New York City Theater
Theater for the New City, Manhattan
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. And now the controversial Israeli playwright Hanoch Levin tackles the issue, using the Biblical story of Job. (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.)
The play “Job’s Passion” is difficult to judge, given the TNC 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. Repeatedly, hooded figures appear on stage, informing Job of his latest disaster. This comes over as comic, rather than tragic. 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.
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, doomed to die slowly. It is punishment by the Roman soldiers for his belief in a Jewish God. A circus troupe appears, and takes Job’s death on as their best-paying attraction. A scarifying image of torture and callousness.
But all told, “Job’s Passion” proves to be a disappointing sampling of one of Israel’s most intriguing, most controversial playwrights.
-- Irene Backalenick
Nov. 9, 2006