Theater review: The Book of David

Jaffa-based Gesher Theater brings to the stage a moving, satirical modern take on the age-old tale about the battle between David and Goliath.

Gesher Theater in Jaffa (photo credit: EYAL72/WIKIMEDIA)
Gesher Theater in Jaffa
(photo credit: EYAL72/WIKIMEDIA)
Whether he uses his knife to peel an apple or slit a throat, it’s all one to Benaya (Doron Tavori) Solomon’s (Micki Leon) thuggish and ever practical chief of staff, whose job it is to get things done. In this case, it is The Book of David, to be written by historian Eitan (Alon Friedman), plucked for the job from his cozy life with wife Esther (Karin Seruya) and mistress Lilit (Ruth Rasyuk).
If he undertakes the task, it’ll have to be the truth, Eitan says, awed in the presence of Might.
“Of course, of course,” Solomon reassures him, leaving Benaya to growl that it’s gotta be the ‘right’ book, making sure that the exploits of shepherd boy David turned powerful monarch David are seen in the ‘right’ light, and if it all didn’t quite happen that way, well, “man is the legend he creates.” Facts, fiction, who cares? Sic transit gloria mundi goes the Latin tag, meaning that all glories and honors are transitory.
Michael Karamenko seems to have designed his set – a replica of Michaelangelo’s celebrated David surrounds it – and creaking, massive wooden doors to reflect that. So does eternal outsider Amenhotep, Solomon’s massively cynical Egyptian eunuch, beautifully handled by Israel Demidov. Stefania Georgeokayta’s costumes cleverly link past and present.
We quickly understand that The Book of David is a satire that Yevgeny Arye has realized with his usual flair and perception and his love of all things circusy, this time portrayed in marvelously grotesque mime sequences that tell the story of David and Goliath, and David and Bathsheba, played by Gilad Kelter and Alexander Senderovitch.
To get to the truth, Eitan interviews people who actually knew David, such as Michal, his first wife, played with sorrowful dignity by Lilian Roth and Yoav, David’s army chief, now a shadow offered by Yevgeny Terlitzki. It’s Yoav’s throat that Benaya slits, saying, “We’re building an enlightened and cultured society here and don’t need the likes of him.”
Tavori and Leon alternate Solomon and Benaya are the all-wise and his alter ego. Tavori, gravelly voiced and a little bent, makes Benaya impatient. He wants deeds, not words. As the natively arrogant Solomon, Leon is all for words. They hide so much.
Seruya and Rasiuk play their roles with grace.
Friedman’s Eitan grows from village innocent to horrified chronicler, who realizes too late what he’s let himself in for.
“The more I learn about you, the less I understand about myself,” Eitan laments. “Danger lurks behind every written word.”
The satire is about legitimacy, truth and what we do with either or both. It’s not a coincidence that Eitan is an historian. “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” says the common paraphrase of George Santayana.
Even if you do ignore history, the production is well worth seeing.