The Davai comedy group brings 'under construction' to Israel

The Davai physical theater group offers a wordless fun fantasy world

 The Davai comedic troupe is bringing its show 'under construction' to Israel next week (photo credit: Alfredo Millan)
The Davai comedic troupe is bringing its show 'under construction' to Israel next week
(photo credit: Alfredo Millan)

Ever feel like letting loose? Ever get the urge to act just plain silly, but are put off by the demands of “acceptable social behavior?” Well, as Mr. Shakespeare posited in the appropriately named play “As You Like It” – “all the world’s a stage.” If that really is the case, why shouldn’t we pull a few performance stunts from time to time? Of course, if you make your living in the thespian-entertainment field you get to do that on a regular basis, particularly if you work in the less regimented and scripted area of the profession.

Fyodor Makarov makes his bread on the less formal side of the theatrical tracks, along with Ukrainian-born Vitaly Azarin and fellow Russian-born Israeli Losha Gavrielov. All three are in their forties, and have been putting their accrued acting experience to good use as the Davai comedic troupe since 2015.

Their latest production is called Under Construction which is about to tour the country, kicking off on February 3 in Mitzpeh Ramon, and swinging through a bunch of other spots, including Beit Mazia in Jerusalem (February 6, 9 p.m.), Hechal Hatarbut in Tel Aviv (February 7, 8 p.m.), Andartat Hanachal in Pardess Hana (February 9, 9 p.m.) and Beit Hagefen in Haifa (February 11, 9 p.m.).

Under Construction takes absurdity and outlandish antics to the max as the seemingly simplistic storyline of waiting for a kettle to boil slowly pans out. We normally associate such farcical fare with circus-like clowning and, possibly, the age-old British tradition of pantomime. We adults might also tend to think of kids as the principal target audience. In fact Davai has crafted nine shows since it got off the ground seven years ago, for children, adults and all the family alike. Under Construction is for adults.

THE TRIO has taken its productions across the globe, to places like the US, Mexico, Serbia, Russia and India. The international appeal is helped by the fact that Davai engages in non-verbal creations. Mind you, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any cultural discrepancies to be navigated. Spoken language may not come into play with Davai, but there are still various local cultural norms that can impact on the way the show is received, as Makarov and his pals found out for themselves at a show in India. 

The DAVAI Theater Group (credit: BORIS PODELKO)The DAVAI Theater Group (credit: BORIS PODELKO)

“We discovered that Indians don’t get sarcasm,” he chuckles. “There’s a point in the show when the audience laughs because the hero of the story is having a bad time. But, in India, they didn’t laugh. They thought the hero was actually suffering. That didn’t work there.” Thankfully, that is not generally the case, otherwise Davai would probably no longer be a going concern.  

The name of the theater company suggests a dynamic mindset. “Davai means yalla, let’s go, in Russian,” Makarov explains. Therein lies a solid common denominator between the protagonists. “First, we speak to each other in Russian, and we also tend to ignore the petty stuff. We really get on with things. Davai! We don’t get into things like ego. And we are very dedicated to our work. That is important to all of us.”

They are all in their forties, and made aliyah as teenagers in the nineties, which means they imbibed prevailing Soviet mores and vibes in their earliest formative years. As, presumably, anyone who has lived in a repressive society and survived, not only to tell the tale, but also to poke fun at it, Soviet artists developed a healthy propensity for parody and dark humor

Some of that comes into the equation in Under Construction and several other Davai offerings. “We don’t gloss over things, and we don’t pussy foot around with the audience. Even when we do shows for children, we communicate with them in simple terms, directly. We don’t get childish with them.”

Interestingly for someone who engages in non-verbal theater Makarov hails from a familial backdrop of literary figures. He says that, as a youth, he made a conscious decision to strike out on his own and find a different means of communication. He found that in clowning and physical theater.

“When I was in my teen years, I realized I had too many words in my head,” he laughs. “I wanted freedom, and I found that in dance and movement and, ultimately, in theater, physical theater. In order to escape from the binary nature of words, the black and white, and to be free, it helps me to dance and get into movement.”

There was an ulterior motive in there too. “I remembered my childhood dream to be a clown, and use movement, which generates laughter and tells a story. That really connected with everything I wanted to do with my life. I came from a family of writers but I wanted to be funny, and to move in a way that makes me feel good.”

AFTER MAKING aliyah in 1990, at the age of 15, Makarov attended the School of Visual Theater in Jerusalem and spent a decade and a half touring the world, gaining valuable professional comedic experience as a member of the Slava’s Snowshow extravaganza, created and led by Russian performance artist Slava Polunin. The production even made it to Broadway and was nominated for a Tony Award. Makarov also worked with the Jaffa-based Gesher Theater company.

Slava’s Snowshow is a spectacular work which makes impressive use of lighting effects and a slew of gizmos. But Davai’s productions appear to be much lower key in terms of technology. The accent appears to be more on self-created props, generally based on common or garden household items. 

But, as Makarov points out, appearances can be a little deceptive. “I would say that Under Construction is low-tech high-tech,” he chuckles. “Everything we use looks like it is collapsing or is about to be thrown in the trash. But, in fact, they can fall apart and then be reassembled and used again. The props we make intentionally look recycled, and come from a world of people who have nothing. But they make all sorts of things from junk. They have a record player made from a fan, they sit on an empty gas cylinder because there are no chairs. The table is wonky and the apartment is full of cockroaches.”

That, Makarov says, leaves plenty of room for maneuver, for the actors and audience alike. “Each person reads different things into what we do. And that’s fine.”

Allowing the observer to complete the picture can be a handy way of drawing them into the thick of the action and storyline. “The art of clowning leaves room for our own imagination, to make an effort ourselves. I think that is a good thing for people in general.  It is like reading a book as compared to watching a movie. In a movie they show exactly how everything looks. With a book you can imagine things just the way you want. That way we each have a different experience.”

Considering – to quote a memorable line from Monty Python’s Life of Brian – we are all individuals, that makes perfect sense.

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