Hanoch Levin, Israel’s most revered playwright, died 20 years ago. His demise did not affect his popularity and his plays are constantly performed. Hungry for more, theatre people often look for writings that have not made it to the stage before. This is how a short story published in 1983 was adapted into a stage piece performed by one actor, a soprano and an orchestra.
Ishel and Romanzka recounts in detail a very frustrating blind date. Not that any other kind of date is possible in Levin’s world, in which everybody is miserable and envy the lucky few who are rich and beautiful and therefore happy. But this constant misery is described in such acid and sharply poetic language, that we keep asking for more.
A pleasant female voice on the phone gets Ishel to fantasize about humping both Romanzka and her mother. But when he sets his eyes on the plump and homely woman, he just wants to get away (as he is telling the story, we never get a description of what he looks like). As turning away is not appropriate, he figures the best he can do is keep the date short and cheap. Poor Romanzka, used to the disappointed look she recognizes in his eyes, needs a little win. So she decides to get him to spend as much money on her as she can. He hopes to satisfy her with coffee, she asks for food. So he takes her to eat falafel. So she has two servings and demands to be taken home in a taxi. He prays for a bus to arrive first. They both loose the battle and part ways after a couple of agonizing hours. A few minutes later they run into each other again, and Romanzka shoves in Ishel’s face a photo of herself as a very little girl. “Here I am”, she says. “Here is who and what I am. Here is face and shape”. It’s a heart breaking moment that sheds humanity over the cruel experience.
It was composer and conductor Yossi Ben Nun’s initiative to bring the story to the stage. He gathered 17 musicians to form the new Israeli Theater Orchestra, and composed light music to go with the different scenes and moods of the story. He also wrote a part for a soprano, who presumably represents the inner voice of the humiliated woman. Goni Cnaani has a lovely soprano voice, and the pleasant music does help the evening move along. However it didn’t seem to deepen the meaning of the drama or have a value of its own.
What does make the evening something definitely worth buying tickets for is the reading of gifted actor Dror Keren, who both tells the story and impersonates Ishel. Keren, who also stars in the hit adaptation of David Grossman’s A Horse Walks into a Bar, is adept in one man shows. He fleshes out every layer of the story and helps us connect with the humanity of the wretched characters. It’s all there on the page, but Keren doesn’t miss a note.
- By Hanoch Levin חנוך לוין
- Artistic Directors: Yossi Ben Nun and Dror Keren
- A work for an actor and orchestra based on Hanoch Levin’s short story
- Music: Yossi Ben Nun
- Actor: Dror KerenSoprano: Goni Cnaani
- TZAVTA Theatre
- Until 28 March