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Theater Review: A Monument Comes to Life

By Cynthia Citron 

Cynthia Citron

CALABASAS, California –  Picture the Blue Man Group covered in mud.  That’s a first impression of the Orto-Da Theatre Group,  a sensational ensemble of actors from Israel making their American debut last week at the International Theatre Festival in Calabasas.  Their presentation is called “Stones,” and, like the Blue Men, they work without words, completely in mime. 

“Stones” was created and directed by Yinon Tzafrir, who was inspired by a monument erected in Warsaw in memory of the Jewish warriors of the Warsaw Ghetto.  Sculpted by Nathan Rappaport in 1948, the stones have an interesting provenance.  They were ordered originally from a quarry in Labrador by Adolph Hitler, who intended to use them for a personal monument to celebrate himself and the triumphant victory of his Third Reich.  Fortunately, that was not to be, and the granite stones languished until Rappaport conceived his tribute to the men and women who fought in Warsaw. 

So how do you build a performance piece around a monument?  With great imagination and spectacular lighting (expertly designed by Uri Morag).  The five men and one woman comprising the monument are seen first motionless and grubby, some in heavy relief, others melding into the background.  Then slowly, very slowly—so slowly, in fact, that you think it’s a trick of your eye—they begin to come alive. 

Moving like robots, a little bit clunky, as you would expect from people made of granite, they begin to reprise the 20th century history of the Jewish people.  To the overwhelming sounds of trains, shouting, and gunshots, they mime arrival at the concentration camps, the showers that dispense gas rather than water, the smothering of a baby to keep it from wailing. 

But from this horror-filled beginning they move on to Israel and the fighting and drama connected with the founding of the Jewish state.  (The actual roll call of the nations ratifying the establishment of the new state is heard in the background.) 

And there is even a bit of humor as we move into the late 20th century and the age of technology and the six individuals take turns changing the television channels with a remote control.  In all these maneuvers there are appropriate sound effects and music, designed by Daniel Zafrani and Yinon Tzafrir. 

According to the Festival playbook, this play is meant to celebrate the inevitable triumph of the human spirit.  But there is an additional connotation to the concept of stones.  It’s traditional, when visiting a Jewish cemetery, to leave a small stone at the gravesite to let the dead know you were there.  Just as these large monumental stones in Warsaw remind the world that the Jews were there. 

The third annual International Theatre Festival was held in Calabasas from July 17th to the 27th.

Citron is Los Angeles bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World

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