‘The City,” a darkly funny Hebrew rap opera from the Victor Jackson Show ensemble, has always required more than one viewing in order to fully understand its rapid-fire dialogue, wry repartee and songs (writes Jessica Steinberg).
That’s true, even for native Hebrew speakers.
The play tells a classic noir tale of private detective Joe meeting a mysterious woman who convinces him to investigate her sister’s strange disappearance.
Now the homegrown Jerusalem troupe will be performing “The City” in English on February 14, a treat for those who may not catch all the nuances of the Hebrew version.
Not to worry, it still works in English.
“In Hebrew, there’s all the references to Hebrew culture,” said Amit Ulman, who plays Joe and is one of the three members of The Victor Jackson Show acting ensemble who created “The City.” “So in English, it’s a little different, but the same idea. The language itself is a little more distant for us, but actually closer to the genre of what we’re doing.”
“The City,” a story of small-town detectives, lust and possible murder, is told via fast-paced dialogue of rap, hip-hop, beat boxing and musical-style singing. It is clearly inspired by 1940s Humphrey Bogart-style films, with more than a little of Jay Z thrown in for good measure.
Performed on a spare stage, furnished with a desk and a chair, “The City” is punctuated by the steady musical accompaniment of its troubadour, Omer Mor. Seated at the back, he is sometimes joined by his fellow performers on piano or drum — er, possibly an upside-down plastic tub or metal bin.
It’s a show that requires rapt attention if you want to understand every word and absorb its many nuances.
There’s one song made up of bits and pieces of well-known Israeli lyrics, another bit that scoffs at the intricacies of singular and plural nouns in the Hebrew language, and, throughout the play, the continual use of language and idioms familiar from Israeli life.
The February 14 English production won’t be the first, as the ensemble is regularly invited to perform it in festivals worldwide, and has performed it in English in Israel several times.
The Victor Jackson Show members made headlines in 2014 when they attended the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and were famously kicked out of their theater by anti-Israel activists.
As part of their protest, they performed the show silently, in a public park.
Now the ensemble has something of a cult following among Israeli twenty-somethings who love nothing more than laughing uproariously at the sly asides, in-jokes and cultural references crammed into the wordy production.
Fans are also known to sing along and finish the sentences of the better-known lines of the play.
None of that bothers the troupe, said Ulman.
“You get something from the audience each time,” he said.
“The City” was written and created by Ulman, Omer Havron, and Omer Mor, the three members of The Victor Jackson Show ensemble, under the wing of Jerusalem’s Incubator Theater. The production is directed by Ulman, who studied acting at the Nissan Nativ Acting Studio, with music by Mor, and performed by its three creators, along with Dorit Lilien and Roni Rocket.
When they wrote this rap-inspired musical, it was long before Lin-Manuel Miranda created the now legendary “Hamilton,” Ulman noted.
“What we created comes from the spirit of the times, and it makes sense that there’s another,” said Ulman. “It’s kind of a pain in the ass that we were the only ones doing this, and here they are, and succeeding.”
But Ulman and his fellow Victor Jackson Show colleagues aren’t planning on performing “The City” for the rest of their professional lives.
Ulman is working on a Hebrew spoken word album, the now-popular art of poetry inspired by hip-hop culture and created for live performance, and there is talk of an Israeli movie project in spoken word as well. The ensemble also performs “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” a spoken word adaptation of the Shakespearean play and some of the members are in “Magshimim High School,” a spoken word and rap musical written by Ulman, Havron and Mor about a new kid in school, all part of the Incubator Theater productions.
The performance of “The City” in English is being sponsored by The Times of Israel. Tuesday, February 14, 8:30 p.m., at the Incubator Theater at Beit Mazia,18 Mesilat Yesharim, Jerusalem. NIS 90 per ticket, NIS 70 for students, soldiers and pensioners. Tickets are available for purchase here.