Revival of Hanoch Levin’s ‘The Child Dreams’ is mandatory viewing

The Child Dreams By Hanoch Levin Directed by Omri Nitzan Cameri/Habima Theaters, June 14

A SCENE from Hanoch Levin’s ‘The Child Dreams.’  (photo credit: ALON JARAR)
A SCENE from Hanoch Levin’s ‘The Child Dreams.’
(photo credit: ALON JARAR)
Is there more perfect tranquility than the sight of a quietly sleeping child, the eyelashes gently feathering pink cheeks, the small, even breaths as the little chest rises and falls?
“Let time stop now at the peak of happiness, because better than this it cannot be,” says the mother (Ola Schur-Selektar) as she looks at her son (Naama Chetrit) asleep in his little white bed, and at his father (Ben Yosipovich) across the bed, while Yosef Bardanashvili’s starry (for the moment) music reinforces the idyll.
Then hell breaks forth. Literally. From a gaping blood-red maw suddenly come tumbling refugees, desperate, clutching their suitcases, and a violinist, dying of a gunshot wound to the belly, still unable to believe that he should be targeted.
This juxtaposition drives Omri Nitzan’s beyond superb production of The Child Dreams, each nostalgic, indifferent, tender, brutal, white-hot and unrelentingly poetic moment perfectly tempered for maximum impact.
Polina Adamov’s set is brutalist, á la 1950s Soviet architecture, the stage being on two levels which a curve (to tumble on, the curve that life throws, the curvature of the uncaring earth – you pick the metaphor) connects. The bed on which we first see the child becomes a boat, becomes an island, becomes limbo. The colors of Adamov’s costumes are drab, washed out, save for the gold mesh and bright yellow dresses, respectively, of “the woman born for love and the governor’s wife” (Ruth Asarsai). The dead children wear white underwear (underwear is a Nitzan trademark signaling vulnerability and often guilelessness).
On the surface Child deals with the fortunes of a group of refugees who attempt to find shelter after being driven from their homes. It is the child, wrested from peace and innocence, hounded inexorably toward death, who drives the narrative. For parents, for us all, the death of a child represents an ultimate awfulness. But Levin doesn’t do surface; The Child Dreams is universal; it is at once a searing indictment of man’s ghastly inhumanity to man and an anthem to mercy, even hope.
The 20th was a seminal century, encompassing the glorious – the discovery of antibiotics, man on the moon, and the gruesome – two horrendous world wars, MAD (mutual assured destruction), Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler, monsters masquerading as humans, and then, around the time that Child premiered, we had the Balkan wars, the seemingly endless civil wars in Africa which are still ongoing, and the refugees that inevitably result from conflict.
Which makes the revival of Child almost mandatory because, at the moment, there are some 21 million refugees in the world, more than at any time since World War II. We have some of them and we treat them about as well as the governor (Alexander Krul/Shahar Raz) – he has an electric bullhorn in place of a head – treats the refugees that attempt to land on his island. Child is a morality play, but there’s no God present.
The 20-member cast plays many roles, and every actor gives of his utmost and with utmost effect. Most outstanding are Schur-Selektar, whose mother dredges up the strength to continue with no hint of pathos, Chetrit’s child is real, disciplined and infinitely touching, and Oshrat Ingedeshat impresses as a compassionate dead child. As the woman born for love and the faceless governor’s wife, Asarsai is beginning to realize the promise she showed in Woyzzek while Norman Issa chills as the rapacious captain.
Perhaps Child’s greatness best comes through in this exchange between the lame youth (Shlomi Avraham) and a bum (Eran Sarel): “You wrote those poems to make an impact/And now you try to impress by tearing them up./It’s too dramatic, excessive, unnecessary/...You will yet learn to despair/More quietly, more modestly/In silence. As you ought.”