‘God of Vengeance’ exhausts and awes

oor Yankl Shepshovich (Alon Dahan). He is torn between the need for heavenly grace and his evil side. His well-patronised basement brothel makes him a very good living, but for 17-year-old Rivkale (Joy Reiger), his only daughter, brought up in ignorance, chastity and innocence, he envisions a life of dutiful, joyous and fruitful womanhood, married to a pious and learned scholar. She will be the atonement for his sins, and as additional insurance, he will purchase a Torah for the community.

Except that lonely Rivkale, unknown to her father, has found a friend and confidante in Manke (Anastasia Fein), one of her father’s whores, a friendship that will be the tipping point for the tidal wave of events that will overwhelm all.

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This God of Vengeance is a sort of very over-the-top Jewish Gothic horror play – complete with tragic ending – that was presented a bit like a modern art piece with huge, loud splashes of paint tossed at a canvas, then manipulated, pushed and pulled on, depending on where they had landed. Both cast and audience were exhausted when it was over, the audience awed a bit, too.

Eran Atzmon’s two-level set contributed to the tsunami effect, as did the costumes by Moni Mednik, the music by Dori Parnes and Nadav Barnea’s unsettling lighting.

The set was on two levels: Rivkale’s chaste white bed was above, and above that, the Torah in a little glass enclosure; below the glass-walled rooms and “public” area of the brothel.

The glass-walled Torah? The glass-walled brothel? Does anyone remember the man in the glass booth? One Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Holocaust. Is the glass here just to ensure visibility? With Tiran as director, I don’t think so.

The whores, corset-straitened, are in various stages of undress. Rivkale goes from virginal white to a sullen bordeaux. Shloyme (Eran Mor), a pimp and an opportunistic thug, has an ascot and a velvet vest, like an ersatz boulevardier. The men wear the black gabardine of the observant Jew in the early 20th century where the play is set. Here the clothes are not the man but conceal him.
Dori Parnes eerie music flits in and out like remembered snatches of song.

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Alon Dahan’s Yankl is never comfortable in his own body, perhaps because his soul is tormented or perhaps because Dahan has not yet completely made up his mind who Yankl is. Either way, his Yankl is oppressed, as is Helena Yaralova’s beautifully restrained Sureh, formerly his whore, now his wife and the mother of Rivka. Becoming a virtuous wife has not liberated her soul, and when her body is once more abused, she receives it almost as a matter of course.

Rivkale is hard to play because her sensuality toward Manke confuses as much as it fulfils her. Later brutality extinguishes her, but she is still alive. Reiger maneuvers between the two as best she can, but we need to feel for her more, and we can’t.

As Manke, Fein holds herself apart. Battered though she is, somewhere she is inviolable, and she holds onto that with such single-mindedness that even when Leib (Uri Ravitz) pleads with her, she cannot hear, yet at the end she, too, is broken. Both performances are finely muted, and both are touching and powerful thereby.

Mor’s Shloyme is not only a thug but a sadist and morally blunt. It’s to the actor’s credit that you want to hit him. As Hindel, his partner, Yardena Bracha vamps a little stereotypically but is also credible as the conventional-girl-wanting-a-home behind the whore. And a star to Neta Plotnik’s Reizl and Maya Landsmann’s buxom Basha for the comic relief.

Comic relief is needed because Tiran has made God of Vengeance deliberately brutal. There’s little let up which is a flaw, because a play cannot go full-throttle all the time, and for most of the time, this one does.

And this God of Vengeance asks another question. Is this hypocritical, violent, oppressed and oppressive society ours today?

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