Review: Acre Festival

Best Actress went to Noa Har-Zion for her performance as Shelley in the self-indulgent and forgettable Amsterdam Blog.

October 20, 2014 21:07
2 minute read.

GEORGE ASKANDAR (right) portrays the title role in Stav Palti-Negev’s dramatic play ‘Selim’. (photo credit: YOHAN SEGEV)

Paradise Lost, directed by Lilach Dekel-Avneri, won Best Production at the 2014 Acre Festival, that closed last Tuesday. This is not Milton’s epic poem but a rethinking of Aeschylus’ tragedy Prometheus Bound, which probes the connection between knowledge and power, freedom and responsibility.

Best Actress went to Noa Har-Zion for her performance as Shelley in the self-indulgent and forgettable Amsterdam Blog, a twohour whine about the unfairness of life. George Askandar deservedly won Best Actor for his searing portrayal of the title role in Selim, a play written and directed by Stav Palti-Negev that forces the Israeli/Palestinian non-relationship up close and personal. It’s set at the Erez Checkpoint where Selim, a released prisoner, is trapped in the no-man’s land between Gaza and Israel.

The award for stage language went to the haunting and lyrical movement theater piece I Want to Dance, Kate, that portrayed unrealized and wasted lives.

Altogether Acre 2014 was up close and personal.

Already last year I wrote that, “The overriding themes were those of loss, abandonment and the sort of existential despair that produced Theater of the Absurd after World War II.”

This year the mood passed beyond bleak to apocalyptic, to the idea that we’ve shattered ourselves and Israel beyond repair. Three plays expressed the idea through children, always the most vulnerable.

These were the powerfully acted Shelter 02, written and directed by Eliel Ben- Cna’an, in which four actors play both the battered kids in care and their caretakers. Eerily yet understandably, the relationships between the children (three boys and a girl) often mirrors that of the adults toward them and each other.

The autobiographical and staggeringly inventive Paper Heart Perla traces the fractured childhood of artist Jaqueline Perel, whose paper puppets, all drawn with huge, sad eyes, helped anchor her eventually to reality. The play is set in the ward of a mental hospital whose six beds hide a multitude of props and set pieces. Perel plays her younger self.

The third play with a theme of betrayed childhood is Yael Selor’s Mona Lisa Has a Mustache, ostensibly about a teenager unsure of her gender identity but actually about the absence of love. Hadar Baruch paints a fine portrait of said teen.

Objectification, rather than absence, of love characterizes the modern fable that is The Golden Dragon.

The Golden Dragon of the title is an Asiatic restaurant in the basement of an apartment house. Five actors – with the women playing the men and vice versa – play the apartment’s 17 tenants in the story of yet another soulless unraveling.

Clever use of the 12 or so small crates that comprise the set and very quick costume changes among the actors contribute to overall tension.

The play that most effectively conveys the sense of “apocalypse now” is Noa Korem’s grim and utterly merciless It’s the Home that Divides, mercilessly directed by Efrat Shteinlauf.

The “home” is here a grocery store. Inside its charmed mercantile circle is safety. Everything is for sale, including love. Outside is nothing. A desperate woman inveigles her idiot leech of a son into the store, and utter destruction results. One leaves reeling.

But that’s inside. Outside, on the streets of the Old City of Acre, the festival is its usual noisy, good-tempered self. The crowds come for the colorful street-theater events that range from living statues to trapeze artists and flame jugglers. And this year you could even go back in time to medieval Acre and watch knights jousting. There’s always hope.

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