The Mikvah is a Jewish cleansing ritual in which adherents immerse themselves in water in remembrance of Adam bathing in the river that flowed out of Eden, presumably in the hope of one day regaining access to paradise.
Productions of Josh Azouz’s play will probably always be judged in part on how they rise to the challenge of realising the Mikvah pool on stage. The original production at the Yard a few years ago built a huge upright tub accessed by ladders. At the Orange Tree in Richmond, the pool is sunk into the stage with three bath-sized sections, adorned with those tiny blue tiles that exist nowhere else. It’s a lovely set, and you can feel the audience’s excitement at being in proximity to such an unusual piece of stage furniture.
As an atheist, I occasionally envy some of the trappings of religion. Until Richard Dawkins writes us some tunes and the Humanists come up with a non-worshipful weekly ceremony at which to sing them, we’re missing out a bit. The Mikvah Project begins with actors Alex Waldmann and Josh Zaré singing a traditional Jewish chant, harmonising beautifully and generating an aura of respect and holiness. It’s a devout atmosphere that is soon to be shattered.
Avi (Waldmann) and Eitan (Zaré) attend the same synagogue, but it’s at the Mikvah that they get to know one another. Avi comes to the Mikvah in the hope that the cleansing ritual will help he and his wife to conceive a much wanted child. 17-year-old Eitan’s reasons are less clear, and his presence annoys the much more serious Avi.
Eitan is a whirlwind of confused teenage emotions. He’s looking up girls’ skirts at school one minute and getting an erection over Avi the next. Zaré plays him with a prancing gazelle energy – I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a bouncy performance; reckless and clumsy, and achingly truthful as well.
Avi is a more prickly and complicated character, as befits his greater maturity. Waldmann does a fine job enacting Avi’s conflicted inner life – there’s a moment of deeply wounding casual cruelty that Avi immediately regrets, but which we feel acutely because of the honesty of these excellent performances.
Later, Avi’s speech about resisting natural urges gains enormous poignancy because we know that under the cover of advising the younger man, Avi is exposing the subtext of his own sexuality.
Plot-wise, there’s an impulsive kiss, a sneaky weekend in Alicante, a pregnancy and a separation. But the testy and shifting relationship between man and adolescent is more a still life than a narrative – it’s a depiction of the openness of Youth sat at the feet of questionable Experience. Or perhaps Autumn looking over his shoulder at Spring and wishing to turn back time.
This is a splendidly accomplished production, both thoughtful and entertaining, directed with a confident hand by Georgia Green. Kudos to Cory Shipp for a design which I’m sure will be the talk of the town, and justly so. You can take that as gospel, even coming from an ungodly heathen such as I.
Written by: Josh Azouz
Directed by: Georgia Green
Playing until: 28 March 2020
Box Office: 020 8940 3633
Booking link: https://www.orangetreetheatre.co.uk/whats-on/the-mikvah-project/about