(photo credit: )
By Pam Jems
Directed by Eli Bijaoui
Friday afternoon's matinee premiere of the Beersheba Theater's production of Piaf began inauspiciously, with a half-hour of speeches to inaugurate the opening of its 2009-2010 subscription season. It ended an hour and a half later with a standing ovation and not a dry eye in the house, making a stunning impression. Piaf is a presentation that pulls you along and tugs at the heartstrings - a story that is both cold and hot, acidy and warm. It speaks to deep, personal recesses of feeling. Throughout the darkened hall, many in the audience could be heard choking down tears.
Yonit Tobi held the stage throughout, giving a moving resonance to this engrossing portrayal of the tragic life of France's national popular songstress Edith Piaf (1915-1963). We experience Piaf's career from street urchin, through successes and failures, loves and losses, to her final demise as an alcoholic and drug addict - all as told through the songs she sang. Interspersed are spoken dialogues of all kinds: between Piaf and her managers, musical colleagues, friends, admirers, and lovers. Like a little dove, Tobi brings a fragile magnetism to the part, singing Piaf's hymns to love with total concentration in a heavily French-accented Hebrew that recalls the gravelly vocalism of her model.
Outside of Tobi, there are no stars. Her friends and the male sextet that accompany her are neither singers nor dancers, but they too put the magic into this show - giving dimension and texture to the sorrow that engrosses her life. The repartee is intriguing, put together to perfection. The physical movements of the cast are apt, interesting, and perfectly executed. Singing is enough in tune to carry us along. Casting, acting, disposition on stage - with many varied groupings and gestures - is tastefully balanced. Every filament in this drama has been artistically thought out, and communicates a deeply moving effect. All in all it is the brilliant achievement of director Eli Bijaoui, who deserves a big bravo.
The concept is something of a cross between the static minimalistic stage design of Japanese Noh drama and the dynamic values of Western theater - stage interest focusing on costumes, props and lighting. Half a dozen ropes stretching from ceiling to floor at backstage, and three huge partitions reaching in from the wings, frame this bare black and brown set (designed by Eran Atzmon). Costumes (designed by Irina Sher) are simple suits, scarves, hats, and plain dresses from the Second World War period. Props are a few movable pieces of furniture. Lighting (designed by Adi Shimony) is unobtrusive. A translucent black scrim on stage behind it all conceals 4 musicians: accordion, bass, drums and piano (played by arranger-conductor Yuval Shapira with tasteful stylistic adroitness). Repertory Theater at its finest.