Published: Friday, January 18, 2013
Updated: Friday, January 18, 2013 14:01
COURTESY THEATER J
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION Theater J’s production “Boged” sets Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People” in modern Israel with limited success.
To be honest, I like to think of myself as an environmentalist. I love our planet and think that for the sake of the future of both Earth and everything that lives on it, we should do our best to keep it clean, safe and healthy. To some people, my environmentalist attitude would be considered liberal; some might call me “green.” But growing up, it was normal to question everything around me and look for ways to change them for the better. I gained this outlook through my local Jewish Community Center preschool and subsequent Sunday school education.
Growing up Jewish instilled many values in me, the most important of which is to never stop questioning anything and everything around you. It’s a habit that I’ll never break. It’s not surprising, then, that I questioned many aspects of “Boged (Traitor): An Enemy of the People,” currently running in Georgetown’s Gonda Theater. Its American debut performance, directed by Joseph Megel and put on by Theater J — the local Jewish Community Center’s theater troupe — is a stagnant play about family and environmental issues. Getting this play to Georgetown, however, wasn’t the an easy process. Theater J approached Megel this past October to direct the play, and he accepted. Once arranged, though, it was a slow process moving forward. According to Megel, the production crew had only “a week of workshop” on the script with the Center for the Study of Jewish Culture at the University of North Carolina at Chapell Hill and “3 weeks of rehearsal.” The process “was very complicated,” but they at least had playwright Boaz Gaon there to help.
“Working with the playwright here, made the experience particularly rich, but it also was such a short rehearsal period and we had so much to accomplish,” Megel wrote of the show’s progression in an email. “This was a particularly hard project to realize in the time we had.”
Based on the play “An Enemy of the People” by Henrik Ibsen, Gaon along with fellow playwright Nir Erez have moved Ibsen’s tale to a small town in the northern part of the Negev — Israel’s southern desert — and updated it to take place in the modern day. They kept the characters, themes and major events from Ibsen’s play, but the modern setting and location bring different elements to the foreground.
The main plot line deals with two brothers and those close to them as chemical waste from industrial plants threatens the safety and health of all those living in their town. The show centers on Dr. Tommy Doany (Michael Tolaydo) as he fights his brother Simon (Brian Hemmingsen), the mayor of their town, to shut down these industrial plants. His concern is for the safety of those living in the town, but Simon is more concerned with money and power; without the plants, he warns throughout the play, the town’s economy would tank and the people would be unhappy.
The two characters that run these plants play an important role in the play, as they are the roots of the conflict. Moddy Ekstein (Georgetown drama professor Sarah Marshall), the CEO of the company that owns and operates many of the plants at this industrial park, spends the entire play tricking all of the characters to turn a profit and open up more plants. But what complicates the situation the most is that Tommy’s wife, is Katy (Georgetown theater professor Nadia Mahdi), the daughter of the owner of the other plants in the park. Embroiled in a love-hate relationship with his daughter and granddaughter Yarden (Blair Bowers), he values family and money but not the ecological safety of the town. Yarden, a spunky and ambitious teacher, gives the historical context to the play that it otherwise lacks. Her involvement in Israeli youth activism as part of the “Israeli Spring” helps viewers know that this is in fact taking place in the modern day.
The plot is thick with political and social satire — both about modern Israeli politics and Jewish cultural politics — but has a hard time conveying itself. For the most part, I got the jokes and satire, but this is probably only because I’m Jewish and have been raised with them. I’m afraid, however, that it would be lost on those unfamiliar with Jewish customs or culture.
The main problem I found with the plau was the acting. It wasn’t bad, but it was poor enough for the show to lose all sense of reality. Hemmingsen aggressively shouted every line without emotion, and Tolaydo lacked emotional depth, switching between angry and depressed without warning. Bowers, though, had the only cringe-worthy moment of the show, exclaiming “Squeal!” (to clarify, she said it instead of making the noise) when her father’s water tests come back. There were also many flubbed lines, which certainly didn’t help its situation. Marshall is the only convincing actor. Ruthless in her business, she treats blackmail and manipulation as a second career, all the while laughing at those who oppose her.
The set was uninspiring, with a single platform, a few chairs and a table making up the scenery for the entire show; their location on the platform changing depending on the scene. Not only did this make it hard to tell where the characters were, but it made the play duller than it could have been otherwise. The only other element to the set was a large digital window display. However, this display added nothing to the scenes and acted simply as a background.
Although many elements of this new show felt lackluster, “Boged” offers some political and social commentary that proves highly relevant today.
“Ibsen’s play could not be more topical today. But we seldom think of Israel or the Israeli desert as a place where industry and growth could effect our environment … a Israeli Spring movement coinciding with the Arab spring,” Megel wrote. “Young people [are] living in tents in Tel Aviv, protesting for economic and political justice. It has so much to say internationally and so much to say to us right here. It connects us with ideas that are so important today.”
Although its humor gets lost in subpar acting, and its messages seemingly vanish amid confusing and unarticulated dialogue. Boged is a performance full of substance. The play runs through Feb. 3 and is $15 for Georgetown Students.