You won’t believe what’s happening on the stage of the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv. In “Tasting,” it turns out they have found, with the aid of playwright Shlomi Moskovich and director Dedi Baron, the solution to the great rift in Israeli society. Israelis are split between the bleeding-heart salon leftists who hang out in the Tel Aviv bubble and fight the occupation by means of strongly worded articles in the press, and the Jews who are proud to be redeeming from the Ishmaelites the land promised to us by God. All that’s needed is for a religious son of settlers to fall in love with a daughter of effete Tel Avivians. In addition, the two sets of parents should meet for a pre-wedding food tasting, where the pompous names of the dishes will help them vent all their prejudices.
True, hurdles loom at every turn. The father of the bride (played with superb comic sense by Motti Katz) declares onstage that “the country is shit” and really doesn’t speak well of our Jewish democratic state. The mother of the bride, an architect who seeks balm by smoking joints (a poor example for our youth, even if the part is played with abundant charm by Limor Goldstein) also delivers a monologue – just when the interfamily social conflict appears insoluble – in which she shouts, “Get all this shit off me – enough, enough,” and the audience, all the Tel Aviv bleeding hearts, applaud her.
In contrast, the settler (played by Yoav Levi with deep conviction) is presented as a person locked into his faith and even willing to make his son, the prodigy, miserable by opposing the marriage, since he must satisfy the territorial ambitions of his God. Fortunately, his wife, may she have a long life (Aya Shva Granit struggles heroically with an astonishingly superficial role), takes the side of love and is even willing to rebel against her husband.
And even more fortunately, the plot also has room for young people who manage to return their parents to the straight-and-narrow: the bride herself (Hadar Baruch, who bursts out at her father in the play with the anger of a vexed adolescent) is ready to gamble on her happiness; the groom (David Saul, affable, soft and conciliatory but also willing to stand up for what he wants – an Israeli paragon); and above all, the bride’s sister in the role of the bad girl. Her part was evidently written with pleasure and is acted very pleasurably by Naama Shitrit. She steals the show because she has the wittiest retorts, and it is also she who connects the stage with the audience and rescues the artificiality of the conflict with plenty of humor and youthful energy. She also sings well (almost as well as the groom), performing songs by Corrine Alal, Aviv Geffen, Ehud Banai and Meir Ariel.
The whole stage is one big cushion-laden sofa, with the characters moving about on it and around it, so that we understand this is not a realistic play but a kind of, you know, snapshot of Israeli society through a slightly cracked (though not too cracked) mirror. Ninety minutes whiz by simplistically. The spectators laugh, enjoy themselves and feel that they aren’t really wasting their time, since this is how the theater holds a mirror up to nature, just as Shakespeare said.
So why do I claim that it’s escapism? Anyone who wants to see the play should restrain himself and stop reading here, because to answer my question I have to resort to a bit of a spoiler.
It’s escapism because even though the conflict is presented in all its apparently insoluble clarity, the convention of the genre of comedy – according to which, if there’s talk of a wedding at the start of a play, people get married at its end – imposes a happy ending, because both sides learn to give in. The father of the bride – a secular anti-occupation journalist who refused even to consider the possibility of having the wedding take place on the settlers’ estate in the territories – gives in. (Okay – because he resigns when the paper’s new owner refuses to print an article of his, so he doesn’t have the money for a wedding in a fancy banquet hall). The wedding is held at the home of the bride’s parents. The father of the groom also makes a major concession, in terms of his principles. Despite the Talmudic stricture (“A woman’s voice is nakedness”), he allows the bride’s sister to sing at the wedding, and she – get this – draws inspiration from the voice of the muezzin in the nearby Palestinian village to sing a text from the Song of Songs.
I think that this play, which is convinced that a “harmony of contrasts” is not only what is needed now, but also stands a reasonable chance of coming to pass soon, in our time, deserves the Zionist Creation award, and in my opinion it needs to go on an urgent tour of the theaters in Judea and Samaria.
Forthcoming performances of “Tasting” at the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv: April 20, May 14-17 (performances on May 14 and 17 with English subtitles), May 24 (English subtitles) and May 25.