By Nava Semel, Music by Ben Artzi, Directed by Yael Tilman, Israel Festival, June 7.
Great Wall of China Photo: Reuters
When a bright seven and a half year old turns thumbs down on a musical that’s
billed as one for all the family, then that musical does not communicate. And
indeed Nava Semel’s Gong Girl, based on a Chinese legend, seems not to know what
it’s trying to tell us. Is it that we must be open to the different? Is that the
soul is incomplete without music? Is it that complete perfection is
unattainable? Is it that what binds a family is love and giving? All of these
and more are in Gong Girl, but emerge muddled, entangled by a story that
combines the ancient and the contemporary.
On a plane to Beijing, the new
Israeli Ambassador to China attempts to introduce his sulky and ill-mannered
teenage daughter to the ancient culture and people of China. As incentive, he
gives her a small gong, and throughout the long flight tells her the legend
attached to it.
A famous gong-maker is commanded to produce a gong made
of copper, silver and gold that will produce the perfect sound which will
restore his vanished soul to the unhappy Emperor. In vain the gong-maker
protests that these metals are incompatible, and it's not until his loyal
daughter jumps into the molten mixture that he is able to create the desired
The horrified contemporary daughter, who has been drawn more and
more into the tale and so to her father, will not accept this blood sacrifice,
and changes the end, insisting that what matters is the music each individual
Gili Cochavi's functional set combines an airplane interior with
Chinese arches, but it seems that she has not done enough research. The Imperial
couple (aka passengers on the plane), are dressed in blue. The gong-maker and
his daughter (also passengers), are in yellow. In imperial China, yellow was the
imperial color and only the emperor was allowed to wear it. The flight
attendants, in smart uniforms, double as narrators.
Ben Artzi's music is
rich and melodious.
The actors sing and play attractively. Unfortunately
there was no program, so there's no way of knowing who's who, a kind of metaphor
for the piece overall.