The Arts

Israel's Malenki Theatre – Orpheus in the Metro

Israel's Malenki Theatre – Orpheus in the Metro featured image

reviewed by Paula Citron
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Orpheus in the Metro
Malenki Theatre
Adapted and directed by Igor Berezin from Manuscript found in a pocket by Julio Cortázar (stage version by Roy Chen)
Performed by Oren Yadgar
In Tel Aviv

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I’m currently on a cultural mission to Israel, and Toronto audiences may well see the show I’m about to discuss because the Luminato Festival artistic director is also here as a delegate. I know he was impressed by Orpheus in the Metro, and I sincerely hope he brings the show to town.

Tel Aviv-based Malenki Theatre was founded by Russian émigrés whose mandate is to mirror the intimacy a person feels when totally absorbed in a good book. In other words, they want their productions to wrap the audience in the cocoon of a total theatrical experience.

Orpheus in the Metro is a disturbing one-man show based on a short story by Belgian/Argentinean writer Julio Cortázar. The premise is terrifying. The unnamed man stalks women in the Paris subway system and the irony of the play’s title is obvious. The man’s dangerous game is to try and guess the final destination of the woman of choice. If he is correct, his reward will be the go-ahead to make personal contact.

Polina Adamov’s set is a black wall and narrow floor mirroring a subway platform with the audience strung along the horizontal rim. The set is also a blackboard. The man is clearly a genius. We know this because using chalk, he covers the wall and floor with intricate mathematical equations as he demonstrates the probability factors involved in the correct guess. In virtuoso bursts of energy, he draws the subway lines themselves, pointing out the various stations where lines intersect and thus increase the woman’s possibility of choice.

Any new object of desire is always uncovered in a very specific way. The man searches for women who will look briefly into his eyes in the window reflection, something they would not dare do face to face. He makes up names for them as he tries to second guess their point of departure. We first hear about the women who manage to fool him with their exit. Later, we learn about Marie-Claude with whom he makes contact because he was able to guess her final station. To give away any more plot detail would be a spoiler, but suffice it to say that the latter part of the show is one of agonizing tension.

The video component was actually shot in the Paris Metro and has several viewpoints running at the same time covering the entire back wall. Throughout the show, the man also wildly manipulates a Rubic Cube which is the perfect metaphor for a tortured genius and his real life puzzle. One dazzling film sequence floods the wall with strings of squares coloured after the Rubic Cube, each containing faces of women riding the subway. The edgy soundscape by Evgeny Levitas mixes the reality of trains with eerie electronica.

In a tour-de-force performance, actor Oren Yadgar is brilliant as the obsessed stalker cum hyperactive social misfit. Adamov has dressed him in shabby garb and nerdy glasses, and he looks positively unsavoury – like he hasn’t washed for a month. Throughout the show, his desperate verbal diarrhoea builds to a crescendo as he flings himself across the set, furiously drawing his chalk lines as if they were his very lifeline. His motor mouth litany of station names can be compared to the staccato burst of gun shots. Every task he does is at frantic double time, and Yadgar is absolutely compelling in his perversity. He is truly maniacal.

Director Igor Berezin, who adapted the Cortázar story, has created a breath-taking multidisciplinary show that is masterful in its fusion of the arts. One can’t imagine the set, the video and the actor as separate entities. As fascinating as it is complicated, as absorbing as it is sophisticated, as poignant as it is repulsive, Orpheus in the Metro is brilliant theatre.

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