Theater Review: Job

Adapted and directed by Yossi Yizraeli Music by Joseph Bardanashvili Incubator Theater, Tzavta, October 1.

Incubator Theater's production of ‘Job.’ (photo credit: GERHARD ALON)
Incubator Theater's production of ‘Job.’
(photo credit: GERHARD ALON)
Part oratorio, part passion play, part morality play, totally mesmerizing, Job carries a caveat for us English-speakers. Before you see this play, you should read the Book of Job because director Yossi Yizraeli has taken his drama’s words directly from the Bible, and few of us really understand biblical Hebrew.
Part oratorio: because the music by Yosef Bardanashvili, played most beautifully on his cello by Yoni Gottlieb and sung with a great and soaring beauty by soprano Keren Hadar, who plays Job’s wife, supports the text as the great pillars Boaz and Yachin supported the Temple.
Part passion play: the Passion play dramatizes the life and death of Jesus from the Last Supper to the crucifixion.
Job is a passion play with a small p. It demonstrates an arc of suffering from shattering despair to acceptance.
Part morality play: Morality plays were popular in the 15th and early 16th centuries throughout Europe.
They personified abstract qualities such as good, evil, death and wisdom.
The most famous is Everyman. In Job it’s Job’s wife who most fulfills the personification of qualities as she laments, scolds, doubts, despairs, keens, comforts and questions, her body and her voice perfectly attuned.
The story: Job (Sasson Gabai) in our parlance is a tycoon – i.e., fabulously wealthy. He’s also a good, just and righteous man who praises God. God (Arik Eshet) says to Satan (Amit Ullman), “Isn’t he just great?” Satan says, “And why wouldn’t he be? Let’s see how he behaves if he’s got nothing.”
“Be my guest,” God says, and in a twinkling Job is reduced to penury and loses all his kids, too.
Job is frantic, but he refuses to curse the Lord. Even when he’s afflicted with boils, from crown to toe tip, and harried by his faux comforters, he remains faithful. But he does more or less challenge God to prove to him why he’s been singled out for such punishment, at which God gives him what for, asking him who, precisely, is the Creator here? Sensibly, Job says nothing, ceding all to the Lord. “Hmpf!” He says and restores to Job twice the wealth he had before.
There’s a sly humor in the interaction between God and Satan, elder brother Eshet humoring mischievous, restless, somewhat spiteful – there’s a terrific metaphor in here I won’t disclose – younger brother Ullman. Eshet’s God is something of a cynic, except that when he’s goaded – read misunderstood – he roars. Ullman’s Satan knows his limits. He can push God only so far.
The trio playing Job’s comforters – and yes, the expression does come from here, in that while seeming to comfort, they are actually criticizing/ accusing Job – do a fine job; they’re wonderfully self-righteous, earnest Eliphaz (Eyal Nahmias), judicial Bildad (Omer Habaron), and somewhat smarmy Zophar (Nahmias). And they are oh-so-assiduous scholars.
Gabai is a great actor. His Job is a thinking man, tolerant, open-minded and devout. That devotion isn’t assumed but part of what and who he is so, that when he suffers, and his sufferings all but physically and emotionally destroy him, he hangs onto that devotion as much from instinct as from intellect.
We speak here of faith, which, as theologian Paul Tillich says, “is the state of being ultimately concerned.”
Ultimate is all or nothing, and if your ultimate concern is devotion to God, then that’s it. What Job has is faith, and it is sorely tried.
Faith is different from religion. Religion is different from religiosity. Religion is the specific ordering of a set of beliefs in a higher power. Religiosity can be simple piety, but more recently it has come to mean excess, even affectation. I think that all three are a bit of what this Job is talking about at the deepest of its many levels.
You see, when Satan is clobbering Job, when God admonishes him, the three “comforters” sit immersed in their holy books at the great big table that is covered in such – the set is by Eitan Neuman – and pay no attention at all. Faith is not their thing, but it had better be ours.