Theater Review: Ulysses on Bottles

By: Gilad Evron; Directed by Ofira Henig; Haifa Theater, February 16.

On the face of it, Gilad Evron’s gripping Ulysses on Bottles is a straightforward leftist polemic that accuses us of brutality in Gaza.
Ulysses (Khalifa Natour), a former teacher, has been arrested and charged with various security infractions for his attempt to reach Gaza on a raft made of bottles. His purpose? To teach Russian literature to the Azatis. Not even attorney Izaakov (Itcho Avital), who has taken on his case pro bono, believes him and, not surprisingly, Mr.
Security (Yussuf Abu-Warda), Izaakov’s colleague at the Defense Ministry, thinks Ulysses is a major league liar.
Izaakov’s socially ambitious wife, Nochi (Naomi Frumovitch- Pinkas), and his amoral wannabe partner Horesh (Assaf Solomon) provide additional fuel.
That’s on the face of it! Ulysses on Bottles is actually an allegory on the definition of freedom – what it means, what it entails and what it demands. Even the characters’ names are part of it, as is the music and Avi Shechvi’s set.
The set is a black box punctuated by five featureless doors, three of which have a slit across the top, each leading to a different implied reality/choice, whether it’s the comfort of Izaakov’s home or the bleak horror of Ulysses’s cell.
Freedom, the play seems to be saying, very much depends on the choices you make, choices that may constrain you more than shackles, choices which may or may not be worth the price you pay. Russian literature embodies those choices.
Hence the music that is mostly Lev Knipper’s patriots’ hymn “Polyushko Polye” (Field, O My Field) with its vision of horses galloping across the Russian steppes, and then Doris Day singing “Que Sera, Sera.”
Both Natour and Avital reach a peak here: Natour with his stubborn, heroically unheroic Ulysses, Avital through his increasingly involved Izaakov. Abu-Warda totally inhabits the terminally suspicious Mr. Security, and Solomon suavely pinpoints Horesh. It goes almost without saying that director Ofira Henig has done her usual superb job.