Theater review by Adam Feldman. Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. Conceived and directed by Adina Tal. With ensemble cast. 1hr 10mins. No intermission.
Not by Bread Alone is the kind of show you wish you could applaud at the beginning instead of the end. That it exists at all is remarkable: Created and directed by Adina Tal, of Tel Aviv’s Nalaga’at Theater, the piece features 11 performers who are both deaf and blind, and whose dialogue is conveyed to the audience via supertitles and sign language. The actors start off at long tables, kneading dough that is then placed in working ovens. A pleasant bakery aroma fills the theater, and at the end of the piece, the audience is invited to break the resulting bread with the cast onstage. (For an even more immersive experience, patrons can dine in total darkness at BlackOut, a temporary restaurant set up by Nalaga’at elsewhere at the Skirball Center.)
The project, alas, is a mitzvah gone wrong. Not by Bread Alone means to explore its subjects’ dreams and memories, as well as their overwhelming isolation, frustration and loneliness—to shine light on their darkness, and give voice to their silence. A straightforward documentary approach might have served this purpose. Instead, Tal has the cast enact a series of hackneyed, awkward vignettes: a wedding, a visit to a hairdresser, a “trip to Italy” for which the cast is trotted out in cartoonish costumery. (One is a gangster, one is the pope, another has an apron with the word pizza on it.) Several of the actors project personality; Bat Sheva Ravenseri has winning flair, for example, and Marc Yarosky is a surprisingly nimble dancer. But others, carefully corralled by a team of eight stagehands and translators, seem like helpless props in a maudlin mash-up of The Miracle Worker and Weekend at Bernie’s. The effort is commendable; the piece is half-baked.—Adam Feldman
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