“How are you?”
I’ve heard that question many times since this past Saturday. I imagine you, my Dear Reader, have as well. The honest answer, if you live here in the ‘burgh and possess a heart and soul, ranges from broken-hearted to shaken to devastated to terrified to furious to anxiety-riddled to hopelessly depressed.
As I picked up my laptop to write this post this evening, it felt “wrong” to jump right in to writing about theater in the wake of the tragedy that just hit our city. At the very least, I feel the need to take the writerly equivalent of a moment of silence – to reach out across the space that separates you from me and check in.
How are you?
“Okay” is the best I’ve been able to muster in the last four days. I hope you, too, are okay.
How do you move from tragedy to work? Saturday was also the closing night of the limited-run engagement of the Tel-Aviv theater company Hanut31’s co-production of Larger than Life with our own Bricolage Production Company. I had tickets to the show; I anticipated that they would cancel in light of the massacre in Squirrel Hill. But following the long tradition of theater companies since time immemorial, the show went on.
Before the performance began, the casts of both Frankenstein and Karate Man Patrick Kim came on stage to take time to honor and memorialize the victims of the shooting. Shahar Marom, the director of the Israeli company, thanked the audience for being there. He noted that eleven Jewish voices had been silenced by antisemitic violence earlier in the day; in choosing to share their art with us, the Israelis were refusing to allow their voices to be silenced as well.
“But we need your help,” he continued, apologetically. “This is a comedy.”
Then musical guests Cello Fury played “Silence,” a beautiful, haunting elegy that left both performers and audience members weeping. When the song finished, the cast of Frankenstein – still sniffling and drying their eyes – showed us exactly how you move from tragedy into work: they took their emotional turmoil and with brave force of will channeled it into performing a snippet version of the show.
You’ll hear more about Frankenstein later this week after I see the full-length production; but based on the short version presented as part of this double-header, I’m recommending that you snap up a ticket – the cast is strong and the story hews much closer to the original novel than most film or theater versions, making this an unusual take on a “familiar” tale.
As for Karate Man Patrick Kim – Marom was right, it is a comedy, and a very funny one at that. “Patrick Kim” is the hero of a series of pulp-fiction novels published in Israel in the late twentieth century – he’s a James Bond-like figure with mad karate skills played, in this version, with ironic relish by actor and clown extraordinaire Noam Rubinstein. The plot of the play is a chaotic, silly, and satirical sendup of a Cold War drama – something to do with an American scientist who has been kidnapped by Russians who plan to turn him into a spy by transplanting a Russian brain into his head – which can also be read as a pointed commentary on present-day international power and politics.
The format is a radio play, like Bricolage’s Midnight Radio, but the ensemble of Hanut31 takes a slightly different approach: instead of having all members of the cast produce sound effects, here sound artist Sharon Gabay takes near sole responsibility for producing the soundscape, leaving the actors to focus on character and vocal work. Gabay uses both digital sampling and physical objects to create sound, and in his hands the objects become part of the visual irony and humor of the play itself – for example, in one scene “Patrick Kim” is seduced by a beautiful French agent (played by Nadia Kucher); the subsequent “sex scene” is figured both aurally and visually by Gabay sucking on an orange and devouring a banana.
Moreover, where in a Midnight Radio production the fiction of being in an old-fashioned radio studio is so fully realized that you could close your eyes and feel as if you had not missed anything of the play itself, Karate Man Patrick Kim derives much of its comedy from the actors’ facial expressions and body language (in addition to Gabay’s clever deployment of objects). Actor Noa Becker – who also wrote the script – is particularly fine in this regard, her eyes expressive of a hilarious range of mocking commentary.
The ensemble performs with dynamic energy and deadpan panache, and while all three performers are terrific, Kucher in particular astonishes with the range and versatility of her voice. She sings like a tenor in one moment, and in the next she produces a beautiful coloratura soprano; she goes from rasping like a chain-smoker from Texas to crooning in French like Edith Piaf; and she seems to be able to speak (or fake speaking) four or five languages. To give you a little taste of both her talents and the vibe of the show as a whole, I leave you with a short video of the Hebrew version: