A Perfect Stranger – Malenki Theatre’s Orpheus in the Metro

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Photo: Maxim Reider

It’s the essence of urban survival: don’t look into anyone’s eyes. Walking down the street we transform ourselves into perfect strangers, our faces masks that reveal no thought or emotion. Yet in the exquisite isolation of the city, there is no quest greater than the search for love, except, perhaps, the desire for meaning.

In the alleys of Jaffa, on the roof of HaSimta Theatre, the door opens on Orpheus in the Metro presented by the Malenki Theatre in an all black, narrow room with two rows of chairs for the audience. The room is full of sound: the dull roar of a train. A man sits on the floor, putting together a Rubik’s cube from colored plastic cubes on the floor in front of him. Scenes of the Paris Metro are projected on the wall behind him. Absorbed in his task, he does not look up. He slowly snaps the final piece into place, and the video disappears, but the sound of the trains can still be heard.

If you look into his eyes, Oren Yadgar will take you on a journey through that dark space, the inner life of a stranger.

Photo: Maxim Reider

It is an intimate, compelling journey through an artfully constructed reality in which chance becomes destiny. The play is based on a short story by Julio Cortažar (Manuscript Found in a Pocket), translated by Yoram Meltzer, and adapted for the stage by Roy Chen. A man tells of his search to find “the one” in the Paris Metro, playing a game devised by the divagations of his isolated labyrinthine mind. Relying on the certainty of structure, like solving the Rubik’s cube, adhering strictly to the rules, this modern day Orpheus goes underground to find love.

The game is simple: if he catches the eye of a woman reflected in the train window, he has permission to follow her, and, if he guesses her route correctly, to approach.

Photo: Maxim Reider

It is a mad man’s journey, a tale of self-delusion, yet that is the genius of the play. Oren Yadgar is Orpheus, the mythic performer. Under Igor Berezin’s direction, Yadgar is shyly charming, creating a warm rapport with the audience sitting just a breath away. Hilariously logical as he draws out his maps in colored chalk on the walls and floors, and spell-binding as he spins his tale of love – when he ventures deep into that hellish ambiguity one can only follow. His virtuoso performance is mesmerizing.

Although it is a one person show, the set design created by Paulina Adamova and Katya Shplavia, music by Yvgeny Levitas and Anna Segal and movement by Irad Mazliah are an integral part of this excellent production – I have rarely seen a play in which all elements are so well integrated, working together to create a suspenseful, emotionally charged atmosphere.

Orpheus in the Metro is an amazing experience, one of the best plays I have seen. It is a reminder that theatre has the potential to be one of the last posts of resistance to urban alienation and the homogenization of mass culture.

*Update* Since my viewing of the play, Malenki Theatre has a dedicated venue in Gan Meir, and that is where the play is performed. Tickets to the upcoming shows on June 20th & 21 may be ordered via this link: http://kupatbravo.co.il/announce/20555

 

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