HOKEY POKEY | 2010
A failing writer who dreams of success; an actress past her prime desperate for the limelight again; a therapist having a secret affair with Hitler, a clown whose identity was stolen; a paraplegic who dreams of long legs and an Arab girl who dreams of being more than just another Arab. A patchwork of stories that connect into one play, raising strong questions about the situation of Israeli society.
BETWEEN GAZA AND BERLIN
One of the finest kubeh dishes to be found in Jerusalem is served at a tiny cafeteria named "Between Gaza and Berlin". Its name is geographical, as the cafeteria is on the corner of Gaza and Rabbi Berlin streets, but there's also something poetic about it. Is that not our exact position in the historical-cultural-political arena? When it comes down to it, we are all stuck between Gaza and Berlin.
Contemporary Israeli art has always made an effort to provide the goods which are so simply put in the cafeteria sign. How can we successfully consolidate the Holocaust along with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in one book, film, or play? On the one hand, it seems like the number one recipe for lack of taste and disgust. On the other hand, it's the truth. And the truth must be told: we're stuck between Gaza and Berlin.
Eyal Weiser is responsible for the writing and directing of yet another attempt to do so. The play "Hokey Pokey" is presented to the audience as a presentation for an unfinished project headed for Berlin. Before it begins, actor Jonathan Bar Or toadies to imaginary representatives of a German-Israeli cultural association, who are ostensibly in the audience, and explains to the rest of us that if his play succeeds, it will be sent to the Schaubühne, as if, maybe. Behind him is a large framed photo of Hitler, which is reminiscent of the portrait of Suha Arafat which hung on the late "Riffraff" bar on Gruzenberg St. They have Gaza, we have Berlin.
But we also have Gaza, and it comes up very quickly. Gilad Friedman plays a young playwright once dubbed, but only once, as the heir to Hanoch Levin. He listens to a Lady Macbeth's monologue preformed by an Arab actress (Ifat Israel) and is infatuated by something, something in her Arab-ness, or perhaps in Arab-ness in general which is not hers to begin with. He decides to cast her in the lead of his work in progress, and teaches her the meaning of Palestinian oppression, so that she may express it in the part. The actress herself is not too keen on the role. She's a ballet teacher and the daughter of a successful professor. Gaza is worlds away from her, and all attempts to evoke the feeling of humiliation and rage in her crash into her Tel Aviv background. In front of our eyes, he himself gradually evolves into one of the most tedious characters seen on recent stages. A tour de force of walking shame.
Incidentally, the role itself was originally intended for the wife of the imaginary playwright (Naama Goldstein). Intended? It is based on her character – the creative husband's attempt to merge between his failed marriage and the distress of Dir el Balach is simultaneously frustrating and entertaining. Weiser makes a graceful reference to "8½", also presenting to us the obstacle of bad taste he managed to avoid. In this play, there is not one moment lacking self-consciousness, which is why it works.
But it doesn't only "work": Hokey Pokey is also funny and enlightening. In a session with their marriage counselor, the playwright's wife lashes out against her husband's middle eastern tendencies and the special charm that Arab actresses seem to possess. As the blood rushes to her head, she presents a hysterical imaginary discussion of Arab actresses who conspire to take over all leads in Israeli Shakespeare productions. The text is so intelligent and Goldstein's acting so polished, that we cannot but delight.
To experience such delight? While facing a portrait of Hitler? While viewing the suffering of a crippled spinster (Daria Avram) who is time and again rejected by men? In face of the marriage counselor's psychosis (the wonderful Avital Adar) who longs for a Holocaust so that her life will have meaning? Yes, because the pleasure is real. Hokey Pokey is as funny as a comedy should be, and peppered with true "Ugh". Although it doesn't have the salt of real tears, which would plummet the play into the precipice of embarrassment it so subtly avoids, at least it has the salt of Israeli sweat.
It is known, incidentally, that this summer has changed the composition of our sweat. Hokey Pokey, although has already been running for several months, somehow manages to respond to the current undertones. Just this Saturday, Daphne Leef spoke on stage at Kikar Hamedina about our isolation as individuals in the society we've created. This isolation is the play's more universal theme, and what makes it real theater and not only satire.
No one on stage can really see anything but themselves. Leef herself spoke of the hostility evoked by capitalist competition. On stage, a kids' party clown (Anat Gat) complains of another clown who overshadows her. They are both called Pitzi, but one is the clown Pitzi and the other is the clown and magician Pitzi.
Pitzi who is not a magician, yearns to be a magician just as the playwright's wife longs to be an Arab. Like everyone else, she too tries hard to change herself in order to win attention. Just as well that Weiser did not do so. He stuck to a light/heavy theatrical truth, stepping bravely into the lions' den of our reality, and aside from a certain stutter at the end, has emerged entirely free of harm.
Ha'aretz Newspaper | Yuval Ben Ami
BURNING DARK HUMOR
Eyal Weiser's familiar theatrical anarchy known from his previous plays "And Nothing More (Vetu Lo)", "Shufra", and "Ayeka?" is a good background for his new experience, premiering at Tmuna with the Search Engine ensemble. This time, perhaps with the influence of dramaturgist Itzik Giuli, its story is structured and contained; beginning in several directions but flowing towards the center.
The play, create while working with the actors, presents a collection of tales and characters in a series of interchanging images which seem only vaguely related at first, but later on their connection becomes apparent. The audience is welcomed by a waiter/usher (Jonathan Bar-Or) who will later present the play, and participate in several roles and explanations. On the back wall is a colorful portrait of Hitler. Without excessive words and with the aid of a psychologist (Avital Adar), it's one of the stronger stories told by Weiser in his very personal way.
At the heart of the tales is the lack of communication between people as a continuous existential state which they try to overcome. A playwright attempts to write something of relevance (Gilad Friedman), his wife (Naama Goldstein) wants to star in the play, while he contemplates and chooses an Arab actress (Ifat Israel) for the lead. The art of theater also becomes a theme in itself, fortified by the story of a clown called Pitzi (Anat Gat) through which we hear the stories of crippled Yaffa (Daria Avraham).
As usual with Weiser, the humor is dark and sometimes burning, and the human composition manages to go in surprising directions, and just when it seems we've seen it all, there is a final hook that waits patiently until giving that little push. So hope becomes disappointment, success turns to failure, and certainty to illusion. The predetermined identity, or the circumstances which created it, takes control without the ability to change it, and without always being understood by its owner.
As usual, Weiser manages to produce a team quality from the young group of actors, though each individual actor has a functional role that is independent of the others, or the action is within a dialog between only two. Each manages to create a well-formed character that is reliable even at its most extreme.
Ostensibly the play is intended for Weiser aficionados, but unsurprisingly, it seems that this time he also manages to reach those who are unaccustomed to his view of our human sphere.
Abama Internet Culture Magazine | Zvi Goren
ISRAELI THEATRE IN LONDON
...new Israeli writing at the fringes brings to life the tension and concerns, the ironies and the cynicism prevalent in contemporary Israel.
This was particularly well done in Eyal Weiser's Hokey Pokey a hilarious caricature of the pettiness and petensions of the generally Ashkenazi and Jewish Israeli bourgeoisie and intelligentsia.
This short took Israeli black humour to a brave frontier by depiciting a Jewish therapist who fantasizes about a sexual affair with Hitler. The play also features a young Israeli playwright/director, When an Arab actor turns up to audition with a speech from Lady Macebeth, he sees an opportunity to connect with the times and display his supposedly leftist and liberal sentiments by insisting that she bring her experiences as the victimised Arab to the character of Lady Macbeth. Bemused and baffled, this eloquent, educated, intelligent woman stands aghast as she is told to "be more Arab".
The racist assumptions poorly veiled within politically correct politeness were brilliantly attacked in this script, forcing liberal audiences, Israeli and British alike, to confront latent prejudices. The extract demonstrated well the sophisticated and self-aware of the new Israeli writing.
Jewish Renaissance | Sonia Zafer Smith
A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
In spite of the conventional directing and the didactic performance, "Hokey Pokey" is a significant achievement in the field of original playwriting.
Playwright and director Eyal Weiser, one of the hottest names in fringe theater thanks to works such as "Shufra"(writer), "And Nothing More (Vetu Lo)" and "Ayeka" (writer/director), has created "Hokey Pokey" along with the acting ensemble from the Search Engine school directed by Manager Itzik Giuli. Like his previous works, "Hokey Pokey" is a nihilist satire which largely sacrifices its characters on the altar of cutting political and social messages. The spirit of Hanoch Levin, primarily in his role as writer of satirical cabaret, hovers over the play, and is even directly addressed this time.
The main character in "Hokey Pokey" is a frustrated writer/director who, a few years ago, was dubbed "the next Hanoch Levin" by a reckless critic. Since then he has suffered a series of failures. One possible solution to his problem is in the form of an Arabic actress, whose casting in his family drama could turn the play into an important political statement. Around this central story, Weiser scatters a few loaded subplots, containing, among other things, mass murder, sex in the bathroom, and Adolf Hitler. It all accumulates into a ruthless statement about the grim condition of the undisputed protagonist in this type of work – Israeli society.
A bit surprisingly, "Hokey Pokey"'s forte is primarily in the quality of its writing. In an age where the written play is losing its relevance, Weiser manages to produce a text that is dramatic, persuasive, eloquent and well constructed, with more than a few points of brilliance. Although he insists on presenting his message with a didacticism that is slightly annoying, but the ideas themselves – primarily in the fascinating way he handles the memory of the Holocaust – bear a lot of power.
However, I think that "Hokey Pokey" could have benefited from directing that is a bit more adventurous. The opening, where the usher/host declares that this is actually a presentation for the German Cultural Institute and not a finished work, provides great potential for a creative use of space and examination of theatrical discourse, but Weiser chooses the conventional and not-too-thrilling road. On the other hand, he manages to form a series of well characterized and aptly played characters performed by the young and unfamiliar ensemble of Search Engine. This combination of a successful play and excelling acting eventually produces a theatrical experience that is meaningful and fine. Weiser still has room to grow as a writer and director, but "Hokey Pokey" is a step in the right direction.
Time-Out Magazine | Marat Parkhomovsky