Theater Review: Ghetto

Grandiosity ill becomes 'Ghetto' because Yehoshua Sobol’s drama has grandeur enough.

By Yehoshua Sobol
Directed by Omri Nitzan
Cameri Theater
March 15
Grandiosity ill becomes Ghetto because Yehoshua Sobol’s drama has grandeur enough, and Omri Nitzan’s production is grandiose, rescued from designed-to-impress spectacle only by its impassioned actors.
A play within a play, Ghetto tells the story of the Vilnius ghetto through the theater that operated there from 1942 to 1943. Through the multi-faceted response of its characters, Ghetto reveals not only the existential terror and cruelty of the time, but also the tenacity of hope and the creative spirit.
This is not a somber play, despite the ever-present threat of extermination. It’s filled with music, dance, song, even laughter, all amid Roni Toren’s symbolic steel-cage set where a mountain of clothes in fat bundles is piled higgledy-piggledy across from another mountain of furniture, where the ghetto library cowes sanity into a corner, where the ghetto’s omnipresent evil genius and ruler, SS Oberleutnant Bruno Kittel (Itay Tiran) can pop out, up or down from anywhere.
Rather than feral menace, Tiran’s Kittel projects a petulant sadismthat provides an effective counterpoint to Natan Datner’s despairing,yet stoic anguish as Jacob Gens, the ghetto’s Jewish head, who mustgive the orders to kill Jews, whose concern is to save as many as hecan. It’s a searing performance.
The cramped library shelters Eli Gorenstein in a powerful evocation ofthe equally cramped ideologue Herman Kruk, who chooses principles overpeople. Rami Baruch shines as Weiskkopf, the tailor-tycoon who forgetswhere he is. Anya Bukstein makes a poignant Haya, Gadi Yagil’s dogged,quietly brave Srulik is memorable, and as his puppet, Hershele, HaniFurstenburg puts Pinocchio in the shade.
Altogether, this Ghetto is a well-tuned ensemble piece, and worthseeing because it has everything to say for our time as well about theastonishing ease of man’s inhumanity to man.