Theater review: Horses on the Highway

Dysfunctional families are the basic dough of drama from Aeschylus on, but to matter a play needs more than surface in content and execution. Where is the meat of Horses?

Jerusalem Theatre (photo credit: Rebecca Crown Auditorium)
Jerusalem Theatre
(photo credit: Rebecca Crown Auditorium)
Horses on the Highway
By Savyon Liebrecht
Directed by Tzipi Pines
Bet Lessin, October 28
The unsubtle direction of Savyon Liebrecht’s Horses on the Highway is apparently predicated on the idea that we, the audience, won’t get it. Won’t get what? From the very beginning, a surreal enactment of the graveside kaddish, we are made aware that there are secrets that will reveal themselves during the 90 minutes the play takes.
The scene, admirably designed by Eran Atzmon, is a glass-walled, misty tree-backed home in a moshav near the busy Geha Highway.
There, Yoni (Yoram Toledano) and his wife Nina (Dafna Rechter) raise petunias and hurl aloft cryptic hints. Petunias, we are told, are popular, colorful, quick-blooming annuals, which, at the end of their season “dry up and must be uprooted.” Petunias are symbolic.
The cryptic hints are directed mostly at younger brother Yirmi (Micha Selectar) whom the couple seems to hate, fear and long for. Yirmi has been in Alaska for the past 20 years and neither of them want him to come home for his newly-deceased father’s funeral. Nor will their son Ido (Or Ben-Melech) be informed of Grandpa’s death, a decision that his adoring sister Idit (the very excellent Yuval Scharf) strongly protests.
Sternly, papa’s bossy ex-lover Judit (Liat Goren), wearing a fright wig and a trumpeting yekke accent, says Yirmi must come, that Papa expressly demanded it. She provides, hopefully deliberately, much needed comic relief for unfolding catastrophe.
With Yirmi’s arrival emerge inevitably cats from their bags and skeletons from their closets. It transpires that honest Yoni is actually manipulative and conniving, that wronged Yirmi is actually not only an unredeemed egotist but a moral coward, and that fragile, dependent Nina is actually mentally unstable.
Toledano, Selectar and Schechter skillfully take their characters from seeming to being as the painful secrets of this very dysfunctional family are torn from them.
Dysfunctional families are the basic dough of drama from Aeschylus on, but to matter a play needs more than surface in content and execution. Where is the meat of Horses?