An Israeli comedy troupe called Davai just made its U.S. premiere at Cleveland’s inaugural BorderLight International Theatre + Fringe Festival. And it did so with a remarkable, 90-minute slice of absurdist, non-verbal storytelling and masterful clownery that lives up to the “fringe” in the festival’s title.
“Under Construction” is about three eccentrics clad in well-worn long johns and tattered slippers who live in a crammed, run-down flat. They desperately wait for the tea kettle to boil as the world falls to pieces around them.
The 20’ by 20’ performance space that barely contains Vitaly Azarin, Alexey Gavrielov and Fyodor Makarov is cluttered with remnants of a construction site – piping, buckets, pails and drop clothes hanging from iron framing – that will soon become unlikely percussion instruments, the clever stuff of sight gags, and artifacts that serve to define each broadly-drawn but intricately-executed character.
The endearing performers’ refined clowning technique, impressive circus skills, and occasional improvisations create a series of comedic vignettes – a phone call received through a shower head or a hair dryer, the watching of the evening news, a communal bath – that interfere with their mid-day tea, each separated by a visual black out to end the scene. The black out – a device derived from vaudeville days to help punch a punchline – are actually justified here, given the unreliability of electricity in this flat-in-progress. Running gags that reside outside the box, clever and often chaotic slapstick, and an abundance of pantomime synchronized to pre-recorded sound effects designed by Gavrielov constitute the evening’s entertainment.
Though a bit longer than necessary due to some prolonged pauses and drawn-out bows, “Under Construction” is always entertaining and an absolute delight to witness. And Azarin, Gavrielov and Makarov are interesting even when inanimate, as the production photo shows. In motion, they are fascinating.
Bob Abelman covers professional theater and cultural arts for the Cleveland Jewish News. Follow Bob at Facebook.com/BobAbelman3 or visit cjn.org/Abelman. 2019 Ohio Society of Professional Journalists best critic.