Theater Review: Birthmark

Dignified, empathic, Moshe Kepten's direction allows willing suspension of disbelief.

Birthmark
By Ruby Porat Shoval
Directed by Moshe Kepten
Habima
March 24
Some of the plot elements in Ruby Porat Shoval’s Birthmark seriously strain credibility, but the production overall is so satisfying that these almost don’t matter.
But before we begin, a word: The four most recent shows I have seen at Habima have started 15-20 minutes late. This is disrespectful, unprofessional and unacceptable.
The drama is set in ultra-Orthodox Bnei Brak. An arranged marriage between Sarah, the rabbi’s daughter (Yafit Asulin), and young Torah genius Ya’akov (Avri Arbel), is endangered when gynecologist Naomi (Tatiana Canelis-Olier) reveals that both suffer from a recessive gene that can adversely affect any children they may have. All those concerned, except for the young couple who fall in love, are more concerned with what people will say if the marriage is aborted, and even more, if the terrible truth comes out.
A silhouette “yeshiva-bocher” strides restlessly across a shadowy grey background from which shadowy female images watch his progress. The action takes place on a ring, literally, as if to put on display the series of alien – to a secular audience – events. Frida Klapholtz-Avrahami is the designer of this stunning set, and her costumes too are mostly dead on. The sometimes dissonant music by Avi Baleli is also a marvelous fit.
The real honors go to director Moshe Kepten who gains stature with eachshow. Dignified, empathic, classical, the production allows the willingsuspension of disbelief. The characters are rounded, human, believable.Nothing is overdone, even the cheap pre-marital instruction scenes arenot milked.
Asulin, and especially Arbel, are winning as theyoungsters. Canelis-Olier effortlessly carries off thedoctor-with-a-tragic past. Playwright Porat Shoval plays Batya, therebbetzen, and Sarah’s mother, with a refined intensity. OrnaRothberg’s greedy Rachel the matchmaker is a deft comic turn whileShmulik Cohen as Benyumin is wonderful, ’umble and likeable as a harediUriah Heep.