Theater review: The Good Soldier Svejk

Naor is a fine and experienced director, so how could he go so awry on a piece that has its tongue so firmly in cheek?

By HELEN KAYE
October 26, 2013 21:20
1 minute read.
AVI KUSHNIR

AVI KUSHNIR. (photo credit: Alon Gerard)

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, monotonic 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.

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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 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 all the snap and crackle of mushy rice crispies.


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