Recent Theater, Music and Film (19 cents)

1. THEATER: “Boged (Traitor): an Enemy of the People” by Boaz Gaon and Nir Erez, based on Henrik Ibsen’s “Enemy of the People” and reset in Israel’s Negev desert, is an effective piece of theater, universal in application, showing the often inevitable conflict between competing human necessities, and the destruction that the conflict can bring about. Simply put, an impoverished town in the southern Israeli desert becomes the home of a large industrial park, fashioned largely by two entrepreneurs and an overly ambitious mayor. The mayor’s brother, a scientist who has spent much time out of the country, is brought back to his home town and given the job of ensuring that the industrial growth is not adversely affecting the environment. To his dismay, he discovers that effluent from the factories are polluting the town’s drinking water, and suggests that planned additional installations should not be built and that at least a portion of the existing factories should cease operations until a remedy can be implemented.

The plot contains a lot of family drama – not only the sibling rivalry, but the fact that the scientist’s father in law is one of the two entrepreneurs, and that his daughter loses her job because her father becomes an enemy of the people. But beyond this are the inevitable conflicts – the factories, while they might be polluting the drinking water, also bring jobs to a depressed part of the country, jobs that would be lost if they are forced to close or ratchet down their activities. And, on the other hand, if they are allowed to continue and increase, more prosperity will come to this otherwise isolated community – or will it only bring more profit to the factory owners and more glory to the mayor and his clearly ruthless ambition?

The play keeps surprisingly close to Ibsen, and Ibsen is fully credited. But placing it in Israel brings attention to the environmental problems of that country (and it is a country which today may concentrate more on its environment than most) and to the social issues (rich against poor, Jewish against Bedouin, industry against environment) that are particular to Israel in one sense and universal in another.

Very strong acting headed by Michael Tolaydo, a ball of emotion and energy on the stage. A Theater J production, but performed at Georgetown University’s Gonda Theatre through February 3. Worth seeing if you get a chance (and check out the various pre- and post-show discussions being held throughout the run: we attended two of them, both interesting and worth our time).

2. MUSIC: Members of Taffety Punk, a theater-rock-dance company that I am not sure that I quite understand, put on a reprise of their recent version of Shakespeare’s “The Rape of Lucretia”, a version of the David/Bathsheba story, more or less, where the wife of a soldier who is posted away is raped by the Etruscan prince of Rome, leading to her suicide (which in turn led to a popular revolt, the banishment of the Etruscans and the formation of the Roman Republic). Part of it I liked, part I had a harder time with. The positives: the music, and the superb recitations of Kimberly Gilbert, who played Lucretia. This was one of the Shakespeare Theatre’s evening “Happenings”.

Yesterday, I attended an unusual and, I thought, remarkable concert at Epiphany Church by Lilly Neill, American born, Irish trained “lever harpist”. The lever harp is a rarely heard Celtic instrument, somewhat shorter than a standard harp, and with levers on top the strings permitting easy changes of key. Neill’s repertory consists of traditional pieces, pieces adapted from other instruments, and her own compositions (which were perhaps the most enjoyable). Her technique is masterful, but what was most surprising to me was her sense of rhythm and how she could play such rhythmic pieces on the harp. If she plays in DC again, she is someone I would certainly seek out.

3. FILM: We saw an Israeli film last night, “Off-White Lies”, which was nominated for a number of Israeli awards. I found it painful and I thought that the biggest problem with the movie was that it was about two hours too long (I was surprised when, at the end of the film, I looked at my watch and saw that the film lasted less than 90 minutes). A thirteen year old girl is sent by her mother from California to live with her father in Israel, who turns out to be homeless, somewhat shiftless, and a dreamer (he’s an inventor). The story is set during the 2006 war with Lebanon, and the father and daughter pose as displaced residents from the north taking advantage of the home hospitality of a wealthy family living in Jerusalem. Of course, their ruse is eventually discovered, but not before the father engages in a sexual relationship with the lady of the house (the husband is off on reserve duty) and the 13 year old girl appears to have had a sexual relationship (or at least a physical relationship) with the 18 year old son in the house. Whew! OK, it does give you some sense of what it would be like to be without a shekel with the responsibility for your daughter. But, in fact, this just makes you uncomfortable, as all you really need to do is look for a job, it would appear. And, by the way, how can you have a film set in Jerusalem, where you don’t see, even in the background, at least one religious Jew? (I guess I have to balance this off by saying that not only has the film received positive recognition in Israel, but the Imdb reviewers gave it a 7.1, which is not bad, and the New York Times review was very positive; but the murmuring last night in the lobby of the Avalon was very negative.)

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