Ethnic Theater - Jewish
Theater for the New City, Manhattan
New York is experiencing a veritable Hanoch Levin invasion! Off-Broadway will see two of his plays performed this month and next: “Job’s Passion” and “The Whore from Ohio,” both playing at off-Broadway theaters in downtown Manhattan.
This is a unique opportunity to see Israel’s most controversial and provocative playwright. Levin’s plays, with the biting social satires of his early work, and the nihilism of his later plays, have generated much discussion in Israel. Before his untimely death in 1999 at the age of 56, Levin had produced an enormous body of work, which included sketches, songs, and poetry, as well as plays.
So, naturally, we looked forward eagerly to the first Levin play, “Job’s Passion.” And, as happens with too high expectations, we were deeply disappointed. The production, rather than the play, was, we suspect, the main culprit.
Not that the topic is not intriguing. Is there a God? Is there no God? The debate rages on, and is, in fact, a hot topic, judging by the Nov. 13 cover story in Time Magazine. Hanoch Levin tackles the issue, using the Biblical story of Job.
“Job’s Passion” is difficult to judge, given the Theater for the New City production. Actors mumble or rush their lines, and Levin’s commentary gets lost along the way. Moreover, staging is awkward. Too often actors stand about, uncertain as to why they are on stage. For reasons unknown, Levin moves the play back and forth in time. Director David Paul Willinger deals with this challenge by mixing costumes and props. Sunglasses, Roman tunics, Biblical robes, ancient goblets all create a mish-mash.
Initially, the text itself is tiresome and repetitious, as Job is stripped of his worldly goods, his children, his teeth, his faith. We expected better of Levin, and certainly of the production. Repeatedly, hooded figures appear on stage, informing Job of his latest disaster. This comes over as comic, rather than tragic, and we laugh, for the wrong reasons.
Even more unintentionally comic, is Job himself, played by Primy Rivera, who happens to be small and portly. For much of the play, he is stripped to his jockey shorts, his tummy hanging over his waistband, as he deplores fate. It is difficult to see this Job as a tragic figure, a King Lear, as has been suggested.
Yet Rivera, of all the cast, gives a convincing, impassioned performance, as he wavers between faith and non-faith. Levin is not averse to brutal images, and in the last act Job is impaled on an iron spike driven through his rectum, doomed to die slowly. It is punishment by the Roman soldiers for Job’s belief in a Jewish God. A circus troupe appears, and takes Job’s dying scene on as their best-paying attraction. It is a scarifying image of torture and callousness.
But all told, this production of “Job’s Passion” proves to be a disappointing sampling of one of Israel’s most intriguing, most controversial playwrights.
-- Irene Backalenick
Nov. 9, 2006