From the Mouths of BabesRobyn Sassen
My View by Robyn Sassen: You don’t have to be Jewish to fall in love with this fresh little production featuring a capella to make the hairs on your skin stand on end.
‘From the Mouths of Babes’ is unashamedly and unforgettably moored in contemporary Jewish culture, but that does not make it inaccessible for mainstream audiences. This compilation of songs and stories reflecting on what it means to be Jewish in South Africa is irrepressibly rich with the spice of contradiction, threaded through with social and communal nuance. It draws its primary strength from its songs, veering sharply from the obvious or brash.
In the main, these songs, feeding the stories told by each woman in the cast, are freshly arranged for their three voices, and but for a couple, this repertoire, in Hebrew, Russian and English with a bit of Yiddish somewhat irreverently tossed in, represents a body of songs you might never have heard before. But this doesn’t hurt this production, constructed with love and performed with passion as it is.
What hurts it slightly is some stories which teeter occasionally on the side of too much triteness, cliché or sugar. The songs these women sing are robust enough to carry the show without emphasising, albeit with fond humour, the faux pas redolent of being a foreigner. The issue over whether kingklip is kosher gets bewildered in the interstices of local Jewish politics, perhaps bamboozling for non-Jewish theatre goers or Jewish ones not aware or not interested in the nitty-gritties of kashrut polemics.
It’s been a long time since local audiences have been exposed to the value of simple beautiful music, without the questionable advantage of technological amplification; without dreadful microphones stuck onto performers’ faces; without big music, often so big that the performers are dwarfed. There is no pretence in this show, complete as it is with a backdrop in primarily hot pink that smacks surreally of Vincent Van Gogh’s famous Night Café. There’s a bit of a weird angle here, and a bit of an improvised quality to this crooked scene there, replete with its black upright piano.
And indeed, the role of the stories and jokes, the asides and the developing themes is about context, but when all is said and done and Hillel’s timeless words, ‘If not now, when?’, cast into song are powerful enough to draw goosebumps, if not tears, who could ask for anything more?
One would not have the temerity to. Theatre aficionados know and recognise the gorgeous and inimitably talented Sivan Raphaely and Sharon Spiegel-Wagner, who in this show is pushed to glorious heights that certainly this reviewer hasn’t before seen her achieve on stage, but the coup de grâce in this very very fine work is delivered by Naami Gottlieb Lieberman, who has strong roots not only in serious Jewish culture, but also in serious music studies achieved in Israel – she’s a flautist as well. Her light and powerfully versatile soprano range so aptly blends with the voices of her peers on stage, offering light and tone that gives it levity and wisdom, you will wish for more, but irrevocably cherish what you hear.
“From the Mouths of Babes” is conceived by Naami Gottlieb Lieberman, Sivan Raphaely, Sharon Spiegel-Wagner and Malcolm Purkey, directed by Malcolm Purkey and performed by Naami Gottlieb Lieberman, Sivan Raphaely and Sharon Spiegel-Wagner and Gina Stoltz as understudy and Friday Night cover, with design by Jemma Kahn, at the Laager, Market Theatre, Newtown, until December 2; and at the Baxter Theatre, Cape Town, December 5-January 6.
011 885 2548
084 319 7844
Market Theatre Complex, Newtown Johannesburg Gauteng South Africa