[My friend Helen in Tel Aviv, who, ROT readers will recall, reviews for the Jerusalem Post, has sent me three recent notices from October. Two are classic plays, Jaroslav Hasek’s The Good Soldier Svejk (sometimes spelled “Schweik,” 1923) and Bertolt Bredht’s Mother Courage (1939), and a recent play that was here in New York City in 2012, One Man, Two Guvnors (which opened in London’s West End in March 2012 and is still running there), an adaptation of another classic play, Carlo Goldoni’s Servant of Two Masters (1743). I’ll let you read her assessments of the Israeli productions of these plays, which were presented in various theaters in Tel Aviv, but I’ll preface Helen’s reviews by noting that when she sent me the copies, she remarked that these were three of “5 dud productions” she’d seen last month. “It's exhausting to see bad theater,” lamented Helen, “and even more exhausting to write the reviews.” (Happily, Helen reports that she did see a “great production of West Side Story, [and] wrote [a] rave review” of it. Maybe she’ll share that with us, too.)]
The Good Soldier Svejk
By Jaroslav Hasek
Adapted by Yosef El-Dror
Directed by Moshe Naor
Habima National Theatre, Tel Aviv
(in co-production with the Haifa Theater, Haifa)
The dogs are great. One is a wee toy poodle named Rexi. Max is a lovable brown mutt. They are a sweet spark in this flabby, clumsy, monotone production that does not pretend to be other than obvious, i.e. an indictment of what the program notes call "national paranoia" and "mad patriotism".
Everybody knows Svejk, or Schweik as he's commonly called. He's the hero of Hasek's great anti-war satire written shortly after the monstrous cataclysm of World War I. Good Soldier lambasts the military, the church, patriotism, stupidity, mindless authoritarianism and above all the ghastly futility of war.
Everybody knows the story too. Schweik (Avi Kushnir) is a petty dog thief, and a "certified imbecile". He tumbles and stumbles from situation to situation, leaving havoc and the despairing Capt. Lukash (Nati Ravitz) in his wake, whether before the court, in jail, in the military or at the front, telling his irrelevant tales, seemingly imperturbable. Is he really daft, or is he having us on? Hmmm?
We know war only too well. We do satire with panache. Naor is a fine and experienced director, so how could he go so awry on a piece that has its tongue so firmly in its cheek.
There are consolations. We'll overlook Eran Atzmon's grubby white curtains – screens would have said cover-up just as well - to praise his giant backdrop of silvered file cabinets from which a great cross detaches itself to lend emphasis to the chaplain's (Uri Hochman) smarmy homily. Ofra Confino's costumes are suitably timeless with a nod to the period. There's a cute, if predictable, visual gag with luggage.
But the 'play's the thing' and this is where Good Soldier plummets. As Schweik, Kushnir mops and mows with a wink, wink, nudge, nudge, his (seemingly endless) text unspooling like unbarbed wire. Ravitz can't do much to counter this, and so succumbs to keeping up as best he can. Hochman does brightly glow as the hypocrite chaplain as does Davit Gavish's Mrs. Müller. But the rest get lost in the shuffle.
And shuffle is what this Good Soldier effects. It has the snap and crackle of mushy rice crispies.
* * * *One Man, Two Guvnors
By Richard Bean
Translated by Shlomo Moscowitz
Directed by Moshe Kepten
Bet Lessin, Tel Aviv
Let's see now! British comedy, the best kind of British comedy and Two Guvnors is such, is all about tone and timing. Absent these, and what remains is clunk, not comedy. This production of Two Guvnors doesn't miss a trick of tasteless, bestowing a whole new meaning on 'vulgar'.
Bean's version, set in
Brighton, is adapted from
Carlo Goldoni's (1707-93) The Servant of Two Masters in which
ever-hungry servant Truffaldino contracts himself to two masters to be assured
of a square meal. His efforts to keep the two ignorant of each other pile
near-disaster on almost-catastrophe until the Happy End.
Goldoni wrote his comedy in commedia style. The largely improvisational commedia
exploded from the Renaissance. Bean sites his comedy in the Swinging Sixties
when the del UK, and music in
particular, exploded from the shabbiness and austerity of the years post World
War II. London
Here the servant is one Francis (Eli Yatzpan). Master #1 is petty gangster Rosco Crabbe (Dikla Hadar), who's actually Rachel dressed up as her brother, whom her lover Stanley Stubbers (Yuval Segal), and Master #2, has killed, so is in Brighton to evade the cops, but Rachel/Rosco has also arrived to collect a debt from Charlie (Shlomo Mimran), whose blond bimbo daughter Pauline (Maya Bachowski), thinking former-fiance Rosco dead, is engaged to wannabe actor Dick Dangle (Shlomi Tapiero). Add an ancient coordinationally challenged waiter Alfi (Erez Weiss) to the mix and the pratfall possibilities go up a notch.
Indeed the rubber-limbed Weiss provides a needed bit of genuine hilarity to the three-week long one hour and 45 minute show. Yatzpan provides the other in the two (over-extended) audience interaction improvisations in the show.
For the rest, nobody, including Yatzpan, seems to be having much fun. The actors don't speak so much as recite their text. It flows from them without much variation in tone or pitch and without much change in pace or rhythm.
The show is redeemed in part by Orna Smorgonsky's period-perfect and dazzling costumes but its music provides the true high spots.
The songs, Daniel Efrat's translations, and the quartet performing them are superb. The quartet is Noam Pinhasov, Arnon Siev, Omri Shani and Yuval Adam. The bouquet please!
[I didn’t see One Man (which was nominated for several Tonys and for which actor James Corden won a best-actor Tony) when it was here, but in recent years, I have seen two productions of Goldoni’s original play, Servant of Two Masters: at Washington, D.C.’s Shakespeare Theatre Company in 2012 and in Italian, a production of the Piccolo Teatro of Milan, at the Lincoln Center Festival in 2005. I posted reports on them both on ROT on 9 (D.C. revival) and 29 July 2012 (LCF presentation). Curious readers might look back at these posts for comparisons with other interpretations and presentations of this popular classic.]
* * * *Mother Courage and Her Children
By Bertolt Brecht
Translated by Anat Gov
Music by Paul Dessau and Yossi Ben Nun
Directed by Udi Ben Moshe
Cameri Theater, Tel Aviv
"Gotta get back to business," mutters Mother Courage (Tikki Dayan) as she pulls the shoes off her dead daughter's feet and tosses them into her wagon. It's a deliberately ghastly image, perfectly defining what the war has wrought, that ghastly becomes the norm. We follow Mother Courage through increasingly war torn
Europe from 1624 – 36 as she and her
canteen wagon follow the armies fighting the Thirty Year War (1618-48),
changing sides from Protestant to Catholic and back when needs must.
The War makes her a living, drops people in an out of her life - like a shady chaplain (Gadi Yagil), an army cook (Rami Baruch) and camp-follower Yvette (Orli Silberschatz). And the War kills her children one by one; sweet Swiss Cheese (Udi Rothschild), brave Eilif (Yiftach Ophir) and mute Kattrin (Gloria Bess).
But the deliberately chosen 30 Year War as such isn't important. It's a vehicle, not narrative. We're meant to watch Courage who's far less brave than she is a survivor. Her quest is business and we're along for the ride, nudged also by Avi Yona Bueno's multi-hued, sensurround klieg lighting.
Brecht and the play say that neither Courage nor we are willing to acknowledge that history is human beings, not fate, that we are responsible for what we do. That's what the play's structure and songs push us toward. We're not meant to identify with the play's characters (though we do, willy-nilly), but to observe, to sit up and take notice, but here it doesn't happen.
Like the canteen wagon, this Mother Courage kind of drags along. It doesn't build. It has no punch, doesn't bite into or shake us despite Dayan in the title role. She's assertive, a whirlwind of passionate energy, grabs the role in her fists and pummels it under her skin. We simultaneously admire and despise her.
As Yvette, Silberschatz sometimes brings with her a willful wistfulness that recalls the child she was once. Rami Baruch's Cook can get gleefully seedy and an aura of hypocrisy properly invests Yagil's Chaplain – though his white robes are questionable for a protestant priest. He looks realer in his ragged pants and shirt.
There are moments of true anguish and pathos in Gloria Bess' sometimes over-the-top Kattrin, while Eilif and Swiss Cheese are mostly well served by Ophir and Rothschild.
But overall the performance never gets there. In-your-face is what's meant, and this Mother Courage isn't.