One of a Kind
May 05, 2008
By Gwen Orel
Nephesh Theatre's One of a Kind has won all kinds of awards since its debut at the Haifa International Children's Theatre Festival in 2005. This children's theatre production is so packed with life, joy, and insight that it makes adult theatre seem flabby.
The difficult journey on foot of the Ethiopian Jews from their homes to the Sudan to take advantage of the Israel government's offer in the mid-1980s to airlift them to Israel is not well known here. In One of a Kind, Yossi Vassa (writing with Shai Ben Attar, who also directs) fictionalizes the odyssey he made as a boy.
AndArgay (Vassa), whose name means "one of a kind," begins his story in Israel as an adult, then takes us back to his village in Ethiopia. We meet his grandmother (Tehitina Assefa) and his father, Asmamo (Shai Fredo), who don't speak to each other but argue all day long through him; his sister, Yeshitu (Sky Gete, who also designed the costumes); the young man she's in love with, Isaac (Roy Zaddok), the son of the local Rabbi (Benny Gatahon); and AndArgay's mother, Masi (Mahareta Baruch). AndArgay is the first boy to be sent to his village's gentile school, where his teacher calls him a "sneaky Jew." When word comes that a white man has arrived with the Israeli government's offer -- and everyone in the village is going to Jerusalem -- Asmamo resists. He knows firsthand how dangerous the trek could be, but ultimately he is persuaded.
Along the way there's dancing, clever animation that doubles as scenery and narration (animation by Adi Katz, set design by Alexander Sasha Lesansky), the ebullient song "Journey to Jerusalem," and a harrowing trip. Many refugees die waiting in Sudan. But as Grandma says, "You don't love what you don't work hard for." It's wonderfully disorienting to see a black Jewish family dancing with gestures more reminiscent of The Lion King than Fiddler on the Roof. The choreography by Iddi Saaka delights, as does Idan Zilbershtein's music.
All the performances are terrific, especially Vassa's mischievous AndArgay. Sharp direction and a smart translation (by Howard Rypp from the original Hebrew) keep things lively. This one-hour performance is a treat and a half.