Two men exist awkwardly, nakedly together in a single Jewish ritual bath (the title’s ‘mikvah’). Josh Azouz's tender story is soaked in healing water and other, harder-to-shift substances: tradition, self-doubt, hypocrisy.
‘The Mikvah Project’ was first staged at The Yard; translated to the more intimate Orange Tree, Georgia Green’s production is an example of the alchemy that happens when you get the perfect combination of play and theatre. In Cory Shipp’s set, a mosaic-tiled pool is recessed into the stage, its water reflecting Eitan and Avi's limbs as they meet, first by accident, then more deliberately. The Orange Tree’s in-the-round set-up means that the audience becomes the walls of the mikvah. Sometimes the two performers are showmen, acknowledging us and explaining snippets of Jewish tradition from their warm, if sometimes claustrophobic, community. Sometimes they act like they’re alone.
Josh Zaré plays 17-year-old Eitan. He’s still a kid, really, and Zaré has this incredible energy that makes him visibly fizz with excitement as he mimes driving his first car, or drifts into confused monologues about the girls he’s meant to fancy. Avi doesn't have time to help him work things out, because he’s married and trying for a kid. In theory. Alex Waldmann captures the contradictions of this man who always knows the right thing to say, the right thing to do, but can’t make himself stay within those lines he’s drawn out so neatly.
Religious tradition. Forbidden lust. We’ve seen it all before. Except we haven’t, because Azouz’s play takes what could be a familiar clash between religion and homosexuality and makes it strange. His writing dances, torturing unspoken truths into weird metaphors, like when Avi tries to use football to codedly explain why Eitan should choose a heteronormative life. It doesn’t work. But Azouz’s play doesn’t soar into queer wish fulfilment fantasies either: there’s an incredibly tense pattern of release, denial, release which makes it impossible to look away.
The mikvah is an acceptable place for men to be naked, together, and this play is an often-hilarious interrogation of all the intimacies that makes room for. This production doesn't always find the more mystical side of the mikvah’s symbolism: Avi’s meant to be a talented singer but his voice lacks the strength to bring a spine-tingling spirituality into this small space. But it has the power to transport you from tiny room to bustling synagogue to snatched moment in the sun, with a still, cold pool of water at its heart.