By Cornelia Tzana ‘17/ Emertainment Monthly Assistant Editor
Staying true to its slogan, “The World on Stage,” ArtsEmerson brings the North American premiere of Israeli Stage’s Ulysses on Bottles by Israeli playwright Gilad Evron to Boston audiences.
Since its first season in 2010, Israeli Stage has strived to share the culture and heritage of Israel through theater. It has produced over fifteen staged readings of works by ten Israeli playwrights and has been praised for its work toward building a connection between the United States and Israel. “Ulysses on Bottles” is one of those readings that has transformed into the company’s first full theatrical production.
Written by Gilad Evron and translated to English by Evan Fallenberg, the play follows the story of a man (Ken Cheeseman) who, while trying to sail to Gaza on a raft made out of bottles, is arrested as a violator of the restrictions on travel and trade set by the Israeli government. His goal: to take Russian literature to the tormented people of Gaza.
The man is nicknamed “Ulysses” due to his endeavor to travel on the bottle raft. He remains an obscure character whose determined but poetic opinions affect those around him—his lawyer Izakov (Jeremiah Kissel) most of all. A rather rigid and cynical character, Izakov is taken aback by Ulysses’ moral convictions on the importance of allowing the Gazans to read Russian Literature—a theme inspired by Evron’s personal experiences—and his determination to complete his original goal.
Ken Cheeseman is truly captivating in the role of the modern castaway hero whose monologues, beautifully composed by Evron, carry the audience to a place beyond the material reality of the moment. In the words of the playwright, “what Ulysses represents is beyond his identity.” He represents the ideals and the higher moral goals that everyone is striving to achieve. Cheeseman has found a perfect balance between the child’s excitement and the philosopher’s ideals that shapes the character. Jeremiah Kissel is just as fascinating as Saul Izakov, managing to portray a protagonist that is trying to understand the poetic nature of Ulysses’ thoughts.
The cast is completed with three exceptional actors. The play features Daniel Berger-Jones in the role of the ambitious and oftentimes disingenuous Horesh, Izakov’s lawyer partner; Karen MacDonald as Eden, Izakov’s motivated and energetic wife; and Will Lyman in the role of Seinfeld, the factual but nonetheless conscientious Israeli military official. Directed by Guy Ben-Aharon, the producing artistic director and founder of Israeli Stage, all the elements come together into one entity. David Remedios’ precise sound design combined with Scott Pinkney’s imaginative lighting choices, such as the bottles that reflect Ulysses’ thoughts, present the characters’ inner workings in a way that is just as poetic as Ulysses’s monologues.
Evron’s award-winning play raises questions about freedom of thought, morality, personal limitations, and people’s “need to read,” issues that every single audience member can identify with. “Ulysses on Bottles” is only in the beginning of its odyssey across North America but it is bound to find a place in the hearts and minds of its audiences.