Touching and totally believable onstage

Boaz Dvi’s Dragons and Prostitutes won Best Play, Playwright and Best Actor.

A SCENE FROM ‘Celestials,’ which won multiple awards. (photo credit: Courtesy)
A SCENE FROM ‘Celestials,’ which won multiple awards.
(photo credit: Courtesy)

Acco Festival of Alternative Theater’s artistic director Shalom Shmuelov said ahead of the event that this year’s theme “is on the ‘other,’ the weak, the excluded from society, and the stage language to present it in.”


Except that it wasn’t. The overarching theme of Acre 2018 held in and around the Crusader Fortress in Old Acre from September 25-27 was loss, loss of hope, loss of trust, loss of faith, betrayal of self, of dreams, disillusionment, and yes, most packaged in some remarkably imaginative and powerful stage vehicles such as dance theater, physical theater, surreal theater, even docudrama.


Boaz Dvi’s Dragons and Prostitutes, billed as a comic fantasy on broken dreams, was cited as “a grotesque and funny parable that revealed today’s ills in the guise of an old legend,” and won Best Play, Playwright and Best Actor for Yuval Satunis in the character of Arik, a former servile squire turned rabid revolutionary. There was also an aging dragon (Itzik Lilach) and a superannuated knight (Yaron Edelstein).


Dragons had its tongue firmly in its cheek, the ingenious set by Moshik Yusipov, which produced tables and stools as needed, and some of Michal Laor’s costumes were astounding, yet the Best Costume prize went to Matan Anchayesi for Celestials, a breathtaking- ly virtuosic piece of dance theater that also won Best Ensemble for “working as a single entity” and Best Movement for Ophir Nahari for its “original, precise and thrilling” choreography.


For this reviewer, Celestials was easily the best theater piece in the show, not least for how it garnered its prizes. It showed the gradual loss of faith in the obsessive quest of nine men for a 10th to make a minyan (a quorum required for public worship.) The soundtrack gets hair-raising too, in the shape of a loudly growling rafale that sounds like heavy artillery interspersed with the lonely cry of gulls that signify the transitions of the piece.


The spine-tingling music by Emanuel and the Kisu- fim also got a hugely deserved honorable mention in the too-long The Rite that Wasn’t by Emanuel Yitzhak Levi that took us back to Temple times for a play about loss of faith and trust in which the Levite fears that his wife is betraying him with the new temple singer, and demands that she undergo the rite of ‘bitter waters,’ but this rite doesn’t happen.


Rite wasn’t the only play to go on too long. Most of the offerings could have been edited down by 10 to 20 minutes with no loss of content or impact.


One such example was Hunger by Maya Bitan, an unconvincing gothic melodrama of betrayal and revenge orchestrated by a manic cook and a tall, thin, totally detached waiter dressed all in red – the color of blood and passion – on stiletto heels with the audience seated around long refectory tables. Director Bitan could thereby and should have involved the audience, but didn’t.


Another was May This House Comfort You, a sensitive and intelligent docudrama on the still unexplained disappearance of thousands of Yemenite and Balkan babies in the early years of the state and of a culture demeaned. There is a particularly touching a capella rendering of the mourners’ Kaddish.


To a background of cannon-fire, Deportation, Emigration, Flight by Hisham Suleiman is a formal, ceremonial and somewhat monotonous physical theater piece showing the plight not only of refugees from 1948, but of refugees in our own time.


If there were a prize for sets, it might have gone to the four rolling blackboards of Daniel Zahavi’s Bats without Wings, on which the cast draw a child’s view of reality. Bats is a tale of the exploiters and the exploited, a deeply pessimistic take on our own times.


Finally there was the somewhat surreal Evening with Drone. Excuse me. No. I meant Zoola 2000 – a “science f***tion” (deriving from Hebrew play on words to describe the genre) trilogy that took an irreverent look at millennials’ existential anxieties and won Best Actress and Best Direction for Maya Landesmann (for both), and Ariel Sereni Braun who created and played in it.


Juvenile, deliberately coarse, deliberately offensive, Zoola was sited on a bare swath of dirt between two of the fortress’s walls and featured said drone, a freezer full of ice-cream that Landesmann handed out to the audience, one more of the gimmicks in an all-over-the- place show that still was all about depersonalization in these digital times.


Of Landesmann, the citation said in part that “she’s rude, funny, has no shame or limits. At the same time she’s touching... and totally believable on stage.”


It’s a comment that applied to a lot of the festival this year. Well done all.