Theater Review: In the prime of her life

Her mother, Leah, had two lives

In the Prime of Her Life (photo credit: YAEL ILAN)
In the Prime of Her Life
(photo credit: YAEL ILAN)
When her mother dies in In the Prime of Her Life, the fact and the title of the play, 13-year-old Tirzta (talented newcomer Or Lumbrozo) is cut adrift, literally and figuratively, and comes under the influence of family friend Mintshi Gottlieb (Irit Pashtan), who reveals to her that her mother, Leah, had two lives. One was as the wife of Tirtza’s father, Mintz (David Ben-Ze’ev). The other was as the lover of the man she was not allowed to marry, Akavia Mazal (Yoav Hyman).
Mintshi, previously and presently in love with him herself, provides Tirtza with the journal and poems of Akavia. The girl, as Mintshi hopes, and as her father cannot understand, convinces herself that she too is in love with him, thereby fulfilling the life her mother could not have. Seeing all this with horror is the Mintz’s housekeeper, Kaila (Odelya Moreh-Matalon), but even her common- sense desperation fails to prevent the inevitable. Tirtza and Akavia marry, with a predictably unhappy outcome.
All this takes place on Roni Vilozni’s three-tiered set of platforms, steps and chairs among and on which the characters move and speak. The text is both narration and dialogue, as fits a tale told from diaries, Tirtza’s and Akavia’s, and the actors deliver it most splendidly. The chairs, perhaps a nod to Eugène Ionesco’s play of that name, signify the disenchantment and the emptiness of the characters’ lives, for none of whom life turned out as expected and who now muddle through as best they can. The stepped platforms, the stairs themselves, perhaps speak of the transitions the characters undergo but can never quite comprehend.
The performances are immaculate, singular yet united. Lombrozo makes a vulnerable, exciting and moving Tirtza, at one moment an innocent kid, at another old beyond her years. As Akavia, Hyman is lovely as a man whose life seems to be continually beyond his grasp. Wearing a rather obvious wig, perhaps intentionally so, Ben-Ze’ev copes elegantly with the stolid Mintz. By showing less of her, Pashtan tells us more of Mintshi in a delicately nuanced performance while Moreh-Matalon is a robust Kaila. Newcomer Yuval Oron neatly manages both his role as suitor Landau and as the puppeteer of Mintshi’s “dog,” who’s central to the meeting between Tirtza and Akavia.
The drama is both a coming of age and a disintegration. Watching this well thought out In the Prime of Her Life one is irresistibly reminded of Macbeth’s despairing monologue on life that is “a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing.”