Cameri Theatre: The New Criminals

The Cameri Theatre production of Edna Mazya's The New Criminals
The Cameri Theatre production of Edna Mazya’s The New Criminals

The New Criminals will have audiences laughing, but perhaps they should be squirming in their seats as this comic satire has the Israeli contemporary culture in its sights, and Edna Mazya’s aim is excellent. The play takes a look at an upper middle class family rapidly losing ground in a floundering economy while trying to maintain a facade of affluent stability. At the heart of this play in every way is Dorina, trying to be a good wife, mother and daughter, even though her family casually accepts her toil and sacrifices as no more than their due.

Sandra Sade is radiant. Her portrayal of 60-something Dorina has a sweetness, honesty, intelligence and warmth that captivates the heart and has one cheering for her from the start. There is a wonderful synergy between Mazya’s text and Sade’s performance that imbues this character with a complexity that enhances the comedy. Dorina is the quintessential traditional subservient wife, her husband Arie (Ohad Shahar) regards her as a simple woman with no understanding of the finer things in life – or at least, that is how she looks from the lofty height of his discerning tastes and elegant style. Self-confessed feminist that I am, as frustrated as I was by Arie’s flagrantly dismissive comments to Dorina, ordering her about as if she were his personal slave, the play convincingly presents the pair as a couple that remains connected and affectionate despite their differences and the passage of time. Once more, much credit goes to Sandra Sade for the subtle shadings she gives her character, a woman who sees her husband’s weaknesses and flaws, is hurt by his attitude, yet at the same time feels committed to supporting him in word and deed, and is still attracted to the debonair charmer she fell in love with long ago.

Completing the family picture are a grown up son Ilai (Michael Aloni), an aspiring musician who is married to Sarit (Tamar Shem Or), and would-be writer daughter Bambi (Yael Tal) who is traveling in South America. Living with Dorina and under her diligent care is her mother Anka (Rivka Michaeli), a bit forgetful and confused, except when it comes to criticizing her daughter, at those moments her wits are as sharp as ever. It’s a typical, almost stereotypical family of not-quite empty nesters, whose nest egg is not quite what they hoped it would be. The current economic crisis pushes everything to the limit, especially since no one except Dorina is willing to face the facts. That is when Dorina almost literally stumbles upon Naomi (Ruti Asrsay) and a way to solve the family’s solvency problems.

There’s just one catch: it’s a criminal offense.

The New Criminals: Naomi (Ruti Asrsay) and Dorina (Sandra Sade)/Photo: Gerard Alon
The New Criminals: Dorina (Sandra Sade) and Naomi (Ruti Asrsay)/Photo: Gerard Alon

Mazya takes ordinary people and places them in a extreme situation, but with a light and sure touch.  The internal logic of the play is clear and consistent, it’s a comic “what-if” with no intention of delving into the harsh realities and consequences or the moral implications of Dorina’s actions. Yet the emotional tone and family dynamic strike a chord of authenticity that holds this comedy together and protects it from becoming a cliché: Mazya writes from a solid knowledge of, and even affection for, the people she describes and their cultural milieu. They are not posters or cardboard characters, one feels that they have the heft of real people, and retain that human warmth even when they are in the most absurd situations that develop in the play.

The New Criminals: Anka (Rivka Michaeli) and Dorina (Sandra Sade)
The New Criminals: Anka (Rivka Michaeli) and Dorina (Sandra Sade)

The circumstances may be extreme and bizarre, but the treatment is nuanced and performances beautifully restrained. Rivka Michaeli is superb as the elderly Anka, playing the confused older woman with such precise comic timing, restrained delivery and cheery insouciance that one always has the sense of laughing with, and not merely “laughing at” this representative of the older generation. Ruti Asrsay is a very likeable and convincing Naomi, a young woman who knows where she wants to go in life, and is ready to do whatever she has to do to get there.

The New Criminals is a hilarious, feel-good play, that reflects a contemporary Israeli reality that feels anything but good.

Written and directed by Edna Mazya; Set design: Eran Atzmon; Costumes: Orna Smorgonsky; Music: Asaf Talmudi; Lighting: Keren Granek; Choreography and Movement: Shay Suzanna; Cast: Sandra Sade, Rivka Michaeli, Ohad Shahar, Ruti Asrsay, Yael Tal, Michael Aloni/Ori Zaltzman, Tamar Shem Or, Neta Plotnik, Asaf Goldstein, Roni Sheindorf, Eran Sarel, Shoham Sheiner.