A finalist of Infinithéâtre‘s hallmark annual playwriting competition “Write-On-Q” in 2014, Oren Safdie’s award-winning black comedy “Mr. Goldberg Goes to Tel Aviv” at last receives a fully staged production in Montreal, making its World Premiere at the St. James Theatre from January 31st to February 25th, 2017. Read our full review below.
As its indicative title suggests, the play revolves around renowned (but herein fictitious) Canadian author Tony Goldberg (played by David Gale) who has arrived in Tel Aviv to ostensibly present a speech about his latest book at a scholastic convention. A left-leaning intellectual gay Jew from the diaspora, he’s got a bone to pick with the Israeli authorities, impudently criticizing their policies on the Palestinian conflict. He’s loud, he’s proud, and he drops as many f-bombs as there may be dynamite explosives lurking in forbidden corners of the coastal Mediterranean city.
The ultimate, ulterior, and wildly ambitious plan: to somehow get into Gaza and persuade the Israelis to take pressing action against their government.
But, just as the highbrow writer is ready to shed his white spa robe and prance out of his oceanfront V.I.P. hotel room, a series of knocks at the door abruptly bring his denunciatory agenda to a standstill.
First to disturb the erudite guest is a cheeky hotel waiter (Mohsen El Gharbi), whom Mr. Goldberg is quick to chide for his substandard service. An initial petty discussion over one’s prissy tea-drinking preferences eventually escalates to a snarky debate over their opposing religious and political viewpoints, and instead of finding himself delivering his anti-Israel discourse to the literati of Tel Aviv, the opinionated novelist is suddenly being lectured by the chiming bellhop on the arrogant presumptions and pretensions of liberal foreign Jews.
The indignant footman leaves, but only to give passage to a second, no less unwanted, visitor – a Palestinian terrorist disguised as a Chassidic man (Howard Rosenstein). Barging into Mr. Goldberg’s suite, the intruder holds Tony hostage at gunpoint, placing him at the centre of a major assassination plot involving an Israeli minister.
As the horrified westerner fastidiously attempts to negotiate his release by convincing the Arab extremist of his Palestinian sympathy, however, the hotel attendant returns with some startling revelations that prompt a shift in allegiances among the men. Divided by identity, ideology, and instinct of survival, deciding upon which side to take has become a complex and urgent matter of life and death.
Although Safdie’s provocative script and the energy of the veteran male ensemble of Gale, El Gharbi, and Rosenstein render Mr. Goldberg engaging throughout, the one-act play is arguably most enjoyable at its lightest and purest, – the outset – with Gale instantaneously garnering hearty laughter for his comical portrayal of the quick-to-condemn but charismatic title character (a nod to Cassandre Chatonnier’s compelling set design and Andrew Scriver’s lively video projections for also arousing the senses early on).
As the farce delves deeper into the dark and dramatic, however, much of the humour – which oftentimes relies on the ludicrously absurd – stretches to become gratuitous in flirting with the violent (those squeamish of spurting blood: be forewarned). A satisfying conclusion awaits, but it takes perhaps several death-defying plot twists too many to get there.
Nevertheless, Mr. Goldberg Goes to Tel Aviv can be commended here for acting as a catalyst for peaceful, democratic conversation not only concerning the Palestinian-Israeli divide, but also in regards to the existing tensions between North American and Israeli Jewish communities (Infinithéâtre has added post-show talkbacks to select performances to enable such discussions).
Distinctively, the piece puts into enlightening perspective the unsettling realities of a restless Middle East while calling out the sense of entitlement of those who claim to comprehend its inner workings from a distance. Ignorance breeds fear, contempt and intolerance – rectified only by understanding. And no side, it should be mentioned – social, political, or religious – is here spared of gentle mockery. All, however, are humanized and, in gracious spirit, given rightful say.
Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Editor-in-Chief Camila Fitzgibbon
‘Mr. Goldberg Goes To Tel Aviv’ written by Oren Safdie, directed by Guy Sprung, and presented by Infinithéâtre has been extended at Montreal’s St. James Theatre (265 Rue Saint-Jacques, H2Y 1M6) to February 25th, 2017. Approximate running time: one 90 minute-act. Tickets are $15-25 (student/senior/group discounts available) and can be purchased in advance online or by calling the Box Office at (514) 987-1774. More details at www.infinitheatre.com.