Miss Sigalit’s Way
Written by: Ayelet Dekel
Modest yet stylish, in jeans and a buttoned up green shirt, hair perfectly coiffed, a generous yet tasteful application of makeup and that rather bright shade of lipstick common to women of a certain profession, she enters the room equipped with houseplant, thermos and a big smile: the teacher Sigalit. Merav Gruber portrays the Israeli junior high teacher to an eerily accurate degree, and Miss Sigalit’s Way is one of the most entertaining theatre experiences I have had, as well as one of the most frightening.
Written by Roberto Athayde, Apareceu a Margarida (Miss Margarida’s Way) premiered in Brazil in 1973 and was immediately banned from the stage, returning in a censored version (and revived in the 1990s on Broadway). Why the uproar? After all, it’s just a monodrama about a teacher in a classroom. What’s so menacing about that? Everything.
The current Search Engine theatre studio production Miss Sigalit’s Way, was translated by Itzik Giuli and Sigalit Fuchs, and directed by Itzik Giuli. As someone who has survived the Israeli educational system, the extent to which this play, written in Brazil during the 1970s under a military dictatorship, feels so relevant to the contemporary local experience is amazing and troubling. Although I am not familiar with the original text, this version is right on target. Both the text and Gruber’s performance were uncanny in their ability to make me feel as though I was back in the familiar classroom of my junior high school. Now that’s scary…and funny.
It is an unusual production. The studio is set up like a classroom, and the play is conducted like a class. The audience sits in rows of chairs facing the teacher’s desk, the walls are all whiteboards and Sigalit makes extensive and explicit use of the boards throughout the play. Set and costumes benefit from the talents of designer Aya Zeiger. From the moment Sigalit enters the room, the audience become part of the performance, in their role as her eighth grade class. Gruber is larger than life, a pedagogical fiend from hell, commanding and controlling from the moment she bares her teeth in a welcoming smile: Good evening. She is almost painfully pleasant as she establishes the groundrules: No need to answer me. Yes, the audience participates in this performance, but it will always be Miss Sigalit’s way. No talking out of turn, speak only when spoken to. Miss Sigalit likes surprise quizzes, she wants the classroom to be so quiet you can hear a pin drop, she demands obedience, and if she has to punish you – well, it’s only for your own good.
Yet it is much more than the pain and pleasure of recognition that moves this play. There is an unnerving dissonance between text and subtext, Sigalit’s verbal statements and her facial expressions, body language, and the words and pictures she draws on the board that serves to emphasize the rhetoric of control. Good cop and bad cop by turn, Gruber mesmerizes and manipulates the audience/class in a virtuoso performance. Time and again I found myself laughing and at the same time acutely aware that I was watching the mechanisms of control and oppression in action.
Modeling and deconstructing domination and indoctrination, Miss Sigalit’s Way inevitably leads one to reflect on education, theatre and politics and the relationship between them. A good audience member, like a good student, sits quietly in her seat, listens to what the actress/teacher says and responds only on the appropriate cues. Sitting in the front row (no, gentle reader, in junior high I always made a heroic effort to sit as far back as possible) taking notes so that I could later do my homework (this review) properly, I was a good student. Yet I wondered – what would happen if someone spoke out, stood up, rebelled?
Performer and audience engage in a staged encounter that is also a real encounter; there are rules known to all, yet there is also the possibility of diverging from the expected. Each encounter with Sigalit will be different, each classroom experience will be different; yet leader and followers, opresser and oppressed, the choreography endlessly repeated, a legacy passed on from one generation to the next, a dance to the death as relevant in Israel 2011 as it was in Brazil 1973. Yet I wonder – what will happen if someone steps out of rhythm, speaks out, stands up, rebels?
The next performance of Miss Sigalit’s Way will take place on October 10, 2011 at 20:30 in the Search Engine Studio, Mandel Cultural Center, 1 Hatkumah Street, Jaffa. Seating is limited to 39 audience members, so advance purchase is strongly recommended. Tickets are 40 NIS, to order call: 054-9402190.
Miss Sigalit’s Way by Roberto Athayde
Translation: Itzik Giuli and Sigalit Fuchs
Set and costume design: Aya Zeiger
Video: Lior Sadeh
Production: Hadas Moshel