THEATER REVIEW: Certificate of Life

Certificate of Life by Ron Elisha, translated and adapted by Nava Semel, directed by Roy Horowitz, Cameri Theater, May 17

The Cameri theater (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Cameri theater
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Israeli-born Australian physician playwright Ron Elisha has written a smart-mouthed almost-comedy for three good actresses: “almost” because we all know that the Holocaust is nothing to laugh about.
Indeed, Clara Reich (Miriam Zohar), and there’s already a minor irony in the name, has made perpetual victimhood the excuse for her survival from It. Unconsciously she has chosen Never to Forget, nor to enjoy a moment of the life she’s been granted, and employs her venomous tongue to ensure that nobody else does either.
Once a year, in order to continue receiving her reparations pension from the German government, Clara must provide in person a “certificate of life” to German consul Heidi Rommel (Sara von Schwartze). She comes with her unmarried daughter Hilda (Odeya Koren) from a post-war marriage, who takes care of her.
The relationship that evolves among these three women over the years is the meat of a play that tells us nothing new about the most heinous event of the 20th century but does delve, and quite sensitively, into German-Jewish, survivor-second generation, mother-daughter dynamics.
The scenes veer between Heidi’s office and the Reichs’ modest apartment against the backdrop of Alexandra Nardi’s appropriately bureaucratic set of outsize file-cabinet drawers.
Liron Minkin’s costumes work. The wigs don’t.
Clara the character isn’t really self-aware enough to deliberately have chosen the arid, bitter life she leads in which Victimhood is the only reason for being, but Zohar has chosen to make her so, which strips a dimension from an otherwise sterling performance.
“No child in the world can compete with a baby on a bayonet,” Hilda hurls at her mother and from that moment begins to emerge from the shadow existence to which her mother’s egotism has condemned her. Koren’s is a quiet, effective performance, as is that of Von Schwartze.
Her Heidi has her own devils to contend with so she must work extra hard on presenting to the world Fraulein Efficient Yet Sensitive German Representative.
It’s worth noting that the three actresses have had to put aside their own truths from the period in order to inhabit their fictional characters, which under Horowitz’s sensitive direction, they are able to do.