(photo credit: RADI RUBINSTEIN)
A Mittelpunkt play is always an event, but this is the first Mittelpunkt play I’ve seen that doesn’t seem to be sure of itself, trying to paper over the cracks with a lot of posturing and shouting.
Like some of his other plays (Track to Damascus , Then, Prague ), Others is set in the Palestine of the British Mandate, here a few months short of its end, a period that Mittelpunkt has described as “a fertile cushion for ‘big’ dramas” because of the various and competing forces in Jewish society at the time.
We are in Ida’s (Irit Kaplan) shabby, beachside boarding house – a metaphor for transience – where jobless jazz musician Amiram (Avishai Meridor) is playing the piano prior to an audition that may or may not provide him with employment. Another resident is Thea (Kineret Limoni) who very often entertains British soldiers in her room. Then there’s the silent Mr. Mayer (Itzhak Heskia), a survivor, dumped by the Jewish Agency, whom a relative is supposed to, but never does, pick up.
Then one morning Dassi (Netta Garti) arrives. Her very presence is heinous. She is an outcast, disowned by her family, her name on a Jewish blacklist of “traitors.” Her crime? She fell in love with, and married, a British soldier, bore his child, and went to live in the UK. She is here, ostensibly, for her sister Gila’s (Joy Rieger) wedding, but that plan goes awry due to her father, Marshak (Dudu Niv), and despite her sympathetic Aunt Riva (Esti Kosovitsky). From there it’s basically downhill until the (more or less) deus ex machina ending.
I suspect that what Mittlepunkt is trying to say with his cast of solitary and diverse characters is that we are all Others to somebody, especially here, especially then, and even more especially now when, if we cannot see and respect the Other – whoever he or she may be – destruction may be the consequence.
Or, as Ida says, “You see how the best ideas lead to the worst deeds? There’s no ideal in the world that justifies murdering a 17-year-old.”
The characters themselves are mostly believable. It’s some of what they do and how they act that seems contrived, even forced sometimes, as in the case of Marshak, presumably feeling guilty over his lucrative World War II dealings with the British, whom Niv uncomfortably plays as a bullying, raving male harridan. Rieger’s Riva, Dassi’s only link to Eretz Israel, radiates sympathy, but that seems to be her sole function, while the purpose of Amiram, whom Meridor plays with a nice mix of anxiety and nonchalance, indicates that he’s carrying a large torch for Dassi, and that’s it. The Gila character also serves, more or less, only as a conduit, but Rieger does the best she can with her.
As Dassi, the charming Garti anticipates too much, her body and voice often signaling what’s going to happen before it does, which is unfortunate. We get to know only that she considers herself a victim, that she lies a lot, that she’s manipulative, which is why what she finally does cannot ring true.
Others truly springs fully to life first in Limoni’s unabashed, yet still innocent (despite her profession) Thea, then in Heskia’s quivering, slowly-getting-less-terrified, silent-but-speaking-volumes Mayer, and finally and most wonderfully in Kaplan’s energetic, no-nonsense, utterly decent Ida, whose for-the-record barkings actually fool nobody. It’s she who gives The Others heft.
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