Directed by Moshe Kepten, Habima, June 29.

The Habima Theater in Tel Aviv (photo credit: WWW.HABIMA.CO.IL)
The Habima Theater in Tel Aviv
(photo credit: WWW.HABIMA.CO.IL)
It’s true that for many secular Israelis, the Orthodox, the ultra-Orthodox and the religious establishment in general have far too much say in our country. Many see them as “the other,” as a bone-in-the-craw entity trying to run our lives. In their turn, they pity the secular as strayed lambs who need to be returned to the fold of Torah and mitzvot. Both “sides” have their extremists who eschew dialogue and embrace intolerance.
However, neither view excuses the anti-religion, leaving-no-cliché unturned, melodramatic rant that is Fleischer, in which the ultra-Orthodox are portrayed as manipulative invaders who will stop at (practically) nothing to get what they want.
Nor does it help that, perhaps to make the play more palatable, even relevant, the usually astute Moshe Kepten has gussied it up with frills and furbelows such as live musicians playing klezmer to cantorial, and a two-story set (by Eran Atzmon), the second story of which is a balcony for said musicians, serving no other purpose.
The story: for 35 years Fleischer (Natan Datner) and his wife Berta (Sandra Sadeh), both Holocaust survivors, have made a good living from the very non-kosher butcher shop they opened in their neighborhood, but now it and the neighborhood are aging. Business isn’t so great.
Then, to their horror, the ultra-Orthodox (haredim) begin to encroach en masse.
They also avoid the butcher shop en masse, even though Fleischer pays a small fortune to the (naturally) venal Chief Rabbinate for a kashrut certificate that proves worthless.
Lack of income forces the return home of Shloimeleh, the couple’s brain-damaged son, now 30, but with the mind of a sixyear- old, who drags (inevitably) tragedy and death in his wake. The play ends as it begins: with a funeral.
That said Datner as the beleaguered Fleischer and Sadeh as his Berta, a woman with no illusions, are quite simply magnificent in their roles, playing with and off each other with a passion and intensity that charges the very air; Sadeh also has devastating comic timing and is rewarded with deserved laughter for her wry one-liners. Datner is a large man, but he has here added a psychophysical heaviness that affords the character an added dimension.
Bouquets also to the rest of the cast – Kepten draws the best from his actors.
Rivka Gur shines as the virulently anti-religious Rosa. Dov Reiser turns in his usual, ironic and estimable best as retired municipal clerk Gershon, a man whose principles are easily bought, and Natan Ravitz impressively underplays impenetrable lawyer Kurtzman, the go-between. Igal Sade’s Rabbi Engel, however, lacks the divinely inspired charisma the character requires – and he needs to stand straight.
Yes, Fleischer sensationally illustrates the consequences of a willful failure to communicate, but it is still a bad play – what stays in the mind is not the message but the medium.
Sigh! You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, as the adage has it.