Writer: Josh Azouz
Director: Georgia Green
One of the best things about Josh Azouz’s The Mikvah Project when it played at The Orange Tree Theatre last summer, and, again, just before lockdown, was the mikvah itself, designed by Cory Shipp. A pool of water used by Jewish people for ritual cleansing, the mikvah transformed the space of the Orange Tree completely. However, in this radio version, part of the Lockdown Theatre Festival on BBC Radio, we can only hear the mikvah’s splashes as Avi and Eitan plunge underwater.
Avi goes to the mikvah in hope that God will make his sperm swim faster; he and his wife are trying hard for a baby, and the Jewish elders are making remarks about the sacredness of family. Eitan goes to the mikvah for less honourable motives; he’s developed a crush of Avi, and he relishes the quietness of their almost private space.
However, this isn’t a coming out story for Avi, or even for Eitan. Instead, it’s concerned with a brief moment of attraction between two men and the word ‘gay’ is never uttered. More of an issue than the fact that they are both men is the age difference between them. Avi is 35 working in the charity sector while Eitan is 17 and still at school. When the two of them are together in public, Avi worries about how they will be perceived; as father and son? Brothers? Lovers?
The cast of the production in the summer of 2019 struggled to convey the desire between the two men, but here Alex Waldman (Avi) and Josh Zaré (Eitan) are more successful, and as we can’t see the two actors they have to harness their dialogue with mutual longing. Zaré is particularly good, and his teenage banter is both annoying and endearing. He wears Avi down with his entreaties, and yet Waldman manages to reveal a spark of excitement that comes with being wanted. On stage their trip to Spain falls flat, but here on radio, without the holiday outfits, it seems more likely.
At just under an hour, The Mikvah Project is more melancholic on the radio, and perhaps the absence of the pool works to Azouz’s advantage. At The Orange Tree, the mikvah was always there, and it would often impede the staging of other scenes. Without this distraction – although it was a beautiful distraction – the focus between the two men is more vividly drawn. If only they didn’t refer to themselves in the third person, the dialogue would be strong enough without the use of visuals.
More than same-sex desire, The Mikvah Project tells the story of teenage infatuation and an adult’s fear of growing up and conforming. Eitan and Avi just met at the wrong time, or if you like your glass half-full, the right time.
Available here on BBC Sounds until 13 July 2020