Theater review: 'Herzl Said'

By Ro’i Hen, Artistic direction by Yevgeny Arye, Gesher Theater, October 15

GESHER THEATER’S ‘Herzl Said.’ (photo credit: RADAY RUBINSTEIN)
(photo credit: RADAY RUBINSTEIN)
Herzl Said starts with a coffin on a stage and it’s full steam ahead from there. This is a gleeful, irreverent, exhilarating, zippy and mischievous sleigh-ride of a show/satire that will delight the eye, tickle the funnybone and warm the heart of all who watch it, and by all means take the kids above the age of 10.
It’s only afterwards you realize that it also makes us think.
In 1902, two years before his death, Herzl published Altneuland, his famous and utopian romance on a future Jewish state in the then Ottoman Palestine, whose contents fuel this show, as does the title. “Herzl Said” is the Israeli equivalent of “Simon Says” and its antics also propel the musical in unexpected, often risible, directions.
Just to give you a taste, during one of the many scenes, Herzl, very nicely played with the ever undiminished gravitas and dignity of the straight-man by Gilad Kelter, comes across the rest of the cast discussing another person whose name begins with H, but Herzl thinks they’re discussing him.
The rest of this accomplished cast plays two sets of characters, the Israelis of 1949, the year Herzl’s bones – remember that coffin? – were moved to their present site on Mount Herzl, and the protagonists of the novel living in a Jewish state where Arabs and Jews live harmoniously side by side, where there’s no social or economic inequality, where... but you get the drift, right?
And they do it superbly, tossing off Ro’i Hen’s rhyming couplets, barbed dialogues and song parodies with utmost suavity, especially Ruth Rasyuk and Henry David, who sing most of them – taken from beloved songs by such as Naomi Shemer and John Lennon.
The others are Uri Yaniv, Assaf Pariente, Eli Menashe and Ziv Zohar Meir in his alter ego as a 1949 ultra-Orthodox rabbi, who at one time snarls, “If you will it. Zero. It’s a dream!”
Herzl Said happens on a stage within a stage – Nadav Barnea and Judith Aharon are responsible for the show’s deft lighting and costumes – into and from which actors and props enter/ emerge as they switch between time and novel.
As every Israeli Jewish child knows, the thoroughly assimilated Viennese journalist Herzl was jerked into awareness of his Jewishness by the infamous Dreyfus trial of 1895, convening the first Zionist congress at Basel in 1897.
And every Israeli Jewish child knows in his bones and blood the proper version of Herzl’s famous dictum from Altneuland: “If you will it, it is no dream,” but Hen and the play insist that we also pay attention to the end of that sentence – printed on page two of the handsome program – that says, no less definitely, “And if you don’t will it, everything I have related here is a dream, and a dream it will remain.”
Is that our aim? To be a failed dream? I hope not.