The Mikvah Project at Orange Tree Theatre
When used right, it’s hard to beat the Orange Tree Theatre for intimacy. Director Georgia Green’s production of The Mikvah Project – her major stage debut – leans into this. We witness Avi (Alex Waldmann) and Eitan (Josh Zaré) pray, bathe, change clothes and kiss – each a private act made public.
The 17-year-old Eitan and 35-year-old Avi both attend the local mikvah, a place of cleansing in the Jewish faith. Here, it is the source of a difficult, blossoming connection between a teenage boy and a married man. Avi finds himself slipping into a situation far from the yet-to-be conceived child he so desperately wants with his wife. Eitan, meanwhile, isn’t so much confused as frustrated by his inability to get what – or rather who – he gradually realises he wants.
Josh Azouz’s script is restless, moving between tense exchanges, fantasy sequences, imaginary dialogue and third-person pronouncements, refusing to settle into any one thing. It’s not hard to imagine a version of this story – one that admittedly barely engages with the dicey age-gap at its centre – as an intense two-hander. And though The Mikvah Project has plenty of agonised, yearning looks across a chlorinated room, it’s also playful in the way it allows us into the interiors of its characters.
Green navigates these shifts with ease. She almost invites the audience to become the 300 watchful eyes of the local synagogue attended by both men. We’re engaged with and then forgotten about as Avi and Eitan get lost in each other. It’s the former that heightens these moments, when we as an audience fade into the background.
The production hinges on the chemistry between its leads. Waldmann and Zaré make the air thrum with tension before puncturing the atmosphere with humour again and again, denying themselves a true crescendo.
There’s a shared goofiness to both; Avi’s that of a dad-in-waiting, Eitan’s of a rare teen, blessedly unburdened by self-consciousness. Zaré ensures the 17-year-old has no filter. Every disappointment, eager moment of lust or sting of heartache immediately blooms on his wide-eyed face. He is yet to learn from the pains of experience to hide his feelings behind a mask. In comparison, Waldmann’s Avi is tortured – by dint of his age and family circumstances, he has so much more to lose.
Sat at the heart of all this is designer Cory Shipp’s actual, functional mikvah. The chlorine tang, a wayward splash, the sound of a body immersing itself in water, all add another sensory layer to a production that already fills the room like steam from a hot shower.
The Mikvah Project is at Orange Tree Theatre from 28th February until 28th March 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.