Taking stock

The Tel Aviv-based Malenki Theater company is staging one-man show ‘Orpheus in the Metro,’ for second time.

The play is about an unnamed man who stalks women in the Paris subway system. (photo credit: Courtesy)
The play is about an unnamed man who stalks women in the Paris subway system.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Malenki Theater company doesn’t mess around. If you’re looking for light entertainment, something to pass an hour or two with some fun and mostly mindless offering, you’d best be looking elsewhere.
The troupe first set up for business in 1997, shortly after Igor Berezin, the company’s founder and director, made aliya from the former Soviet Union. Berezin took his first giant step for theatrical mankind when he decided that Malenki was going to work in Hebrew. That was despite the fact that the first bunch of actors were Russian speakers and that, at the time, Berezin himself had, at best, a sketchy command of Hebrew.
That was typical of Berezin’s no-nonsense ethos, and that determined mind-set comes across in the theater’s current production of Orpheus in the Metro, which is based on a story by Argentinean- born writer Julio Cortazar.
Orpheus in the Metro is a disturbing one-man show in which an unnamed man stalks women in the Paris subway system. The protagonist’s dangerous game is to try to guess the final destination of his woman of choice. If he is right, his reward is the green light to make personal contact. This is a second coming for Malenki’s Orpheus in the Metro. The Tel Aviv-based company first put the work on its cozy stage at its Meir Park venue in 2009. The work enjoyed a two-year run and was revived earlier this year. The next performances of the work will take place today and tomorrow at 9 p.m.
Berezin says he was originally drawn to the work because of the writer.
“Cortazar came from Argentina but lived most of his life in France, so his work was a sort of mix of French culture and Latin America,” he explains.
The director came across the work in the 1970s in the Soviet Union. At the time, he had other ideas of how to go about portraying the story in a visual format.
“I wanted to make it into a movie,” recalls Berezin. “I was young, and I didn’t know if I wanted to work in theater or cinema.”
The idea sat on the back burner for some years and finally came to fruition after Berezin made aliya.
“It was when I met Oren [Yadgar, who performs Orpheus] that I realized it was time to do the work and that it was a production that could work,” says the director.
In the intervening couple of decades, not only had Berezin moved here, but technology had marched on and offered far greater room to maneuver.
“My original works were quite minimalist.
I was strongly influenced by directors like [Jewish British-born] Peter Brook, but I changed over the years, and the time and the place simply interfaced,” he says.
Space is the operative word and dimension here. Malenki’s venue is not exactly expansive – malenki in Russian means “small” – but technological strides and Berezin’s interest in cinema combined to produce a production that feeds off a double-pronged visual approach. While Yadgar does his thing on stage, footage shot on the Paris Metro is screened behind him. It is a powerful confluence, and Yadgar gets the dramatic message across in no uncertain terms.
Members of the audience are at liberty to interpret all kinds of messages from the show. One of the main ideas that comes across is that life is full of stations and decision-making junctures, much like a subway system which has many stations en route to the end of the line.
“Everything that happens to us is a matter of choices,” posits Berezin.
“We get up every morning and may have to choose something small, but we may not know that it might lead to something crucial in our life.”
This is a production about making the right decision and what we are ready to pay for making that choice. Naturally, when we make our choices, we cannot know what the cost will be.
“Yes, that’s life,” Berezin declares.
“We take risks.”
This sounds like definitively thought-provoking stuff.
“All my shows leave the audience with food for thought,” notes the director. “I think that is the most interesting aspect of theater, and that is our job as theater professionals.”
The unnamed character in Orpheus goes through the mill and back a couple of times during the course of the work. He has a mania for statistics and probability permutations, and he scribbles all kinds of mathematical formulae on a blackboard in a desperate effort to work out his chances of landing the woman of his dreams. The sense is that he is captive in his own manic attempt to achieve some degree of control over his life and to arrive at some sense of security that some things, at least, will work out the way he expects or hopes.
Prison, a recurrent theme in Berezin’s body of work, is front and center in Orpheus.
“In this work, the prison is our doubts,” he states. “I called this show Orpheus in the Metro because it is a paraphrase of the myth [about the musician, poet and prophet in the ancient Greek myth who tries to use his ability to charm all beings – living and inanimate – to retrieve his wife Eurydice from the underworld]. Orpheus did not succeed in saving Eurydice because of doubt.”
In the mythological tale, Hades and Persephone, the guardians of the underworld, allow Orpheus to take Eurydice back to the world of the living but warn him not to look back.
Orpheus almost succeeds in bringing his beloved back with him but, at the last moment, doubt gets the better of him and he turns around to make sure she is following him. At that moment, Eurydice is returned to the underworld forever.
“Orpheus lost his love because of fear,” Berezin notes. “Our fears are our prison.”
In the current economic climate, with cultural enterprises across the board struggling to stay alive, Berezin and Malenki CEO Sharit Ramati have some existential doubts of their own.
The company closed for business in April after running into financial difficulties but is now back in action.
In addition to the revival of Orpheus in the Metro, it is about to put on its new work Bareshet and is planning a festival of works inspired by late Israel Prize laureate S. Yizhar at the end of September.
“We are plowing on and hoping for the best,” says Ramati. “This is a very professional and very serious theater company. The director and actors work on each new production five days a week for four to six months before they put it on the stage. I hope better times lie ahead.”
For tickets and more information about Malenki Theater and Orpheus in the Metro: 054-248-8105 and www.malenki.co.il/.
Ruttenberg double bill
Award-winning choreographer Dana Ruttenberg will present two of her works at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv on August 21 as part of this year’s Maholohet program.
The productions in question are Private I and Armed. The first takes a somewhat comical look at masculinity, while the latter considers the local propensity for pushing in line and for sticking our noses into other people’s business and examines the lack of personal space in these parts.
Private I, a duet performed by Uri Shafir and Ofir Yudilevitch to a soundtrack written by Noam Inbar and American- born guitarist Adam Scheflan, investigates masculinity on a physical, cultural and individual level. The work portrays encounters between men, how men live with themselves, and raises the issue of masculine physicality and whether there is any connection between being a man, a hero and overcoming difficulties – the Hebrew words for the three categories come from the same root.
Meanwhile, Armed takes a quizzical look at the constant invasion of personal space here. The name of the piece refers to the fact that we use our arms or create space, as well as being armed with weaponry. Armed, performed by Adi Butrus, Ayala Frankel, Inbar Nemirovski and Uri Shafir, focuses on the imaginary dividing line between one physical/human entity and another.
For tickets and more information: (03) 510-5656 and www.suzannedellal.org.il
Caught in a time loop
The Clipa Theater company will perform Idit Herman’s dance piece Forever/Never at the Tel Aviv Museum on August 24, 25 and 27 (all at 8:30 p.m.).
Forever/Never is a dynamic and colorful site-specific work that straddles the increasingly blurred demarcation between visual art and performance. The element of time is central to the piece and is performed around sunset, using the natural effect of diminishing daylight.
The piece was created in and for the corridor of the Tel Aviv Museum and feeds off the striking architectural features of the physical surroundings.
Forever/Never is not for the faint-hearted. The images presented in fast-moving scenes are designed to be both disturbing and startlingly beautiful as the characters move frenetically through an endless loop of movement. The viewer may choose to leave at any point.
The 15-dancer cast includes Adi Paz, Dror Liberman, Michal Herman, Oded Zadok and Zvi Petrakovsky. The soundtrack was devised by Dmitry Tyuplanov.
For tickets, call (03) 607-7020.
Heroes cast in stone
The National Maritime Museum in Haifa will open its new exhibition “Mythological Deities and Heroes in Greco-Roman Sculpture” on August 30. The show will run until May 1, 2015.
Sculptures and illustrations of myths were frequently depicted by sculptors and artists of ancient Greece; pottery vessels were illustrated with scenes from the stories; and stone, pottery or metal figurines were also fashioned. The statues in the exhibition were acquired by Dr.
Alexander Roche, who founded the Haifa Museum of Ancient Art and served as its first director.
In 1995 his collection was integrated with that of the National Maritime Museum.
The exhibition, which features works of art from more than 2,000 years ago, including a marble sarcophagus from the third century CE, a figure of a sleeping Eros from the first century CE, and the grotesquely comic marble head of Silenus from the second century CE.
For more information: (04) 843- 6622 and www.nmm.org.il
August in Arad
The 32nd edition of the Arad Festival will take place from August 18 to 21. The four-day program includes musical performances by more than 70 artists.
The entertainers cover a wide range of styles and genres and several generations, from veteran crooner-bass player Alon Olearchick and young singer- songwriter Yael Deckelbaum to iconic 60-something singer Rivka Zohar and A Star Is Born alumnus Adi Cohen.
All the shows are free. In addition, there will be a host of cultural and outdoor activities during the festival, such as sports events and visits to museums and local vineyards.
For more information about programs and accommodation: (08) 995-1776 and www.arad.muni.il