Life as a Brothel: When a Family Takes Up Pimping for a Living

There’s lots of laughs and good acting, but morality takes a back seat in the Cameri Theater's 'The New Criminals.'

Gerard Alon

The mother of a “normative” family, whose chidren have grown and left home, and whose domineering husband’s once-wealthy family is in dire straits, begins pimping for female students and housewives to supplement her income.

As I left the Cameri Theater after the premiere of “The New Criminals,” written and directed by Edna Mazia, I found myself beset by conflicting thoughts and emotions. On the one hand, I am gratified that the Cameri Theater, which is so familiar with the middle-of-the-road path to the hearts of Israeli audiences, has at last taken a stand (no small thing) on a moral-social issue of the first order. On the other hand, I am far from convinced that the regulation of prostitution and the view that every woman has the right to live off its earnings – as I feel was reflected in the spirit of the play and the program notes – is an acceptable position at all, or acceptable for the Cameri Theater in Israel of today, or of any time.

I am also of two minds about the professional quality of the production. There are things that are well done and cleverly written, especially the dialogue and the fine points of “Israeliness.” And there is some wonderful acting, especially by Ruti Asarsai, playing a prostitute (in the program she is listed as an “escort”: long live word-laundering), and Sandra Sadeh as the Ashkenazi bourgeois heroine, whose economic distress has forced her down a slippery moral slope to becoming a “madam” (oops, sorry: “customer coordinator”). For Sadeh alone it’s worth buying a ticket.

On the other hand, there are several problematic appearances on stage (poor enunciation, in particular) that do not meet the standards of a professional theater company; the development of the plot is handled roughly, especially in the use of caricature for comic effect (exploiting the proven talents of Rivka Michaeli, as the senile grandmother); and one vulgar scene of the bordello is especially repulsive. (Yes, I know it’s a comedy, but I refuse to do nothing more than laugh.) And more than anything, in my humble opinion, neither the writer nor those who decided to produce this play on this complex issue, and in this manner, have thought through the (im)moral implications of an occupation that gives the audience an evening of entertainment about the profits of prostitution. If they even thought about it at all.

These issues deserve a fuller discussion, but in this context I will add just one more thing. Plays about “normative” middle-class families that slip with apparent ease into prostitution and pimping have been written before, at least twice. Giles Cooper’s “Everything in the Garden” was first produced in London in 1962 (and by the Be’er Sheva Theater just two seasons ago), and Edward Albee gave it an American adaptation that was staged by Habima National Theater in the last century. In those two plays, the bourgeois women are whores, their husbands collaborate, and the members of the audience have to deal with the issue when they get home. In this case, Mazia gives the heroine a new start, the audience a good laugh, and morality a back seat.

In short, everyone’s a whore, and you can enjoy it and even live off it, especially if you’re the pimp. Applause.

The Cameri Theater production of “The New Criminals” was written and directed by Edna Mazia. Set design: Eran Atzmon. Costume design: Orna Smorgonsky. Music: Assaf Talmudi. Lighting design: Keren Garnek. Choreography and movement: Shay Suzana.