Comedy is one of the methods we humans have developed to make life bearable, because life, inevitably, is full of pain. Often inflicted by those closest to us. In The Back Room, Edna Mazya presents the other side of comedy, the source material. The play focuses on Eli, a young Israeli stand-up comedian, who reflects on the personal experiences that form the material for his act. Solid performances with poignant moments, interspersed with a stand-up routine, mark this family drama that grapples with difficult issues.
Yedidya Vital’s portrayal of Eli, the 30-something comedian, is the backbone of the play. His self-mocking disaffected stage persona of the ultimate loner, the one who is the life of the party then “pukes in the bushes and goes home alone,” feels genuine and relatable, as does the vulnerable, child within it is meant to cover. Everything is potential material, and everything can turn into a good joke, whether it’s his miserable childhood or sessions with his therapist. Yet the dysfunctionality of the family is so blatantly apparent that one feels as though there is nothing to discover. While one may sympathize with Eli, by turns manipulated, domineered, neglected, and smothered by his parents Miriam and Motta (Sandra Sade and Moni Moshonov) and his uncle Sam (Dudu Niv), the three adults offer no possibility of identifying with their character or actions. The result is that in some sense, there is no conflict, no unsolved questions. Within a few seconds of listening to Miriam, Sam, and Motta, it becomes quite obvious that any child brought up by this trio will be thoroughly messed up.
And yet, as the play unfolds, one begins to realize that Mazya was reaching for something deeper than ordinary family misery. The attempt to combine the stand-up routine with the horrific family life that, in effect, generated it, may be viewed as a tight-rope act, ambitious and challenging, and therefore deserving of a certain respect in the attempt. When all pretense is gone, and the veneer of happy family life is shattered forever, there is an unforgettable moment of clarity and acknowledgement. Sam (Dudu Niv) sits a few feet away on a bench, silent, apart from the others, listening as Eli confronts his parents with their betrayal of his childhood. Everything in Niv’s performance until that moment established Sam as a vile, and despicable, annoying character, a judgement strengthened as events unfold. Yet this moment, as Sam listens and, acknowledging his own part in this horror, silently breaks down, strikes a powerful emotional chord, an ambivalence, a reluctant recognition of Sam’s humanity, and a resounding affirmation of Dudu Niv’s depth and power as an actor.
The Back Room
Written and directed by Edna Mazya; Stand-up texts in collaboration with Tom Yaar; Set and costumes: Orna Smorgonsky; Music: Eran Zur; Lighting: Ziv Voloshin; Assistant director: Iris Kredi; Cast: Moni Moshonov – Motta, Sandra Sade – Miriam, Dudu Niv – Sam, Hila Feldman – Daffi, Yedidia Vital – Eli. A co-production of the Cameri Theatre and the Beit Lessin Theatre.