Ethnic Theater - Jewish
"The Whore from Ohio"
La MaMa Theatre, Manhattan
It was with considerable anticipation that I attended “The Whore from Ohio”---catching it just barely, on the last day of its off-Broadway run. I wanted to see more work of the highly controversial, Israeli playwright Hanoch Levin (having seen “Job’s Passion” last month). According to the program notes, Levin (who died in 1999) is still seen as one of Israel’s leading dramatists, a writer whose large body of work has been performed worldwide. He is known for his sardonic style, bawdy humor, and strong language.
This particular work was brought to La MaMa in downtown Manhattan courtesy of Geula and Victor Attar. Directed by both Attars, Victor also plays the lead. This husband-wife team has long been devoted to avant-garde theater, in both Israel and the United States. La MaMa has been their home away from home, dating back to 1971, and they are founding members of La MaMa Tel Aviv.
But back to “The Whore from Ohio.” I am no prude, regularly covering the off- and off-off-Broadway scene, which flourishes with simulated sex encounters and four-letter obscenities. No censors are at work on the off-Broadway stage.
But this time I was truly shocked, finding the piece outrageous and in very bad taste. The story specifically concerns the sexual impotence and unfulfilled dreams of an old man. A tramp, who has just turned 70, wants one last chance with a whore. While he dreams of fabulously rich whores in Ohio, he settles for a street prostitute. They haggle over the price, but she remains firm. One hundred shekels! He agrees, and the ordeal begins. She lifts her dress, spreads her legs, and grows impatient with his fumbling. He, unfortunately, is unable to perform. All this is spelled out far too graphically and goes on for the better part of an hour!
Yet “The Whore from Ohio” does have its compensations. Levin has scraped the bottom of the barrel in creating his three characters, and one calls to mind Beckett’s two tramps in “Waiting for Godot.” The father/son scenes (reminiscent of Vladimir and Estragon) are in fact quite effective. Moreover, the play’s direction is lively, and its three actors (Attar as Hoibitter, Udi Razzin as his son, and Zishan Ugurlu as the whore) are excellent, each creating a believable character within the absurdist format. Victor Attar, whose performance is sad, funny, and poignant, all in one, is kind of an Israeli King Lear, as he awaits his doom. Would that the three of them had appeared in an entirely different play!
As to the claims made for Hanoch Levin as Israel’s greatest playwright, we will withhold judgment, pending future productions of other Levin dramas.
-- Irene Backalenick
Dec. 11, 2006