[Helen Kaye is back again with a pair of reviews from Israeli theaters last month. Both plays, Jeff Baron’s Visting Mr. Green and Dario Fo’s The Accidental Death of an Anarchist, are translations in Hebrew of plays that have been around for some years and have been staged around the world (including New York City). Both plays have been produced in Israel previously as well, but Helen, whose last contribution to Rick On Theater was “Dispatches from Israel 13” on 27 February, has found both these revivals worthy of praise and great enthusiasm.].
Visiting Mr. Green
By Jeff Baron
Translated by Ido Riklin
Directed by Natan Datner
Bet Lessin, Tel Aviv; 7 March 18
On the face of it, nothing could be more straightforward. A hard-nosed judge sentences young executive Ross Gardiner (Ido Rosenberg) to six months of weekly visits to the very elderly, very cantankerous Mr. Green (Gadi Yagil), the penance for nearly running him down. What starts with overt and near mutual hostility mutates over time into intimate friendship that tentatively begins when the old man discovers that Ross, like himself, is Jewish. It survives Ross’ disclosure that he is gay and Mr. Green’s revelation that he has a daughter, disowned and mourned as dead because she married a gentile.
The delight of this jewel of a performance of this jewel of a play was the appearance of a genuine cockroach that appeared in Mr. Green’s seedy flat designed as inside/outside – the fire-escapes – by Alessandra Nardi, and exited, scuttling, stage right to the guffaws of the audience.
And when you think of it, the cockroach is a perfect metaphor for this not-so-straightforward-after-all, play. Cockroaches are shy creatures, preferring concealment, like Ross and Mr. Green.
The latter is at first shattered and repulsed when Ross discloses he is gay, just as Ross is appalled at Mr. Green’s emotional intransigence when he learns of it.
Visiting Mr. Green is a very funny comedy, but it is also an uncompromising and penetrating examination of prejudice and irrational hatreds, and if that doesn’t strike a chord, then we are beyond redemption.
The play is so good that it seemed sometimes that we were eavesdropping on the neighbors, and indeed, it has worked in some 45 countries and been translated into 23 languages, Mr. Riklin’s seamless effort being one.
The acting: Mr. Yagil is beyond superb. An experienced comedian, he has schticks, but here he shapes, pares, and edits them so that the few he employs in his metamorphosis into the character become intrinsic to it. Mr. Rosenberg, not to be outdone, makes sure that Ross stays clear of excess, which leaves plenty of space for his compassion and innate decency.
Finally, the two men genuinely work together, each complementing the other. If you don’t walk out of the theater on cloud nine, you must be an Alien.
[I had never heard of Visting Mr. Green, or couldn’t remember having heard of it, so I checked its stateside production history. I was shocked to see that the play ran for a year in New York City in 1997-98 with El Wallach as Green, and that it played at the Union Square Theatre, which is right across the square from where I live. How could I have missed it? Before the New York début, the play also ran for a year at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, also with Wallach in the title part.]
* * * *
Accidental Death of an Anarchist
By Dario Fo
Translated by Nissim Aloni
Adapted and directed by Michael Gurevitch
Khan Theater, Jerusalem; 21 March 2018
When you have a certified nutcase (Erez Shafrir) making twice-ground mincemeat of four cops (Itai Szor, Yoav Hyman, Nir Ron and Yossi Eini) with most certainly guilty consciences then you have a certifiable probability of farce which Mr. Gurevitch’s production of Death of an Anarchist provides in most generous measure.
More simply, if you’re not rolling around laughing ¾ of the time from the quartet’s verbal, facial and physical antics, you need to get a refund on your sense of humor – disclosure: the other ¼ is for thinking.
Because you have to think that if it takes a maniac to uncover the cover-up of a probable murder by the police (because nobody else is), then the corruption goes further and gets broader, which is the point the play makes, adding a few (unsubtle) and comical comments about certain Persons (here) and a President (elsewhwere).
In 1969, in the wake of a series of thought-to-be anarchist bombings in Milan, known anarchist railway worker Giuseppe Pinelli was arrested, questioned and either jumped or, as was more commonly thought, was pushed out of a fourth floor window at the Milan Central Police Station.
Fo wrote the farce the following year; the authorities fumed; the public flocked, and has flocked ever since.
For this one, Svetlana Brega did the set – a shabby office, oh, and it would be patently unfair of me to reveal how the set is changed from the 1st to the 4th floor – and the costumes which are completely, if not nattily, attuned to the various characters. Daniel Salomon did the music and Roni Cohen the lights.
Now then. Mr. Gourevitch directs comedy with the deftest, lightest and most assured touches and the actors in Anarchist are accomplished comedians all.
It’s Mr. Shafrir’s show all the way from his first entrance as a bag-laden Maniac with papers to his exit as a clown-like character in a red fright wig and piratical overcoat. He conducts most of his “investigation” in the character of a judge who goes from ingratiating to terrifying, from jovial to hectoring in the blink of an eye with tone, stance, and gesture to match. It’s bravura and hilarious.
As a young cop and (partial) straightman, young Itai Szor is lovably clueless and admirably loyal. Yoav Hyman, equipped with excess weight, bad hair and awful clothes is the ultimate in bumbling, incompetent, ineffectual cop-hood in the person of Inspector Bertozzo. Nir Ron, who has been blessed with the ability to shift his face and body into innumerable subtleties, uses them to the full as the equally bumbling etc. Inspector Pissani. Like a demented train, Yossi Eini charges electrically about with gruesome purpose as the wannabe ferocious Superintendant. Carmit Mesilati-Kaplan cameos most brightly as journalist Feletti.
Loverly. Go see it.
[Dario Fo (1926-2016), for those who have forgotten, was the Nobel Prize laureate in literature in 1997. The Accidental Death of an Anarchist was presented with a cast that included Jonathan Pryce and Patti LuPone on Broadway in New York City in 1984 but only ran for 20 regular performances and 15 previews. The production originated at Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage.]