Play Within a Play
In the Gesher adaptation of I.B. Singer’s Shosha an American actress commissions Aaron, a young Warsaw writer, to compose a play with a cross-dressing, demon-possessed heroine. Aaron says the story, equal parts Yentl and Dybbuk, isn’t right for the stage, and, sure enough, the play fails spectacularly.
While Shosha means to be the opposite of Aaron’s play, the adaptation is not nearly as deep as it pretends to be. Beneath its discussions of God, Satan, Stalin, and Hitler, Shosha is fundamentally a soap opera: Aaron carouses with married women and maids on the eve of the Holocaust. He has a chance to escape to America, but chooses instead to marry his childhood soulmate, Shosha, one of Singer’s holy fools. The mentally stunted Shosha spends most of her time onstage gesturing wildly and asking silly, occasionally insightful questions like why God hasn’t punished Hitler already. The women are histrionic, the men are stoic, never quite earning the philosophical or emotional gravitas director Yevgeny Arye so earnestly, and obviously, desires.
But while Shosha fails to deliver the insights it promises, the Gesher troupe, from Israel, manages to entertain and energize in ways most American productions never do. Staged on Theater Row, Shosha would be staged with big name actors on costly hyperrealistic sets. You wish the producers would just move to Hollywood and fund a few sitcoms already. But Gesher never denies its own theatricality. The sets are minimal, relying instead on rolling, white backdrops, projected images of Warsaw and Tel Aviv, photographs and postcards to set the scene. In the café, mannequins stand in for waiters and pianists. The audience is not just watching Aaron’s story unfold; it’s participating in the act of remembrance.
A dozen years ago, critics saw Donald Margulies bring a Philip Roth character to the stage. Some scenes have aged better than others.