We really didn’t feel like seeing a play last night. It’s true that our pre-purchased season tickets have in the past sent us to the theater at highly inappropriate moments. The night after Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, when the country was still in shock and no one had thought to shut the theaters yet, we found ourselves at the Jerusalem Theater watching a production of The Good Soldier Schweik. That play begins with an actor shouting “The Archduke Ferdinand has been assassinated!” Halfway into the first act a man in the audience had a heart attack. The omens were clear. We should have stayed home.
But now I’m glad we didn’t learn that lesson. We tore ourselves away from the television’s images of the attack on Gaza to head for the Khan theater’s production of a new comedy, The Dragon’s Beloved, and good thing that we did.
Michael Gurevitch, the theater’s artistic director and the playwright behind The Dragon’s Beloved, has in recent years made Jerusalem’s only professional reparatory company into a real pleasure. Each time we go we come out with the feeling that the actors really had a good time on stage and that they like working together. There’s a sense of common purpose and labor that often seems to be missing from the work of the large Tel Aviv theaters.
Gurevitch has written and directed a series of plays composed in collaboration with the actors, most of them comedies with a sting to them. The Dragon’s Beloved is a reworking of the Orpheus myth. A member of the audience with graying hair by the name of Vitzman (Erez Shafrir) is called up to the stage and the actors begin presenting his life—not as he remembers it, but as it perhaps should have been. Vitzman is estranged from his wife, whom he met in his youth after spying on her through binoculars from his apartment window. The cast—his and his wife’s younger selves, three former lovers who keep her, like Hades, in thrall in the darkness, and a harlequin demon—Hermes, Eurydice’s escort on the road from hell, played to perfection by Vitali Friedland—teach Vitzman that he must not look back to the wife of his lost youth but accept her as she is now, in her and his old age.
This is the kind of theater that could never be film—it depends on a playfulness, immediacy, and sense of the unreal that would be impossible to achieve on a screen. Gurevitch is a master of creating a world of illusion out of the simplest props, sets, and dramatic situations.
The only thing I sometimes find lacking in Gurevitch’s work is a depth of theme. The Dragon’s Beloved is a case in point. The reconciliation of an estranged elderly couple is touching, and the message that we cannot expect our beloved to remain as she was when we fell in love with her is incontrovertible. But the play doesn’t begin to address the intricacies of human relationships.
But there are complex truths and there are simple truths and both are important. And the message that we cannot live our lives caught up in the past, but must rather look unflinchingly at the present, is relevant to many contexts beyond love and marriage.
At one point in the play, the confused elder Vitzman looks uncomprehendingly at the players and says “I don’t understand a thing. Couldn’t you have at least put a summary of the plot in the program?” But in real life we don’t have a summary of the plot either—we need to work hard to understand the world as we pass through it. And that’s an important thing to keep in mind in these troubled days.