BWW Review: THE MIKVAH PROJECT, Orange Tree Theatre
The Orange Tree Theatre's Directors' Festival is always an exciting opportunity to see emerging talent.
This is the third cohort of directors who have been studying the Orange Tree Theatre and St Mary's University MA Theatre Directing Masters course. Georgia Green takes the directing reins here with Josh Azouz's heartbreaking debut play The Mikvah Project, that explores Judaism's relationship with sexuality in a modern world.
The mikvah, a miniature swimming pool used for a Jewish rite of cleansing and purification, is centre stage. It's here in North London that Avi and Eitan meet. Avi is in his mid-thirties, happily married and trying to become a father; Eitan is an energetic 17-year-old who thinks about girls more than schoolwork. They form an awkward friendship, but soon their emerging emotions threaten to disrupt their entire lives. When Eitan can no longer hide his feelings for Avi, Avi must decide which way he wants his life to go.
In an intense two-hander, both actors deliver startlingly convincing performances. Dylan Mason is totally believable as the teenage Eitan; fast-talking, over-confident and sexually charged. He completely captures the energy and frustrations of a teenager, as well as the intensity of his emerging feelings for Avi. His youth speak is familiar and hilarious, especially when Avi keeps reminding him to stop speaking like a Jamaican.
As Avi, Robert Neumark Jones is quieter and more subtle in his character. He is calm and level-headed, reluctantly engaging with Eitan as he is confronted in his spiritual refuge. His frustrations with Eitan are a little too huffy when he is first kissed, but his internal conflicts about his religion and sexuality become clear as his feelings for Eitan emerge. He presents a real journey of emotions within a short 85 minute play.
The play is an interesting challenge for director Georgia Green, as it has an innovative way of portraying character dialogue. Both characters sing and engage in traditional dialogue, but also narrate in the third person. Thoughts are sometimes spoken, as are occasional stage directions. This works well as the story emerges and the whole production flows effortlessly.
Green's careful direction propels the story forwards in a challenging space. Despite moving (sometimes dancing and running) around an open pool with a very wet floor, the movement and dialogue feels natural and flows well. Green uses every corner of the theatre, with changing rooms cleverly slotted into corners.
The script itself is not without fault. Within a very believable story, a spontaneous trip to Alicante is awkward and seems unrealistic. Eitan and Avi's partying is loud and without dialogue, but feels misplaced and too unlikely to be credible. In addition, Avi's conflict about his feelings is shown as his position as a married man and wanting to be a father. It would have been interesting to also explore the consequences of his conflict in terms of his religion and faith, as he is clearly fairly devout.
Those familiar with the Orange Tree will be aware of its versatility belying its size. Cory Shipp's design cleverly uses the space under the stage to fit the mikvah and the actors cope very well with continuous undressing, immersion and dressing again. Lex Kosanke's sound design is excellent here, with subtle echoing of voices within the mikvah and then booming bass during the London and Alicante clubbing scenes.
This is an honest piece about religion, homosexuality and societal expectations. Careful direction and two excellent performances make it very convincing, engaging and ultimately heartbreaking.
Photo Credit: Orange Tree Theatre