn’t bitter about it in the least.

That bitterness lashes Masha’s soul, leaving room for nothing but heartache and regrets so that when Vershinin, the new brigade commander, walks into her life she’s totally unprepared. Almagor lets love for him remakes her every molecule so even her body changes as her spirit expands. There’s the most glorious episode as the elderly lovers, coming home for tea, giggle helplessly at everything because everything is radiant and oh-so-ridiculously funny. The leave-taking at the end is almost unbearably poignant.

“Take her Olga,” says Vershinin, unable to deal with it. For Gornstein’s Vershinin duty replaces life so he’s utterly unprepared also for the love that penetrates the carapace he lives behind. The warmth he experiences at the Prozorovs draws him like a moth to a flame.

Dodina’s Irina is a woman who refuses to grow up until, quite suddenly, she does, gaining the depth that is hinted at and that will stand her in good stead with or without Count Tusenbach. Igal Sadeh plays the Count almost puppyishly at first, then, as his love for Irina grows he begins to understand a bit more, and to grow up.

And so it goes. Rami Baruch’s pathetic Andrei broadcasts futility; Natasha is a vulgar harridan, a liar and a bully. Maya Maoz, swanning about most of the time in night clothes, plays her so well you want more than ever to hit her; Dvora Keidar imbues aged Anfisa with both fear and feistiness; Shlomo Vishinsky’s Ferapont, an unrepentantly comic creation is precisely that, as is Ezra Dagan’s unrepentantly ignorant drunk Dr. Chebutkin. Let’s not forget Oded Leopold’s arrogant, social-climbing Solyoni nor Dov Reiser’s self-effacing Kulygin, the school-teacher wimp who’s Masha’s husband.

Reiser particularly engages us as Kulygin because he leads us from a kind of contempt for his shameless toadying to a realization that his is a brave and generous spirit. Which is, when all is said and done, what the characters have. Which is what this production has completely.

Like I said, a masterpiece.

*  *  *  *
By George Orwell
Adapted by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan
Hebrew by Eli Bijaoui
Directed by Irad Rubinstein
Habima Theatre, Tel Aviv; 10/5/17

In 1984 George Orwell sounded a tocsin for its time that is tolling again today when totalitarianism seems to be more than a specter raising its ugly head. He wrote it in 1948, basing its world roughly on Stalin’s USSR, the awfulness of which wouldn’t fully be revealed until Khruschev’s disclosures at the 20th party congress in 1956. Recently 1984 has once more been selling like hotcakes, impelled (it would seem), by such as Mr. Trump’s election, the rising tides of populism or Wikileaks. And so also the play, given on its small stage in the intimate space of Bertonov Hall at Habima, itself an irony because intimacy is proscribed in Oceania’s brave new world.

Another irony, vicious this time, is Paulina Adamov’s Rubik’s Cube set, a series of interlocking transparent cubes that serve both as storage for props and /or memories as well as the story’s various venues. It’s that the Rubik Cube has some 43 quintillion possible permutations but only one solution, like the one permissible way of life in The Party’s orbit.  Behind the cube is a globe of various-sized screens from which – amid the rest of Guy Romem’s excellent and unsettling videos - Big Brother’s all-seeing eye glares balefully out.

But there’s an added dimension. We are watching through the eyes of a group of identically clad people from 2084, and they aren’t sure: is this or is this not a fiction?

We know the story. Outwardly, Winston (Alex Krul) and Julia (Oshrat Ingedashet) are enthusiastic, compliant, grey-overalled cogs in The Party’s debased, dehumanized world. Inwardly, perilously, they are rebels. Not only does Winston keep a diary, he and Julia are in love. Cardinal sins both. They snatch greedily at joy knowing beyond all doubt that they will be caught.

Their nemesis and merciless embodiment of the regime is called O’Brian (Gil Frank) who swiftly breaks them utterly. Now they are become perfect citizens. They love Big Brother devotedly.

Krul and Frank have worked together before as Oedipus and Creon in Sophocles’ Oedipus. There it was as patient and healer; here it’s victim and torturer.

Krul’s Winston is at once fearful and reckless, bold and timid, his body language reflecting his moods. There’s a wonderful moment when he takes off his overalls; it’s like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. I do wish he’d pay the same attention to his voice. There are many nuances between conversation and shouting.

As Julia, Ingedashet is out of her depth. She’s very much alright with the physicality of her role but not with the tempestuous inner rioting that impels Julia to rebel.

Uri Hochman’s Tom Parsons is touching as time and again he extols the regime and his daughter, even desperately exalting her betrayal of him while in the dual role of antique shop owner and food server, Shahar Raz is suitably diffident as the former and crawlingly servile as the latter.

Then there’s Gil Frank. His chillingly colorless O’Brian becomes the more frightening the more he seems to efface himself physically. He never raises his voice, speaking sweetly, reasonably, regretfully. He is the perfect avatar of the regime, an Eichmann. Frank grows with every role he undertakes and to this ambitious, hard-edged yet too remote production, he gives its needed depth.

*  *  *  *
The Play that Goes Wrong
By H. Lewis, H. Shields and J. Sayer
Hebrew by G. Koren, M. Rozen and U. Ben Moshe
Directed by Udi Ben Moshe
Bet Lessin Theater, Tel Aviv; 14/5/17

Allow me to present the Drama Group of the Community Center at Ramat Hashikma who, courtesy of Bet Lessin, are presenting “Murder at Hamilton Manor” directed by Omri Ronen (Liron Baranes) who introduces the play and the cast with winning modesty and confides to us that, owing to the indisposition of a cast member, he will play Inspector Parker.

Please enjoy the performance which is set in Hamilton Hall and an upstairs study. And we do, laughter bubbling, rippling, exploding as cues are missed, props go awry, doors stick, lines are forgotten, sound goes silent and lights fail.

But the Show Must Go On, and it hilariously does with the various cast freezing like rabbits caught in the headlights when something particularly awful happens in this play within a play which is actually the play.

There’s nothing more difficult for professionals than playing amateurs and this talented cast sails  through Play’s cumulative disasters with serene aplomb.

Baranes shuttles gracefully between efficient Inspector P and horrified director Omri scarcely believing his eyes. Sharon Huberman plays femme fatale and beauty salon owner Iris Confino alias Flora Peacock at full wiggly blast while Yuval Yanai harrumphs and blusters his highroad through Avishai Borko alias Thomas Peacock. Yanai is also responsible for the “atmospheric” music.

Uri Lazerovitch relishes to the full shameless crowd-pleaser and complete neophyte Matan Ben Baruch, also Phillip, brother to the apologetically restless corpse of murdered Henry Hamilton aka Yaron Bello whom Ofri Biterman gleefully inhabits. Ofir Weill is Danny Gez who’s Perkins the Hamiltons’ beautifully inept butler.

Last but not least we have techies Bacho Abayev (Yaniv Suissa) on lights and sound and Stage Manager Anat Ganon (Naama Amit). As the beautifully gormless Bacho, Suissa about steals every scene he’s in with Amit throwing herself with abandon into shy, yet winsome, not to mention ambitious Anat.

Sasha Lisianky’s rickety set, Orna Smorgonsky’s on-the-nose costuming and Nadav Barnea’s light all contribute to the “catastrophe”, but it’s Ben Moshe’s comic expertise that adds the cherry.

Towards the end the gags started to repeat – the play could easily have lost 15 minutes – and The Play that Goes Wrong has not a single redeeming social value, but does it ever make us laugh! And as they say “laughter is the best medicine.”

[For readers new to ROT, Helen’s past “Dispatches,” are well worth looking back at.  ROTters might also enjoy looking back at her other contributions to this blog: ”Help! It’s August: Kid-Friendly Summer Festivals in Israel,” posted o 12 September 2010; ”Acre (Acco) Festival, Israel,” 9 November 2012; “Berlin,” 22 July 2013; and “A Trip to Poland,” 7 August 2015.  Helen’s currently on a trip to Vienna, Austria, with her daughter, during which  she’ll be keeping a travel journal,  and she’s promised to share it with readers of ROT.]

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