‘PARADISE SOUTH’ is being staged at Impro Studio. (photo credit: AVI MALKA)
‘PARADISE SOUTH’ is being staged at Impro Studio.
(photo credit: AVI MALKA)

'Paradise South': Play on disadvantaged Israelis gets new life - review


Jackie, a cab-driving single mom (Neama Tzur) offers us a tour of a  dead-end southern town populated with deadbeats, a crazy soldier with rotting teeth (Saar Gross Eden), and a Romanian Holocaust survivor who owns the local café (Vladimir Torres). Hillel Mittelpunkt’s 1996 play Paradise South depicts the have-nots of Israeli life with sympathy and respect.

Mittelpunkt’s characters speak well but their language and dreams are a little formal, a tad outdated. Asher (Eden), who madly desires an Ethiopian waitress called Dina (Hen Daniel), calls her boyfriend “Kushi Sambo.” Robi (Daniel Dublinski) attempts to make money by representing boxers. Racism and scams exist, but a racist Hebrew speaker today would likely use a different slur, and Robi would be attempting to monetize social media or gaming. In this sense, watching Paradise South is like watching Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh.

Under director Ayala Corcus and thanks to the immense talents of the actors and the beautiful set, Paradise South positively sparkles. 

Reviving a depiction of Israeli society from a different time

When Tzur enters the stage driving an actual life-size cab, audience surprise turns to delight at this high level of production and attention to detail. The USSR-style suit worn by Victor (Tav Hatav), who enters the café to wait for a date, is another fantastic touch hinting at his alienation from the odd town he finds himself in.

Hatav, excellent as the Russian immigrant who is both pitiful and honorable as he waits for his soulmate in torn shoes with his sole glued to his foot, also displays a stunning range. In previous productions he has played a shy, handicapped gay teenager (Martyr by Marius von Mayenburg) and a powerful boxer who discovers his father is a war criminal (Incendies by Wajdi Mouawad). Hatav’s immense talent and his ability to take on comical roles as well as heroic ones, is equally matched by Torres.

Ramat Gan general view (credit: RAMAT GAN MUNICIPALITY)
Ramat Gan general view (credit: RAMAT GAN MUNICIPALITY)

As the café owner, Torres chews money and spits the notes in Asher’s face to save a young woman’s life. In previous productions, he played a blood-curdling radical Christian youth (Martyr) and had a charmingly comical role as a tongue-tied lawyer (Incendies).

Saar Gross Eden displays stage magnetism – of which he has plenty – in the role of Asher, an IDF soldier who murders a man in order to bed his lover, and then nearly kills her unless she tells him she loves him in “Negro language.”

Eden has played a clownish war criminal before (Incendies) and it seems directors like to cast him in this role. Much like Dublinski, who seems to get type-casted as a pretty-but-useless male lover (Martyr, Incendies). Dublinski excels in the role of a sleazy man, and his interactions with a would-be disco queen (Moriah Dana) and the mother of his child (Tzur) are a tour de force.

Orian Tamir, who plays the role of Jackie’s and Asher’s mother, also deserves applauds. It is an ungrateful role. The character is a bitter, lonely woman who seeks love in impossible relationships. This is a very different role than the heroic school teacher Tamir played in Martyr, and it reveals her capacity to form deep dramatic roles. 

The terrific cast is also indebted to Dana, who nearly steals the show with her disco routine and rapid-fire monologs. 

Tzur’s tremendous talent accompanies her in each scene. We feel for her from the introduction, when she cracks that she was “born under the sign of the roach” all the way until the ending, when she is mad with grief, searching for her lost infant.

After the show at Impro Studio, patrons can enjoy walking up Ramat Gan’s Herzl Blvd., its trees now ornamented with light bulbs, and stop for a beer at Plaza Bar, 5 Rambam Sq. 

Paradise South will be shown at Impro Theater (104 Jabotinsky St., Ramat Gan) on Thursday, August 24, at 8:30 p.m. and on Saturday, August 26, at 9 p.m. The performance is approx. 90 minutes long; no intermission. Hebrew only. NIS 70 per ticket. Call (03) 672-1289 to book.

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