Theater Review: 'People, Places and Things'

The major result was that an intelligent play with something to say was too often reduced to vaudeville.

A theater stage (photo credit: MOHAMMAD JANGDA/FLICKR)
A theater stage
Nina/Emma/Sarah/Lucy (Meggie Azarzar) is an alcoholic and a drug addict who takes a snort of cocaine even as she’s voluntarily checking into a rehab center. The rest of People, Places & Things sees Emma – as she’s known through most of the play – twisting, turning, evading, shifting, veering, lying, anything at all to avoid coming to grips with herself in this essentially open-ended and intelligent play about drug addiction and rehab. It can also be seen as a metaphor for the disjointed times we live in and try to deal with.
Emma’s multiple names signify the multiple identities – four or five of them literally on stage at times – she assumes during her encounters with rehab where she takes two steps back for every one forward, bruising and getting bruised.
“I’m a scream that’s looking for a mouth,” Mark (Nimrod Bergman) tells her, encapsulating the alienating and alienated world of the addict, which this play unsentimentally does. Mark conquers his demons during the course of People and becomes an orderly because Foster, the previous orderly, ably and cheerfully embodied by Hai Maor, relapses and dies of an overdose.
Foster, Mark, Emma, Paul/Emma’s Dad (Yoram Toledano), the doctor/Lydia/Emma’s Mum (the incomparable Na’am Shapira) are the fully-fleshed main characters. In what can only be termed as creative laziness, the rest of this multiple character drama/comedy are only cardboard spear-carriers who also serve to move the furniture needed to identify People’s various venues – the rehab center’s lobby, Emma’s bedroom at home and so forth.
The spear carriers include character actress Florence Bloch, totally wasted in memorably undertaken minor roles at the rehab center. Bergman, as the emotionally aloof yet compassionate Mark, convinces, as does Toledano, in the vastly different roles of the demented, then born-again Paul and Emma’s unforgiving judgmental father. As the doctor, Shapira is stern, direct. As group leader Lydia, she’s empathic, a tad unsure. As Emma’s mum, she’s a woman hollowed out and unable to show mercy. Just nuances each time, but oh, how subtly Shapira employs them.
As Emma, Meggie Azarzar never quite gets there. There needs to be a person struggling to emerge from Emma’s appealing, intelligent, hypersensitive shell, but the shell, emphasized by repeating gestures, like incessantly playing with her hair, is all we get.
Technically, People, Places & Things is a joy effected by video art designer Yoav Cohen, as well as by costume designer Orna Smorgonsky, and Keren Granek’s lighting, among the rest.
Director Roni Pinkowitz has done his usual sterling job, except for the one major drawback that is not confined to this company. The cast gabbled text at breakneck speed in order to allow the play’s presentation without an intermission in order to save backstage time in order (one supposes) to cut down on expenses. The major result was that an intelligent play with something to say was too often reduced to vaudeville.
Regardless of gender, People, Places and Things deals with a somewhat sticky subject – one that isn’t often portrayed so effectively on stage. I wondered what the pressure of presenting such a topic applied to both the writing and the performances.
“It’s not about advocating or proselytizing for a particular process,” he explains. “It’s about representing all the complexities, all the debate and all the confusion that these processes and approaches bring. It’s a huge responsibility – there will be people in the audience every night who this will be their life. It’s about getting that right without being inaccurate or too sentimental or being too simplistic or too bleak or too cynical.”
The performance I attended started 20 minutes late because Israeli audiences habitually come late to performances and the theaters do not close their doors and start on time. The Philharmonic and the Opera do, and therefore their audiences have been trained not to be late. To be late to a performance I find simply rude.