By Bob Shuman
Leon Hadar has written, in the Spectator, that, generally, Israelis like Trump more than American Jews do. They also prefer him to Obama, with young Israeli voters favoring the political right, “raising the prospects for growing tension between Israel and America’s liberal elite and its large Jewish component.” Hadar explains further, “in contrast to the so, so smart and metrosexual Obama, the tough and unpolished Trump talks doogri—straight in-your-face,” and he is a “not-politically-correct kind-of-guy. What is there not to love about him?” Trump, many will recall, had tweeted that he had heard Hamilton was “overrated,” in 2016, after Mike Pence visited and had been lectured, at a curtain call, by Brandon Victor Dixon–who played Aaron Burr–as a representative of the cast. The president–apparently not uninterested in theater; he was a producer of the doomed comedy Paris Is Out! featuring Yiddish theatre star, Molly Picon, in 1970–might like In the Tunnel, from Tel-Aviv’s Gesher Theatre, however, not only because of its Jewish bent. The show, a political satire from the Cherry Orchard Festival, written by Roy Chen and inspired by Danis Tanovic‘s film No Man’s Land—and which played at the Gerald W. Lynch Theatre at John Jay College on October 6 and 7–as part of its North American tour, unlike so many politically correct evenings of American Theatre, also talks doogri.
Performed in Hebrew with English and Russian subtitles, the evening becomes compelling because it not only recognizes how much bull there is in society—from entertainment to advertising and politics, for example–but also because it acknowledges that the fakery has to be there. Israelis have to be acquiescent to the nonsense of being able to get along because it’s part of the insulation that helps prevent the country from an escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian War; the deception is futile, though, because the positions can’t be negotiated.
The audience, during In the Tunnel, is led into a superficial commercial setting, as all-encompassing and chilly as a shopping spree at Zabar’s. After a mine explosion, two Israeli soldiers and a Palestinian are buried underneath building debris, forced to cooperate as they wait in the hope of rescue. The setting is a metaphor for the depth of the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians, continually becoming more and more dangerous. The young Israeli photographer, seated next to me, laughed in acknowledgment of the humor, mostly male, often puerile, and sometimes out of the gallows (“the one who dies always loses, no matter what side he’s on”). There can be an unpretentiousness that verges on the rude in the story, but In the Tunnel is straight and authentic; the acting robust and specific. At the center of the drama are Miki Leon (an injured Israeli soldier), Ido Moseri (the son of a peace activist), and Firas Nassar (a Palestinian fighter), who work well with and off each other; Nassar, especially demonstrates skills as a comic and mime. The direction is by Irad Rubinstein.
Craig Lucas wants his characters to “bone up” on the Old Testament’s Job in I Was Most Alive with You, which closed at Playwrights Horizons on October 14. Only to them does the story seem obscure, despite passages included in religious study, college world literature syllabi, and secular adaptations, allowing all kinds of Christians, as well as Jews, and beyond, to have familiarity with the devastating losses of an “upright” man. (Actually cascading images and examples are emphasized more in the book, rather than complex, character-driven plot development.) For Broadway, Neil Simon wrote a play, God’s Favorite, based on Job, in 1974. Like Lucas, he would not take steps to a final catastrophe, which is where the dramatic line heads (although, in the Bible, the Lord “blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning”). Here, the author, decides on a “have it your way” finish, which may be his solution for pleasing the audience.
I Was Most Alive with You doesn’t seem authentic, like In the Tunnel, because, except for many Christians, it’s a big tent of a show and wants to be adulated so much: by Jews and women; minorities and gays; deaf people and those in recovery, for example. It can both remind of Rose Marie and Morey Amsterdam on the old Dick Van Dyke Show, as well as Ingmar Bergman’s repeated monologue in Persona. The Job role (played by Michael Gaston) is strangely unsatisfactory, in writing and execution–not the least of which because he doesn’t try to communicate with God–although the fine deaf actor, Russell Harvard, as his son, is able to lift the rendering toward tragic space; likewise Marianna Bassham, as his mother, has the power to concentrate an audience and Lisa Emery is likable as the family friend and writing partner. If only Lucas had realized that less could be more.
He can find it in himself to forgive drinkers and drug-takers, batterers and those promiscuous, but for the white male Christian demographic, he writes a flash tirade, spoken by Lois Smith, as family matriarch and producer: “If someone got sick in our church, we shunned them. Fired from a job, look away. I don’t think my Dad would have crossed the street if you were on fire, he’d have hurried along.” Such a horrible, if not offensive, view of Christians.
After the play was over, this reviewer, who so memorably recalls Reckless, from the ‘80s at Circle Rep, felt drawn to dig out Joni Mitchell’s idiosyncratic, secular take on Job: “The Sire of Sorrow,” which helped her album Turbulent Indigo win a Grammy in 1994. The same music was later recorded for her Travelogue (2002). Whether politically correct or not, doogri or not—she gets it right.
(c) 20018 by Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.
I Was Most Alive with You
With Beth Applebaum, Marianna Bassham, Tad Cooley, Lisa Emery, Kalen Feeney, Harold Foxx, Michael Gaston, Seth Gore, Russell Harvard, Amelia Hensley, Anthony Natale, Lois Smith, Alexandria Wailes, Gameela Wright
Directed by Tyne Rafaeli
In the Tunnel
Written by: Roy Chen inspired by Danis Tanovic’s film No Man’s Land; Directed by: Irad Rubinstein; Set design: Michael Kramenko; Costumes: Oren Dar; Music: Roi Yarkoni; Lighting: Avi-Yona Bueno (Bambi); Sound: Michael Vaysburd; Movement: Amit Zamir; Assistant director (stage speech): Yonny Lucas; Assistant director: Yanna Adamovski; Executive Producer: Roman Kvetner
Cast – Tzlil: Ido Moseri | Iftach: Miki Leon | Hisam: Firras Nasser | Mansur/Josef, stage manager VO2/The Knesset MP: Assaf Pariente| Karnit, narrator of “Sunflowers” program: Karin Saruya | editor of the program VO/Thomas Handfiller, representative of the UN: Ori Yaniv | High-ranking politician: Alexander Senderovich | Nutrition expert in “Sunflowers” | program/Ricado Cabarel, sapper from UN: Paulo E. Moura | Dickla, border Guard official on a checkpoint/Hadassa/Mother of Tzlil/Daughter of Iftach : Noa Ar-Zion.
Photos (top to bottom): Representative of the UN (Ori Yaniv), Israeli soldier Iftach (Miki Leon) and Hisam, Palestinian Hamas member (Firras Nasser); the cast of I Was Most Alive with You (Joan Marcus)