Theater Review: The Visit - Maxi and I

Power, greed and vast wealth underpin the plots of both 'The Visit' and 'Maxi and I'.

Maxi and I_390 (photo credit: Courtesy Beit Lessin)
Maxi and I_390
(photo credit: Courtesy Beit Lessin)
‘Power tends to corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” famously said Lord Acton. When money and greed are added, then the mix becomes toxic. Power, greed and vast wealth underpin the plots of both The Visit and Maxi and I. The heroes of both plays are equally manipulative and ruthless, but there the similarities end – or do they? Don’t both productions attempt to show us that unbridled greed or ambition or any desire carried to obsession endanger our souls?
Maxi and I
Written and directed by Hillel Mittelpunkt
Beit Lessin, February 2
The perfect amalgam of our sleek, spruce, well-dined, wined and manicured tycoons, Maxi (Igal Naor), as he is supposed to, dominates Hillel Mittelpunkt’s topical satire on Israel’s tycoon class. Maxi is larger than life, and Naor plays him to the hilt with enormous gusto.
Maxi wants a plot of land in the Negev to build a power station on – yes, the choice of a power station make its own deliberate comment – and to get it he lies, cheats, suborns, diddles, bullies and charms, acquiring and discarding people like a hand of cards. Because our Maxi can smell out the money-hungry, the ambitious orphan Alex (Shlomi Tapiero) is his latest acquisition, and the web is spun.
What was Mittelpunkt thinking of? Maxi and I has stock characters – the rebellious daughter (Talya Yaholomi- Levy), the adulterous wife (Nati Kluger-Rozenberg), the crusty but lovable communist grandma (Miriam Zohar) – and stock situations, almost like the old commedia dell’arte, including a few improbable ones. It’s all so shallow.
And that is the point. You almost miss it, but that’s the point.
In the headlong gallop to more, we live our lives on the surface, more and more relinquishing the values that matter. That’s what he’s saying, and the twist of Mittelpunkt’s wicked little play is in its tail.
Under the tornado that is Naor, Shlomi Tapiero works gamely as Alex. That he never quite inhabits the role is due mostly to inexperience. As Grandma Rushka, Miriam Zohar has moments of truth, but Zohar is not a character actress and should not be cast in such roles.Yahalomi-Levy, Kluger Rosenberg play their women with brio, as does Michal Kirson as secretary Doris. Avishai Milstein is deliciously nerdy as anxious Orson. Bambi Fridman has given us an awardworthy depersonalized set, complete with electronic ticker tape.
The bottom line? Mittelpunkt usually sticks his chin out more. Maxi and I tells us nothing new about ourselves. That is its strength and its weakness.
The Visit
By Friedrich Dürrenmatt
Translated by Rivka Meshulach
Directed by Ilan Ronen Habimah, February 3
In The Visit, money doesn’t talk, it shouts. Claire Zachanassian (Gila Almagor), the richest woman in the world, has returned to her native village of Guellen to right a wrong, for which read exact revenge. She will give a billion – half to the town, half to its citizens – provided they do to death Alfred Ill (Yehoram Gaon), the man who was her lover, the father of her dead child and who committed perjury at the paternity suit she brought against him.
Outraged, the good citizens of Guellen reject her monstrous proposal. But gradually, inevitably, as the magnetic dazzle of wealth displaces their moral compass, the monstrous becomes possible, then inevitable in its own turn.
Ilan Ronen is a gifted director. His staging on Lily Ben-Nahshon’s twotier set, backed by a transparent scrim on which is projected a huge clock face, is thoughtful and imaginative. For instance, when the townspeople are together, they cluster like the herd they are, the thought of all that moola leading them by the nose. Durrenmatt specifies that the new shoes, as all begin to buy on credit, are yellow, and as the play progresses, that yellow takes over the sober colors of their previous apparel and lives. Gold is yellow. It’s also the color of cowardice, moral or physical.
Unhappily, this Visit never quite gets off the ground because the leads don’t. What Claire and Alfred had all those years ago needs to be present, a gossamer wreath among the bleakness, and it isn’t. There’s no chemistry between them, no tension. As Claire, Almagor is marvelously implacable but has not an iota of charm, not even a memory of sex appeal. As Alfred, Gaon provides no hint of the jolly, handsome devil-may-care lad he was. He’s all fearful wimp, even when he accepts his fate.
Alex Ansky does a deliciously smarmy Bobby – a former high court judge turned Claire’s butler; Aharon Almog’s frayed schoolmaster is spot-on; while Dov Reiser and Robert Hoenig slither suavely hypocritical through the play as the mayor and the priest, respectively.
When Claire marries husband No. whatever in the town cathedral, the obsequious townsfolk shower the happy couple with golden bubbles. However, this Visit has more plod than bubble.