Gong Girl

By Nava Semel, Music by Ben Artzi, Directed by Yael Tilman, Israel Festival, June 7.

Great Wall of China_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Great Wall of China_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
When a bright seven and a half year old turns thumbs down on a musical that’s billed as one for all the family, then that musical does not communicate. And indeed Nava Semel’s Gong Girl, based on a Chinese legend, seems not to know what it’s trying to tell us. Is it that we must be open to the different? Is that the soul is incomplete without music? Is it that complete perfection is unattainable? Is it that what binds a family is love and giving? All of these and more are in Gong Girl, but emerge muddled, entangled by a story that combines the ancient and the contemporary.
On a plane to Beijing, the new Israeli Ambassador to China attempts to introduce his sulky and ill-mannered teenage daughter to the ancient culture and people of China. As incentive, he gives her a small gong, and throughout the long flight tells her the legend attached to it.
A famous gong-maker is commanded to produce a gong made of copper, silver and gold that will produce the perfect sound which will restore his vanished soul to the unhappy Emperor. In vain the gong-maker protests that these metals are incompatible, and it's not until his loyal daughter jumps into the molten mixture that he is able to create the desired sound.
The horrified contemporary daughter, who has been drawn more and more into the tale and so to her father, will not accept this blood sacrifice, and changes the end, insisting that what matters is the music each individual makes.
Gili Cochavi's functional set combines an airplane interior with Chinese arches, but it seems that she has not done enough research. The Imperial couple (aka passengers on the plane), are dressed in blue. The gong-maker and his daughter (also passengers), are in yellow. In imperial China, yellow was the imperial color and only the emperor was allowed to wear it. The flight attendants, in smart uniforms, double as narrators.
Ben Artzi's music is rich and melodious.
The actors sing and play attractively. Unfortunately there was no program, so there's no way of knowing who's who, a kind of metaphor for the piece overall.