The Mikvah Project – Orange Tree Theatre, London

Reviewer: Miriam Sallon

Writer: Josh Azouz

Director: Georgia Green

A mikvah is a body of spring water used in Jewish practice to cleanse the soul and bring oneself closer to God. But when a synopsis of a play says that two men meet in a mikvah- basically a teeny tiny swimming pool- and form an “unexpected bond”, you can kind of already see it’s unlikely they’ll be enjoying a spiritual awakening…

Avi (Alex Waldmann) is a thirty-five-year-old married man. He and his wife Layla have been trying to have a child for a while now, but to no avail. So, taking matters in to his own hands he goes to the mikvah every Friday afternoon to pray for faster swimmers.

Eitan (Josh Zaré) is a seventeen-year-old boy who spends his days staring at girls and batting away erections. On a seemingly chance encounter the two strike up an unlikely friendship, which teeters on the edge of becoming more.

There are a few problems with the plot itself: Firstly how does Eitan find himself at the Mikvah? He seems an improbable candidate for self-nominated soul purification. Secondly, the holiday to Alicante that Eitan and Avi impetuously take themselves on is bizarre. Sure, the script puts a minor stress on the fact that a thirty-five-year-old married man goes on holiday with a seventeen-year-old boy, but it does not sufficiently meditate on how creepy and absurd that is.

That aside, the dialogue is quippy and buoyant, and the dynamic between the two men, whilst somewhat far-fetched, is fun: Eitan a little puppy of a person, eager to push boundaries but equally eager to please, and Avi, double his age and world-weary, trying and failing to resist Eitan’s naïve openness and enthusiasm. Zaré particularly excels at balancing yapping annoyance and irresistible sweetness.

There’s a strong sense of thorough research within the script and the performances – everyone is trying very hard for authenticity. But whilst a gentile audience might not notice, a Jewish audience is likely to be distracted by the many, many Hebrew mispronunciations. At one point Waldmann sings a song of prayer with a line on loop that should be ‘aseh imanu, tzedakah v’chesed’, ’Grant us justice and loving kindness’. But, probably having learned by ear, he sings ‘vedaka v’chesed’ which just doesn’t mean anything. He might have got away with it, but this line repeats over and over, and as an informed audience member it’s incredibly grating.

No matter where the scenes are set, the mikvah – three beautifully tiled pools of water lit from underneath (designed by Cory Shipp) – remains centre-stage. Of course it’s likely very difficult to have a body of water in the middle of the stage and then drastically change scenery, but this works to the performance’s favour anyhow. No matter where they are – in synagogue, at home with their families, in school – the mikvah and their intimate encounters always loom largest.

Do we need another story about a repressed married man struggling to come out of the closet? Arguably not. But in the defence of writer Josh Azouz, this is still likely an ongoing issue in many communities, and whilst it’s been done to death in the arts, maybe the story just needs to be told one more time to get through to those lagging behind.

Runs until 28 March 2020

The Reviews Hub Score

Predictable sexy fun.

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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