Ted Shawn Theatre,
July 7–11, 2010
Reviewed by Wendy Perron
Monger. Photo by Gadi Dagon, Courtesy Jacob’s Pillow.
Oppression and humiliation are fertile ground for Barak Marshall’s imagination. Monger, a Suzanne Dellal Centre production from Tel Aviv, portrays a group of servants chafing at the orders of an unseen mistress. The refrain: a bell rings, a dancer steps up to the mic downstage right and says, “Yes, Mrs. Margaret. Of course, Mrs. Margaret,” in a variety of Israeli accents. The 12 performers—all vivid individuals—try to please, but at the same time resist ferociously.
The dancers are all spiky fingers and jangled hips. The contrast between the tight unison and the crazed gestures bristles. Hand over the eyes, clunking to the floor, pelvis pushing up, heads turning sharply—all at top speed. Occasional vehement spitting. Whatever the narrative sources (in this case they are the writer Bruno Schulz, the Altman film Gosford Park, and Genet’s play, The Maids), Marshall creates his own form of ritual that’s both precise and savage.
Funny/sad/absurdist vignettes alternate with the dance sequences. In one, four guys present one woman (Shani Badihi), clad only in underwear, as if she is on display. They gesture out (to Mrs. Margaret? to us?) as if to say, “You like?” They put her in a dress, then a bride gown, then a maternity outfit, then widow’s black, then lay her prone under a shroud. Each schmata is so impressionistic that you don’t realize till the episode is over that she has gone from childhood to death—all as a stunned, passive being. You like?
The sound collage of water dripping, waves crashing, 40s jazz, Balkan beat boxing, Verdi arias, and Yiddish radio shows, evokes a range of places and memories. The men wear suspenders or vests, the women aprons (costume design by Maor Zabar and Marshall). It’s Fiddler on the Roof with a hard edge.
Marshall’s organic groupings are the thread that knits the unison movement sections and the vignettes together. The 65-minute Monger reaches a peak of frenzy when finally one servant refuses to obey “Mrs. Margaret.” Instead he shouts, “We curse you; we spit on your silverware!” A glorious mayhem ensues. At the end, they all don the grim, black coats they started with. One at a time, they meander off, leaving a single woman to stare into space.