sobol ghetto 58.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
By Yehoshua Sobol
Directed by Omri Nitzan
Grandiosity ill becomes Ghetto because Yehoshua Sobol’s drama has grandeur enough, and Omri Nitzan’s production is grandiose, rescued from designed-to-impress spectacle only by its impassioned actors.
A play within a play, Ghetto
tells the story of the Vilnius ghetto through the theater that operated there from 1942 to 1943. Through the multi-faceted response of its characters, Ghetto
reveals not only the existential terror and cruelty of the time, but also the tenacity of hope and the creative spirit.
This is not a somber play, despite the ever-present threat of extermination. It’s filled with music, dance, song, even laughter, all amid Roni Toren’s symbolic steel-cage set where a mountain of clothes in fat bundles is piled higgledy-piggledy across from another mountain of furniture, where the ghetto library cowes sanity into a corner, where the ghetto’s omnipresent evil genius and ruler, SS Oberleutnant Bruno Kittel (Itay Tiran) can pop out, up or down from anywhere.
Rather than feral menace, Tiran’s Kittel projects a petulant sadism
that provides an effective counterpoint to Natan Datner’s despairing,
yet stoic anguish as Jacob Gens, the ghetto’s Jewish head, who must
give the orders to kill Jews, whose concern is to save as many as he
can. It’s a searing performance.
The cramped library shelters Eli Gorenstein in a powerful evocation of
the equally cramped ideologue Herman Kruk, who chooses principles over
people. Rami Baruch shines as Weiskkopf, the tailor-tycoon who forgets
where he is. Anya Bukstein makes a poignant Haya, Gadi Yagil’s dogged,
quietly brave Srulik is memorable, and as his puppet, Hershele, Hani
Furstenburg puts Pinocchio in the shade.
Altogether, this Ghetto
is a well-tuned ensemble piece, and worth
seeing because it has everything to say for our time as well about the
astonishing ease of man’s inhumanity to man.