The Mikvah Project review – bathing, banter and burning desire

Orange Tree theatre, London
Josh Azouz’s play explores the passion between two men who go to the same synagogue but it lacks tension and tenderness

‘This is a mikvah,” states a character at the opening of this two-hander about gay male desire as he stands over what looks like a swimming pool. “A mikvah is a gathering of spring water,” he explains, used for ritual bathing in the Jewish community.

He is 17-year-old Eitan (Josh Zaré), who is friends with Avi (Alex Waldmann), a married man of 35; they are “postmodern orthodox Jews” who go to the same north London synagogue and see themselves as heterosexual until their kiss in the mikvah.

Josh Azouz’s play was first performed at the Yard in 2015. Georgia Green’s production, which begins with Hebrew song, has a jarring mix of comedy and meta-theatre which conspires to keep the audience, and the leads, at an unsatisfactory distance. The men speak to the audience intermittently, often narrating in the third person. Despite the eloquence of the story being told, it sounds like a better fit for the page than the stage and the acting seems half-hearted, as do the too few first-person exchanges between the characters. “Stop thinking in third person and talk to him,” says Eitan to himself in a stagey joke that sums up our frustration too.

Josh Zaré as Eitan and Alex Waldmann as Avi in The Mikvah Project.
Josh Zaré as Eitan and Alex Waldmann as Avi in The Mikvah Project. Photograph: Richard Davenport/The Other Richard

A physical distance between Eitan and Avi chimes with the notion of fearful desire. Avi strives to suppress his feelings and says he is happy with his wife. The men position themselves at opposite ends of the stage, which is designed by Cory Shipp as a mikvah with changing room hooks and towels at either end. Sometimes their distance works, such as when Eitan says: “I want to touch you.” Avi invites him to imagine doing so, and a potent silence follows.

But these charged, intimate instances are too few and the comedy punctures any intensity between them. “Thinking about you makes me nauseous,” says Avi. It is a heartstopping moment but in the very next line he is back to bantering about football. Eitan is a playful character but his teenage facetiousness flattens out subtleties and renders him emotionally impenetrable; Avi is at once emotionally evasive and scolding of Eitan for his desire.

Naomi Alderman’s novel about same-sex desire, Disobedience, also set in north London, and Haim Tabakman’s film Eyes Wide Open (set in Jerusalem) conjure the tension, sensuality and tenderness between their central characters that is missing in The Mikvah Project.

•At the Orange Tree theatre, London, until 28 March.


Arifa Akbar

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Out of Water review – Zoe Cooper's coastal drama is captivating
The nature of identity is explored with compassion in Cooper’s play which features brilliant performances

Miriam Gillinson

02, May, 2019 @7:40 PM

Article image
Rosenbaum's Rescue review – riveting clash about escaping the Nazis
Two men compare fiercely different reckonings of the exodus of 7,500 Jews from Denmark in this gripping play

Michael Billington

16, Jan, 2019 @3:21 PM

Article image
West End Girls and W*nk Buddies: tales of high-rises and house parties
Social cohesion and toxic masculinity are big topics confronted with verve by new writers through Live’s showcase Elevator festival

Catherine Love

28, Mar, 2019 @11:46 AM

Article image
The Firm review – pub drama overflows with banter and rage
Zingy repartee and energetic performances fail to enliven Roy Williams’ tense tale about a criminal gang’s unresolved grievances

Arifa Akbar

15, May, 2019 @7:00 PM

Article image
Ben Target review – kooky comic wants to send you to sleep
Target’s absurdist show Splosh! – about swimming and his childhood in Houston – cocks a quiet snook at machismo

Brian Logan

28, Feb, 2019 @2:56 PM

Article image
The Knight of the Burning Pestle review – dimwit swordsman skewers theatre snobs
A pair of Lion King fans blunder into a highbrow drama in Declan Donnellan’s gallant update of the class-collision comedy

Michael Billington

06, Jun, 2019 @9:22 AM

Article image
The Sugar Syndrome review – Lucy Prebble's dark encounters still connect
Oscar Toeman directs a striking revival of the 2003 play about the relationship between a teenage girl and a paedophile

Arifa Akbar

28, Jan, 2020 @9:30 PM

Article image
While the Sun Shines review – fresh-as-paint Rattigan revival
Superb performances power the ingeniously plotted story of a young earl’s marriage to the daughter of an impoverished duke

Michael Billington

17, Jun, 2019 @6:00 AM

Article image
Humble Boy review – serpents and supersymmetry collide in a Cotswold Eden
Astrophysics and simmering family tensions come to the boil in this superb revival of Charlotte Jones’s household drama

Michael Billington

13, Mar, 2018 @1:09 PM

Article image
Cougar review – breathless scenes of sexual power games in luxury hotels
This unsettling portrait of a world and a relationship in crisis breezes through 80 scenes in 75 minutes

Michael Billington

06, Feb, 2019 @3:00 PM