Theater Review: The Overcoat By Nikolai Gogol

Adapted by Shahar Pinkas; directed by Shir Goldberg Khan Theater, October 14.

'The Overcoat' 370 (photo credit: Courtesy PR)
'The Overcoat' 370
(photo credit: Courtesy PR)
The Overcoat does all the right things. Polina Adamov’s sort-of- 19th century, shoddy-on-purpose costumes signal indifference.
Shani Tur’s over-elaborate, marvelously wrought set pieces imply a concern more with things than people. The actors, except for Our Hero, flick robustly among their various roles.
The story gets well told, but despite all these goodies there’s more style here than substance, as though director Goldberg has here concentrated more on the how and what than the why.
On the face of it, it’s a simple tale.
Akaky Akakievitch Bashmachkin, played by a too-frenetic Yoav Hyman, is a copy clerk in a vast bureaucracy who barely makes ends meet. His overcoat is so old that even the patches have patches. A new one will cost him 80 rubles, one-eyed Petrovich the Tailor (David Kigler) tells him. Where’s he going to get that kind of money? He scrimps, he saves, and then he gets a bonus.
Petrovich makes him a new overcoat, an overcoat to dazzle the eyes and the mind, with gold (well, gilt) buttons, a fur collar and cuffs. Then, on his way home from a party in honor of The Overcoat it’s wrested from him by thieves. His frantic efforts to enlist officialdom fail. What can he do but die? So he does.
Russians reading the story will grin, because in English, Akaky’s name transliterated means “Poop Poopson Stepped On.” But Gogol wasn’t being funny even though story and the play elicit laughter. The abyss is never far below the surface, and “the world has no place for entreaties,” a pawnbroker tells Akaky coldly.
Thoreau said that “the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation,” and Gogol intimates the same. That desperation, whether economic, emotional or spiritual, is the why, and must be the actors’ ballast.
Its presence in this Overcoat, however, is sporadic. It’s in Eddy Alterman’s clerk who’s deliciously, and comically, servile to the HRP (High Ranking Personage) and arrogant toward Akaky. It’s there for moments in the HRP (David Ben-Ze’ev), in Yael Toker as Akaky’s landlady, and in Kigler’s Petrovich – but moments are not enough.
This production, lacking heft, is hollow.