Man, machine and magic - sheds an entertaining light on humans and creations

His one-person, comical, theatrical show in English is currently up and running at the Hanut Theater space in south Tel Aviv.

 MACHINE MAN (photo credit: Eyal Redoshizky)
MACHINE MAN
(photo credit: Eyal Redoshizky)

Shahar Marom wants to get us thinking. OK, he’d like us to have a good time at his shows but Machine Man is far from being just a bit of quality entertainment. Oh, and he’d like us to put in our pennyworths, too, rather than making do with settling into our comfy auditorium seats and waiting for him to do his bit.

His one-person, comical, theatrical show in English is currently up and running at the Hanut Theater space in south Tel Aviv. The next performance is on June 16. Simply - if not simplistically - put, the show’s plot has nine machines presenting posers about the essence of the human spirit and divinity on Earth.

Like the vast majority of artists worldwide, Marom, who has a daytime job as artistic director of the Train Theater in Jerusalem, was left with much to ponder and feed off by events of the past few years. “The element of social distancing also comes into this production,” he notes. “I involve the audience in the show. I build machines that ask philosophical questions I encounter and I draw the audience into the work.”

Machine Man, says Marom, takes a diametric perspective on the idea of keeping us apart from one another. “The show is about communication between people, cooperation and helping one another. A little community comes together in the theater during the course of the show, between the people there, the performer and the members of the audience.” Sounds like just what the post-coronavirus doctor ordered.

Marom takes a definitively human view of technology, and how we use and interact with man made creations. Rather than replacing tasks and faculties we used to be good at it – how many of us these days, for example, remember more than a couple of telephone numbers, if any at all? – he relates to cutting edge innovations as a means of communing.

 MACHINE MAN (credit: Eyal Redoshizky) MACHINE MAN (credit: Eyal Redoshizky)

“The machines in the show are only a tool that enables connections between people,” he explains. “The machines I build, together with [artistic consultant] Sharon Gabay, are machines that have a strong human side to them. They can’t work without the help of the people that operate them.”

That is excellent news, and appeals to technophobes like me. “That contrasts with high level technology,” Marom adds, returning to the enforced hiatus on interpersonal interfacing of the pandemic era. “I think that maybe that time impacted on me, and on my desire to show something real on the stage and to have people experiencing something together. That is the power of the performing arts, as opposed to cinema, TV or digital art forms.” Of course, the latter refers to Zoom-facilitated and other online forms of entertainment that have become so prevalent.

THE MECHANICAL cast makes for intriguing perusal. The machinery themes include fame, mistakes, laughter, sleep, time and one that goes by the manifold moniker of Machine Man Ballad. Each of the gadget presentations comes with its own soundtrack, with musical backdrops including the likes of the popular movie number “Singing in the Rain,” an electronic track and a song written and performed on accordion by Marom.

That, says Marom, was very much central to his thinking as he moved through his creative gears and devised the work. “There is something very moving about this show. It is quite long, around an hour and a half, but there is a sense of real partnership with the audience. It is an entertaining and funny show, but I feel it creates something like a secular prayer house,” he laughs.

All told, nine machines take on something akin to corporeal form as the plot wends its way out and Marom says he does his best to keep the viewer riveted, involved and enthralled. “The machines together portray the essence of human life. It is like a Vaudeville show. The machines dance, including tap dancing, and all sorts of movements. Each machine does a different kind of number.”

Marom also admits to working a subtext into the storyline and fully intends to leave us with a heaping helping of food for thought, and employs a broad cast of manmade characters to enable him to get his messages across. “In Vaudeville there were all these weird and wonderful acts, like a cabaret of strange things. This show is also designed like that and addresses different philosophical themes. In this show I ask questions like, what is it like to be a human being, what is god, what is punishment and laughter, why do people hanker after fame, can we live forever and what is death. There are all these existential questions.”

That might, to some, sound a little on the heavy side. But proffering serious topics in a definitively entertaining and laughter-inducing way can’t help but up the oxymoronic fun factor.

“It is a very musical show, with some speech in between."

Shahar Marom

“I worked with different musicians on the numbers and I play a button accordion on one of them.”

Machine Man is clearly not a show to be taken too lightly, even if it does elicit a decibel or two of laughter from the audience. The proof of the pudding is already there to be picked over. “People who came to the first shows have told me it took them some time to ruminate on the messages in the performance,” says Marom. “It raises questions. It is not just entertainment for an evening, people think about it. That is wonderful to me. I feel that I am performing something with meaning.”

I got the impression that Machine Man offers a sense of otherworldliness, with its phantasmagoric gizmos, laced with a very palpable layer of cold hard reality. That, says Marom, is central to his professional ethos. “I opened the Hanut Theater together with a partner, 11 years ago. I call it a sort of off-Broadway place. It is a large industrial building, which you enter and think, ‘Wow! What is this place? It is like a fairytale space.’

I want people who come to my shows to feel as if they have been transported to the realms of imagination and out of their locale.” Then again, we are not talking escapism here. “It is about thinking about the essence of humanity, beyond the politics of the place, and what does it mean to be a person at this moment in time. Often, Israeli theater addresses social and political issues. I like to take a more universal approach.”

For tickets and more information call 058-450-7892 and visit www.hanut31.co.il.