Theater Review: HOMEWARD

There’s a problem with the play, and it’s that never, at any time, does it feel genuine.

August 18, 2019 21:38
3 minute read.
Theater Review: HOMEWARD

Shmuel Vilojzny and Netta Gurti in 'Homeward.' . (photo credit: REDY RUBINSHTAIN)

Written and directed by Aya Kaplan
Cameri Theater, Tel Aviv
August 13

We are told that “there is no correlation between the characters and events... in real life” in this soggy soap opera, whose “charismatic guru,” Avihu Tishbi (Shmuel Vilojzny), bears a remarkable physical resemblance to real-life cult “guru” Goel Ratzon, currently serving 30 years for assorted cult-related felonies. Additionally, its heroine’s story is based on that of Yehudit Herman, a Ratzon cultist for 10 years, who bore him five children, and now lectures on her “lost years” throughout the country.

The story: Ora (Netta Garti), as she initially demands to be called, also has five children by Tishbi, but in her case, 16 years have gone by since she, then called Noa, fled her kibbutz home and joined the cult. Now, following Tishbi’s arrest, she must come to terms with her past and with real life, unless she wants to join Tishbi in jail – those are the alternatives that Inspector Turgeman (Ruth Asarsai) bluntly offers her. However, it’s not until her eldest daughter, Shuvi (Carmel Bin), blurts out that Tishbi has fed her the same line of guff – i.e., that she is spiritually enlightened and he intends to make her his “wife” – that the scales finally fall from Ora’s eyes. She briskly betrays Tishbi, and as Noa once again, she and the children make a new beginning (or so it seems) at Rosh Hashanah.

Cue in the hosannas, heavenly choirs and cooing doves.

However, there’s a problem with the play, and it’s that never, at any time, does it feel genuine; that here are real people showing us what makes them tick. Never, at any time, does it demonstrate the real danger that a cult represents.

A cult has been broadly defined as a system of beliefs and rituals. There are many different types of cults, but all have one ingredient in common – a blind, uncritical, unconditional devotion to the leader, whose supremacy in all matters, sacred or profane, is absolute. We have only to think of Jim Jones and the mass murder/suicide at Jonestown, Guyana, in 1979 to understand how lethal a cult can be.

As Tishbi, all Vilojzny can manage is a kind of avuncular charm, a kind of cuddly warmth that doesn’t even approach the charisma his character must radiate. Within this stricture, Garti does her best. Her Ora/Noa is driven, blinkered, but the emotions are manipulated and do not seem real even to the character she plays, not even when the scales fall from her eyes. The same is true of the other characters, who also do the best with what they have, like Avi Termin as Noa’s stubborn, vengeful father, Odeya Koren as her always-willing-to-accommodate mother, and Asarsai as Turgeman.

The play’s most disposable role, and Assaf Solomon makes a sturdy job of it, is that of Michael, Noa’s pre-Tishbi boyfriend, who’s carried a torch for her all these years. The most difficult role is that of Gili, Noa’s younger sister, whom Maya Landesmann invests with a kind of desperation, as though she doesn’t know what her character’s purpose is in this play, and is playing it by ear. She is not helped by the ghastly costumes Yehudit Aharon designed for her, though those the other characters wear are apt.
Svetlana Breger’s set veers shockingly between a Kafka-inspired police station and the patently picture-postcard, gemütlichkeit environs of the parents’ home in the kibbutz.

Bottom line? Homeward is cult lite. On that level, it works fine.

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