Theater Review: 'Mandragola'

Director Gilad Kimchi’s easy virtuosity keeps the action bouncing with never a pause.

Written by By Ya’akov Shabtai, after the play by Niccolo Machiavelli, Directed and choreographed by Gilad Kimchi Beit Lessin, February 11
Say “mandragola,” and audience members shake noisemakers every time a character utters the word. Mandragola is a production born for major hit status. Mandragola, or mandragora, or mandrake, is a plant certain to ensure conception among barren women, among its other magical properties.
Let pretty Lucrezia (Revital Salzman) only drink a dose of the plant’s essence and she’ll certainly bear the son that her elderly husband Nicia (Joseph Toledo) so desires.
There’s only one problem, says Ligurio (Dikla Hadar), the wily marriage broker who’s come up with the idea: It’s certain death for the man who beds Lucrezia post-potion.
Thus may lusty young Callimaco (a horse played by Shlomi Tapiero) bed lovely Lucrezia, and all’s well that ends well in Ya’akov Shabtai’s sparkling adaptation of Machiavelli’s (1469-1527) Renaissance satire that extols fraud and trickery for a worthwhile cause – a theme that runs through his writing.
Costumes, makeup, set, music and lighting contribute in great measure to the success of this production whose wit, energy and, above, all impudence are encapsulated in the opening number. That lodges us firmly in the 21st century while evoking the manner and style of commedia dell’arte, the vibrant street theater that emerged in 15th-century Italy and upon whose stock characters and situations Machiavelli based his comedy.
Director Gilad Kimchi’s easy virtuosity keeps the action bouncing with never a pause; and the actors, their caricature characters based on animals – Callimaco is a stallion, for instance – exploit them to the utmost. Outstanding are Tal-ya Yahalomi-Levi’s randy widow Donna Lisa; Joseph Toledo’s saggy, flabby Nicia; and Dikla Hadar as snaky, sneaky Ligurio.
Missing from this Mandragola are changes of pace and vocal variety, so the show gets monotonous in patches – not that this matters diminishes the overall glitter.