Theater review: A parable of politics and machinations of our own time

In "Next in line" By Shahar Pinkas, holding onto power is the focus of his thinking. Does this strike a chord? All else is marginal.

A SCENE from Shahar Pinkas’s ‘Next in Line.’  (photo credit: MAAYAN KAUFMAN)
A SCENE from Shahar Pinkas’s ‘Next in Line.’
(photo credit: MAAYAN KAUFMAN)
Via the TV, we are being earnestly addressed by King David (Natan Datner) regarding the necessity of peace talks with the Philistines and the equal necessity of making sure they fully understand the mailed fist in the armored glove, i.e., that real peace is never on the table. During his address David wears his crown, an uncomfortable looking iron circlet to which are attached sharp-pointed triangles that look like spears, alternatively a crown of thorns. And up pops another analogy, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” (Henry IV, p. 2, Act III sc.1).
And the crown, right now (and incidentally he never removes it), sits insecurely on David’s head. He’s old. He’s sick. He’s failing. All the more reason to hold on, not to let go, not to relinquish power to another. Holding onto power is the focus of his thinking. Does this strike a chord? All else is marginal, which is why, when Nehemia the Servant (Ron Bitterman) comes in to tell him at various times throughout the play that a “representative of the people” seeks an audience, he’s rebuffed. And when that “representative” dies, the chandelier, oddly enough – or perhaps it signifies the obligations he is ignoring, a larger version of David’s crown – collapses.
Not that the vultures aren’t circling anyway. Chief among them is his eldest son, Adoniyah, whom Tom Avni meticulously and beautifully depicts as a traitorous, treacherous weasel willing to suborn, plot, lie – anything to get him the throne, anything to get his father’s withheld love. Not far behind is Yoav (Jonathan Cherchi), his top general who views David’s increasing feebleness with alarm. “If the king is weak, the nation is weak,” he pronounces as he tempts Adoniyah to treason, only to be betrayed in his turn.
Then there are the women, Batsheba (Adva Edni), and Avishag (Inbar Dannon), both opportunists, the former blatant, the latter not, each manipulating David for their own ends.
Sitting (more or less) above the fray is Nathan the prophet, a solid, watchful Muli Shulman, whose advice the king mostly ignores. And then there’s Solomon (Oren Cohen), also watchful, the outsider, the one who gets the crown. We all know the story.
This is a good-looking contemporary production, designed by Ula Shevstov and Natasha Polyak, the only oddities being the belts worn by Yoav and Adoniyah, the belt signifying an encompassing will to power.
And as in other Pinkas/Goldberg productions, it’s the cast members who move the few set pieces that denote place and time.
It’s a strong cast. Datner’s David is a man beset, afraid, employing bluff and bluster to hide his weaknesses from others and himself. As Bathsheba, Edni never lets her guard down, displays an enviable single-mindedness and leaves us in no doubt where her loyalties lie. Dannon’s Avishag maintains her “sweet naivety” mask to good effect.
Cherchi’s Yoav is stalwart, a man convinced of his own rectitude. As Solomon, Cohen is not only watchful, but careful and fully aware that all he has to do is let it happen.
Pinkas/Goldberg have described their intense, enthralling drama as a biblical political thriller, and it surely works in that context. As a parable for the politics and machinations of our own time, it’s more inferred than demonstrated.