Theater Review: Singles

Levin, who died of cancer in 1999, is an Israeli Icon (definitely with a capital I).

Singles (photo credit: YESHAYAHU FINEBERG)
(photo credit: YESHAYAHU FINEBERG)
Hebrew title:
Ravakim Veravakot
By Hanoch Levin
Directed by Amit Epstein
Gesher, 10/27/19
If you don’t even have affection – never mind love – goes an “old song” that starts this almost-wonderful production of Singles, then you’ll just have to make do with bread and jam.
Almost wonderful? Well, yes, because despite the effective and functional minimalism of Eran Atzmon’s two-door, one-bed, encircling runway, two-story set; despite Ula Shevtsova’s adroit costuming; despite Bambi’s lighting, Avi Koren’s music and Amit Epstein’s very meticulous direction, this Singles drags a bit and might have benefited from some judicious cutting.
It tells the story of sad-sack, desperate-to-sleep Znaiduch (Ido Mosseri), his on again/off again/on again fiancée Flotzicka (Netta Shpigelman), her self-absorbed, self-adoring fancy man Chrabino (Miki Leon), Znaiduch’s fissionable, volcanic alternative Bulba (Ruth Rasiuk) and her lapdog lover Oestwind (Yariv Dahan). The theme is man/woman mating rituals among – c’mon people, this is Hanoch Levin – perennial never-weres.
Levin, who died of cancer in 1999, is an Israeli Icon (definitely with a capital I). His dense, frequently hilarious, often poetic, always razor-sharp plays illumine Israelis to themselves, warts and all. This one was first produced at the Cameri in 2002. You don’t have to be Israeli to understand a Levin play, but it helps.
It’s time to sing praises, shout plaudits, and distribute laurels to the cast, and especially to Mosseri, whose Znaiduch is a masterpiece. He’s a gloriously obstinate, insensitive, unaware, egotistical loser whom you long to shake some sense into – even though you know it will do no good at all.
Mosseri’s colleagues are hot on his heels. Shpigelman makes a brave, hopelessly optimistic Flotzicka (the name is a variant on the Yiddish for ‘fart’ – and the other names are equally, ahem, let’s just say lewd). You have to love Micki Leon’s expressive body language and delicious mindlessness as macho-Chrabino. If Rasiuk’s Bulba were more ravenous, she’d be a raptor, but she lets her vulnerability poke through every now and again. As the constipated Oestwind – constipation is a regular Levin metaphor for blockage of some kind – newcomer Dahan displays aplomb.
And let’s not forget the band that skillfully punctuates the action: Orit Orbach on clarinet, Chen Shenar on violin, accordionist Etti Tevel and Yaakov Zilberman on bass clarinet.
It all ends badly, and, as Znaiduch says mournfully as he knocks on yet another closed door, “As if. Rubbish! Oh well…”