The Engagement

Based on Tzaḥut bediḥuta de-qiddushin (An Eloquent Comedy of Marriage), a play by Judah Sommo
Directed by Grigory Zeltser
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Duration: 2 hours 15 minutes without intermission

The premiere took place in 29 January 2020.

Grigory Zeltser with the participation of Uri Gershovich
Based on Tzaḥut bediḥuta de-qiddushin (An Eloquent Comedy of Marriage), a play by Judah Sommo
Directed by Grigory Zeltser
Music composed by Alexander Belousov
Cast: Uri Gershovich, Grigory Zeltser, Alyona Timofeeva, Andrei Kaplanov.

 

The Engagement is based on the first play ever written in Hebrew. Director Grigory Zeltser and researcher of Jewish philosophy Uri Gershovich conducted a true experiment: They transformed the original text of Judah Sommo's Tzaḥut bediḥuta de qiddushin (An Eloquent Comedy of Marriage) into the detailed research of a two-year textological seminar. The actual text of The Engagement was created as they combined the multitude of meanings that they derived from their work on the plot of the play. This, then, is the multilevel text that the audience hears on stage. At first glance, Judah Sommo's play is a farce, a commedia dell'arte about two lovers. The heroes plan to marry with the consent of their parents, but the wedding is canceled when a letter is received – the groom's father died suddenly overseas and left his wealth to his slave, not his son. As such, the bride's mother convinces her weak- willed husband to refuse the proposal of the orphaned and bereaved young man, and to find another groom for his daughter. A greedy rabbi intervenes in the bride's parents' plan to separate the lovers. He pretends he wants to help the lovers, but pursues his own selfish interest. Heeding the advice of the greedy rabbi, the young man soon is on he verge of death. He is saved, however, by a wise, true rabbi who draws attention to a line in the will, typed in small print: it says the son has the right to take for himself any one thing listed in the inheritance. As this “thing,” on the advice of the wise rabbi, the young man takes the slave, along with whom he temporarily receives all properties belonging to the slave (for there is a law according to which everything that belongs to a slave automatically belongs to the slave's master). The will was drawn up in such a way as to hinder the slave from squandering the inheritance. The father's legal subtlety and the wisdom of a true rabbi preserve the young couple's happiness. Such is the general outline of the story. However, as they began translating and analyzing the text of the play, Uri Gershovich and Grigory Zeltser discovered that the plot is nothing more than a shell for a witty, yet profound treatise on the paths leading to a sacred marriage between Heaven and Earth, and, as a result, to universal salvation. In other words, inspired by messianic ideas, Judah Sommo, who believed that theatre has its origins in the Bible, wrote not just a comedy, but a kind of play of plays aimed at effectively correcting the world order. It is
no coincidence that the author emphasizes the extreme importance of his writing the play in Hebrew. Upon closer examination, the text of the play is a patchwork quilt woven from biblical and Talmudic quotes and allusions, each of which refers to a specific context. The collision of these contexts gives rise to meanings that are intelligible to those who are well acquainted with the sources, but hidden from the reader and viewer who do not know these original sources. Thus, it became clear that a direct, full-fledged translation of this play from Hebrew into Russian was impossible. One can only reconstruct and understand this play in a new manner and a new context, which, ofcourse, may also be considered a “translation,” although only in the broadest sense of the term. Thus was the text of The Engagement born and, thanks to the specifics of the material, a new presentation format, a performance-lecture,was chosen. The reading of the play by Grigory Zeltser is accompanied by commentary from Uri Gershovich. Some fragments are performed musically (composer Alexander Belousov, vocals by Alyona Timofeeva and Andrei Kaplanov).