If This Is a Man

Mor and Nir Frank's theater adaptation of Primo Levi's book reaps the central events into a tight narrative that works.

By HELEN KAYE
October 15, 2011 23:57
1 minute read.
'If this is a man'

'If this is a man' 311. (photo credit: Yael Ilan)

 
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In the single page that is the program, director Mor Frank asks “How to present the unpresentable? How tell that which is impossible to hear? How embody and give life to that which is bereft of both?” The sensible answer is that, of course, you can’t. You really can’t because those of us who weren’t “there,” the by now thousands of books, documentaries and so forth notwithstanding, cannot, absolutely cannot apprehend that “there.”

So just to try as Mor and actor Nir Ron have done with If This Is a Man deserves praise for the courage it took and takes.

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The book is chemist/author Primo Levi’s first person account of the 10 months from 1944-45 he spent at Auschwitz. It was first published in Italy in 1958.

The adaptation reaps the central (both general and specific) events of the book into a tight narrative that works. Nir Ron is a thoughtful and intelligent actor. He is at his best and most truthful when he sits in the audience as himself, explaining the doors he opens as an actor, how going through enriches and challenges him. He achieves also moments of utter truth as Primo Levi, as for instance at the reduction of a man to a number. He just stands there and tells us, doesn’t theatricalize, just tells us and the pain, the horror, the bereftness come through loud and clear.

Unfortunately, most of the time director Frank illustrates the narrative so that what results is posturing. The book tells Levi’s story without rancor and with an innate dignity at its core, even when most violated.

That core is what should enable Nir to tell Levi’s story, and that core is what’s missing here.

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