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Flip the Script: Hanoch Levin, The Rubber Barons (A Tale of 30000 Condoms)

A hugely successful day: we moved the show out to Taliesin, put up the set, did a run-through, and found out that tomorrow’s rehearsal is cancelled, giving me a whole day free! Yay!

I had to return my copy of The Labor of Life and Other Selected Plays by Hanoch Levin to the library today, so I thought I’d flip through them and see what caught my eye. The first play that caught my eye was The Rubber Barons, mostly because of its subtitle. I also enjoyed The Child Dreams, but I think it would be way too depressing for a blog post, as much as I’d love to see how people would react to the mother flashing the ship captain and the closing scene with the chorus of dead children in the graveyard. So The Rubber Barons it is.

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Basics

The Rubber Barons (Socharei HaGoumi) was written by Hanoch Levin (1943-1999). The play was originally written in 1977 ib Hebrew. Its first production was in 1978 at the Cameri Theatre in Tel Aviv. Levin also directed.

Characters

  • Bella Barlow – 40s, a pharmacist.
  • Yohanan Tsingerboy – 40s, a clerk.
  • Shmuel Sprawl –  40s, a condom vendor.

Setting/Plot

We open on Bella’s drugstore where Yohanan is attempting to buy condoms. He actually sings this adorable little song called “The Hint Song” about them, a la that episode of The Golden Girls where they are shopping for the cruise. Side note, Yohanan also has two things: sixty thousand dollars in the bank and a thing for Bella. Shmuel, on the other hand, just inherited 10,000 Australian condoms from his deceased father and is trying to sell them to Bella at top dollar.

A weird sort of love triangle ensues. Yohanan wants Bella, but she’s not interested, even though they get naked in her apartment and it’s implied that they have sex, or at least a condom is utilized, as Bella says, “please, not on the carpet.” Once Bella learns about Yohanan’s money, she becomes attracted to him, but only for that, so she can rebuild her store. Shmuel and Yohanan do not have a sexual relationship, but they have a few weird scenes where they have long fantasy sequences about having sex with young, pretty girls from Texas. Shmuel shows up at Bella’s doorstep trying to sell her his condoms, and she kinda falls for him, but then falls out just as quickly. Yohanan comes back, and Bella resumes begging for his money, and he begs her to be with him. Finally, he hands over the money, but instantly regrets it. She becomes attracted to him, but the moment has passed for him. Everything kinda sucks at the end, and they still have a ton of condoms left.

My Thoughts

 


Works Cited:

Levin, Hanoch, The Rubber Barons (A Tale of 30,000 Condoms) in The Labor of Life and Other Selected Plays, trans. Barbara Harshav. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2003.

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1

The Naked and The Dead

Today, I went to the bank, ate a lot of cheese crackers, and went out to have a guy’s night with Shlomo at the movies. The Wisconsin Film Festival is in town, so we headed over to Hilldale to catch the only Israeli film in this year’s festival: The Farewell Party, a 2014 film directed by Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon, starring Ze’ev Revach, Levana Finkelstein, Aliza Rosen, Raffi Tavor, and Ilan Dar.

So long, farewell…

 

The film is a black comedy, dealing with aging and machine-assisted suicide, taking place in a Jerusalem retirement home. At the outset of the film, Yana (Aliza Rosen) calls upon her friend Yechezkel (Ze’ev Revach), a machinist and inventor, for a way to put her husband, Max – who is very old and very ill – out of his misery. A mutual friend, Rafi (Raffi Tavor) introduces Yechezkel to someone who can help: his lover Dr. Daniel (Ilan Dar), a veterinarian who has experience with sedatives and putting animals to sleep. Though initially apprehensive, Dr. Daniel eventually describes to Yechezkel the type of machine he’d need, and Yechezkel sets about to make it, a machine where pressing a button will administer a lethal dose of drugs. Yechezkel’s ladylike but dementia-suffering wife Levana (Levana Finkelstein, in a stunning performance), discovers the plans and almost blows their cover, but eventually acquiesces and becomes the fifth member of this unlikely death squad. Together, they videotape Max soberly acknowledging that this is how he wants to die, and presses the button, killing himself. To trick the nurses, Dr. Daniel briefly hooks up Rafi to Max’s heart monitor while waiting for him to flatline, and then replaces it and leaves with the rest of the group. They think that this is the end, but at Max’s funeral, a man called Dubek approaches Yana, telling her that he knows what happened (though not how) and begs for her to do the same for his ailing wife, Clara. After stalking the group at their retirement home, they acquiesce (all but Levana, who has become too emotionally fragile), and they do the same as they did to Max for Clara, who is in much better shape than they thought but presses the button anyway. Then there’s a weird musical interlude.

Meanwhile, Levana, who is frequently left alone, exhibits even more signs of dementia, doing things like putting her purse in the freezer, leaving the house with cookies burning in the oven, and eating pizza out of a garbage can. Levana and Yechezkel’s daughter, Noa, urges them to place Levana in a home for elderly dementia patients, but Yechezkel shuts her down, stubbornly refusing to see the signs of Levana’s illness until one day when Levana shows up for lunch in the nursing home dining hall completely naked. Upon returning back to her room with Yechezkel and Yana, Levana becomes hysterical, crying that she needs to be put in the home. Yechezkel then hatches a plan, taking Levana down to the nursing home’s greenhouse that night, where Yana, Rafi, and Dr. Daniel are all naked and smoking marijuana. The two join in the fun until they are caught by a security guard and warned by a social worker, who recommends that Levana go into the home for the mentally disabled.

The group unites again (sans Levana, and Yechezkel, who is taking care of her) to head to a kibbutz to use the suicide machine on their 89-year-old friend Zelda. As soon as Zelda presses the button, a fuse blows and the machine dies. Rafi calls Yechezkel to come and fix it, but since he’s promised Noa that he won’t leave Levana alone, he takes her with him to the kibbutz where once again, the machine blows a fuse when Zelda presses the button. Then after a choir sings outside Zelda’s window, she briefly reconsiders her decision before pressing the button a third time, again blowing a fuse.

We then cut to the parking lot, where we learn that the machine didn’t work and Zelda changed her mind anyway. Zelda’s brother runs out to the group in the parking lot, saying that 5000 shekel has gone missing from Zelda’s money, and though the group thinks Levana accidentally took it, Rafi is revealed to having taken it, as well as money from Max and from Clara. A furious Yechezkel wrestles Rafi to the ground, injuring himself in the process.

Soon after, Levana and Yechezkel visit the home that Noa and the social worker suggested, but find it to be a sterile environment where everyone is a vegetable. Levana reveals that this is all too much for her, and she tells Yechezkel she wants to be the machine’s next victim. Yana tells Yechezkel that he should let his wife die in dignity, with the machine. Furious, Yechezkel destroys the machine.

Later, Yechezkel leaves Levana alone for a short time while he goes and discusses what has happened with the other three, returning to discover her in bed, unconscious. The group rushes her to the hospital, where she is revived but reveals that she purposely overdosed in an attempt to kill herself. Yechezkel suddenly sees how much his wife is suffering, and builds a new machine. In the closing scene, the group stands around Levana’s bed as she apologizes to Noa and tells her not to be angry with her father, and that she is deciding herself to die with dignity. The camera then zooms in on her as Yechezkel leans over for a last kiss and her finger presses then button and the film ends.

Shlomo and I had vastly different perspectives on the film. I mean, we saw the same points, but I saw more of the comic elements than he did. I guess I just took the movie at face value. True, the story is incredibly depressing, but the idea of a bunch of old people inventing a machine to kill people, going around and doing it, and getting naked and high along the way kind of made it feel like a screwball comedy for the geriatric. At some points, I was the one doing the dying, dying laughing, that is; Zelda’s three failed attempts at activating the machine and her comments after the room went dark, Levana putting her purse in the freezer, and of course, the naked greenhouse scene, which was actually kind of sweet, knowing that Yechezkel orchestrated it so that his wife would feel less awkward about the whole naked-lunch thing.

As I said earlier, Levana Finkelstein’s portrayal of Levana was absolutely stunning; she really wowed me with her spiral into madness. Ze’ev Revach as protagonist Yechezkel and Aliza Rosen’s tough-as-nails Yana were also fun to watch, and the playful relationship between the two widows (well, one at the beginning of the film and one at the very end) made Levana’s character all the more interesting. In terms of production values, some great camera work and excellent use of color, with whites and hospital-like pastel blues and greens contrasting with the dark shadows that the characters always seemed to be in, as if their wrinkles were intended to be accentuated at every turn.

I don’t have too much criticism for the film, even though I saw what was coming at the end. Oh, and the opening credits went on way too long, as well as the opening bit with Zelda and Yechezkel on the phone. Overall, it had a good mix of moments that were humorous and moments that were heartbreaking.

It gets four stars from me.

And I think I ate about a hundred cheese crackers as I wrote this.

5

Masterpiece YouTube: Bob Saget, “Danny Tanner Was Not Gay”

2015. Wow. We are halfway through the decade which will be known as the 2010s. Scary stuff. What’s even scarier is that the 1990s are two decades behind us. Growing up in the 1990s, I thought that music from the 1970s, like the Bee Gees, Donna Summer, Bob Marley was the “oldies,” and now if I turn on an oldies station on the radio, I’m just as likely to hear Hanson, the Spice Girls, and the voices of preteen America in the 1990s: The Backstreet Boys. BSB was like a religion to some of the girls in my class. Never N*Sync, only BSB. From my experience, people didn’t like N*Sync because of Justin Timberlake, and now look who’s brought sexy back. Just saying.

Anyway, the 90s wasn’t all about music; there was TV, and among the most dominant shows of my childhood was Full House, starring Candace Cameron; the ever-youthful John Stamos; the “You Oughta Know” guy, Dave Coulier; Jodie Sweetin, pre drug-addiction; some blonde twins who probably didn’t do much with their lives; and keeping it all together, Bob Saget, playing Danny Tanner. Little did America’s youth know that America’s favorite dad was actually a stand-up comedian with an extremely dirty streak. I would like to think that this was our reward for suffering through a decade of sagging jeans and plaid flannels, but he was like this all along; we just didn’t know it yet. Bob Saget is, in fact, one of the rare few who brought us up as children and continue to entertain us as adults, although in a very different way.

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Masterpiece YouTube

Episode 17: Bob Saget, “Danny Tanner Was Not Gay”

The beauty of this song is in its simplicity, and how Bob Saget ties together one of the theme songs of the decade with one of its iconic characters. Accompanied by himself on guitar (side note: he’s actually neither a bad singer nor a bad guitarist), he tells the world how his character, Danny Tanner, was indeed, not gay.

I watched Full House before I knew what “gay” meant, but looking back, Saget brings up a lot of good points. They did live in San Francisco and were bachelors for much of the series, save for Stamos, whose character got married midway through. Danny Tanner kinda got screwed; at the end of one of the seasons, he proposed to girlfriend Vicky Larson, but the actress who played her decided not to renew her contract once it expired, so the character was gradually written out of the show, first through a transfer to Chicago and then just dropped completely. I (along with others) thought she should have stayed and become a part of the regular cast; she seemed like the cool older character that could knock Lori Loughlin’s character Rebecca Donaldson-Katsopolis down a peg or two. But even after Full House ended and I grew up, I never made the connections Saget did; I guess I just viewed him as a single dad who couldn’t catch a break.

Probably the best part of it is when he mentions his ex-wife, and the song comes full circle. And his dig at Dave Coulier at the end; he just wouldn’t be Bob Saget if he didn’t get a joke on Joey in there somewhere. Oh, and the Kimmy Gibbler reference. Speaking of Gibbler, I wouldn’t be surprised if she comes back as a lesbian if they do a reunion show, possibly married to a now-gay Steve, and are each other’s beards. Now that’s a Full House that I think Bob Saget might go for.

But until then, enjoy this song, given to us by Bob Saget, the voice of a generation.

This episode of Masterpiece YouTube was brought to you by not wanting to write a sappy New Year’s post like everyone else in the goddamn blogosphere.

4

Ain’t Never Had A Friend Like…

During dinner, we were watching the Orioles-Yankees game when it went to commercial. Commercials are against my dad’s religion, so we changed to a news channel.

Along with the rest of America, the headline hit us.

ROBIN WILLIAMS DEAD AT 63. 

I was never a die-hard fan of his, but if he was in it, it was all but guaranteed to be hilarious. From the cinematic masterpiece Mrs. Doubtfire to the farting wife in Good Will Hunting, the man had a gift for comedy. Ironic that the saddest of the tragedies would end his life. I think he would’ve wanted us to laugh at his best moments, just like he’d done for decades in his career. Let’s revisit that through some gifs, shall we?

 

Robin Williams, RIP.

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In-Flight Entertainment

One video I’ve been seeing a lot of on my Facebook feed lately is that of the funny Southwest Airlines flight attendant whose safety lecture is basically like spending three minutes with Kristen Wiig as all of her characters put together. Naturally, I watched the video myself, found it utterly hilarious, and for some reason made me desire crackers, but maybe because it was still Passover when I watched the video. In case you haven’t yet seen what I’m talking about, here it is for your enjoyment.

Yes, this is a real video, shot on an actual Southwest Airlines flight by someone with a very thin cellphone camera. Didn’t anyone on that plane manage to record it on HD? Anyway, this fantastically funny flight attendant was on Ellen today, where the world learned that she is 49-year-old Marty Cobb of Dallas, Texas (color me unsurprised; even the humor is bigger in Texas). Despite looking very young, she has three kids, two of whom were on the show with her today. Ellen DeGeneres, in typical Ellen DeGeneres fashion, was extremely generous, giving her an Ellen luggage set stocked with Ellen souvenirs and $20,000 dollars in gift cards from Target, RadioShack, Shutterfly, and others. She seemed like a terrific lady; not like she didn’t deserve those prizes (she totally did) but there are tons of funny flight attendants out there. Most of them work for Southwest Airlines. Personally, I love flight attendants because not only do they help keep the plane safe, but if you’re on their good side they will be the kindest of kind to you.

This reminds me: one of my two favorite flight attendant stories happened on Southwest Airlines.

When I went to UMass Amherst, the closest airport was Bradley International Airport in Hartford, Connecticut. Because there are so many colleges and universities in Connecticut and western Massachusetts, during weekends like Thanksgiving and Spring Break, the airport is full of students. A good number come from the DMV, and since Southwest offers cheap and quick flights from Hartford to BWI, students tend to use them frequently. At that time, Southwest didn’t offer flights to Dulles or Reagan (this may have changed) so for anyone from within a few hours from Baltimore, it was worth it to fly there and then take public or private transportation to elsewhere in Maryland, Virginia, or Washington DC. Since I went to one of the biggest schools in the area, chances were that I saw at least one familiar face in the terminal or on the plane, and usually we were actual friends, not just acquaintances. This is also how I ended up sitting next to the most insufferable girl in my major for four lovely hours in the air, but I digress.

I believe it was the end of Spring Break, and I was on my way back to school. The entire Trinity College men’s basketball team ended up being on my flight, coming back from a game with some school in Baltimore/DC. Just about everyone was settled on the plane, when the intercom system crackled, and a flight attendant’s voice rang out.

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Kevin? Kevin Miller? Is there a Kevin Miller on this plane?

Behind me, I heard a shuffle of sweatsuits, and various voices saying, “Kevin, wake up, they’re calling your name.”

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Passenger Kevin Miller…if you are on this plane please press your call button immediately.

BING! A call button comes on a few rows behind me, as I hear Kevin saying, “I’m here.”

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Passenger Kevin Miller, we have a message for you from Baltimore. Your mother just called, she said you left your Spider-Man lunchbox on the kitchen counter. She did talk to the pilot, and unfortunately, he has decided that we cannot delay the flight to wait for the lunchbox to arrive, but she is checking it through on the next flight out, and you should be reunited with it at baggage claim in Hartford. She also wanted me to tell you that she cut the crusts off of your peanut butter sandwich, and remembered the Double Stuf oreos, and she loves you very much.

His friends sitting behind me started cracking up, as did most of the rest of us on the plane. Somehow, they had managed to pull this flight attendant aside and convince her to play along with their prank. The best part was that she was a big, sassy black lady who didn’t miss a beat. That is how it’s done.

And that’s how to properly prank your friend on a domestic flight. International might be a little tougher.

0

…And I’m Colin Jost

So, I was going to write sort of a passive-aggressive post, but then the Weekend Update music chimed from Saturday Night Live and I remembered…

There’s a new anchor tonight!

Joining Cecily Strong at the oddly shaped desk that has been populated by the likes of Jane Curtin, Chevy Chase, and Tina Fey is Colin Jost. Instead of doing the regular thing and advancing through the cast members, Jost managed to make the jump from writer to Weekend Update anchor, one of the most coveted and recognized positions on the show. If it can make talk show hosts out of Seth Meyers and Jimmy Fallon, there’s gotta be some credence to it.

I watched it, and…it was OK. Just that. Jost is better-looking and more “news-anchor”-y than Meyers or Fallon, but he seemed a little nervous (well, who wouldn’t be?) and not as shiny (maybe that’s the makeup, but it was more reminiscent of a nondescript news reporter than someone like Peter Jennings). I think he’ll provide a nice foil to Ms. Strong, which is why the Fallon/Fey pairing worked so well.

What I like best about Weekend Update is when the anchors can keep a straight face. We haven’t seen that since Tina Fey/Amy Poehler. Even Jimmy Fallon had a habit of breaking character and laughing at the camera sometimes. But I guess the trend has stuck. I mean, it’s okay to laugh at the jokes, but if that ends up being all you do, that’s not terribly funny. There is value in being able to play the straight man, and not like Seth “Perma-Press Smile” Meyers, especially when the guests do that enough themselves (I’m looking at you, Stefon.) Kenan Thompson kind of lost it tonight, but Jay Pharaoh kept it pretty cool. On the other hand, he didn’t have to look at his own hilarious face.

Probably the best moment of tonight’s Weekend Update was Taran Killam’s 19th century Oscar critic, Jebidiah Atkins. Even at a technical glitch and Cecily’s incessant giggling, he played it straight and brought the funny.

Writing about something funny is way more fulfilling than ranting.

Now that awful, annoying dental insurance commercial is on.

Oh, the show’s over. Thanks, Lorne, and welcome to Sierra Leone and valkomin to Iceland!

4

Masterpiece Youtube: “Queen of the Ice,” Julie Brown

First of all, thank you to everyone who viewed, read, and commented on yesterday’s blog. It was my most viewed blog to date, with 113 visitors and 210 views, personal records for me, including my first visitors from Nebraska (howdy!), Hawaii (aloha!), and Croatia (dobrodosli!)  Hope you continue to hang out and enjoy. And as always, if you have any ideas of current events you’d like my opinion on, stories you’d like to hear, or a new feature, just let me know!

In honor of the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia (which apparently start in a few hours, at least in Russian time), I’d like to call your attention to something a friend of mine (well, okay, I don’t actually know her, but we’re friends on Facebook and responded to a comment I wrote her once) posted on Facebook. On your mark, get set…

That’s So Jacob Presents: Masterpiece YouTube

Episode 11: “Queen of the Ice,” Julie Brown, 1994.

Said friend was indeed the Great and Wonderful Julie Brown, who reminded us all of this glorious moment in her career, or at least the glitziest. One of the most underrated comediennes of all time, Julie Brown was unleashed upon the world as a VJ on MTV, hosting her show Just Say Julie, and leading the cast of an unfortunately-cancelled sketch comedy show called The Edge which featured her alongside the likes of Tom Kenny, Jill Talley, and oh yeah, some other chick named Jennifer Aniston. She’s been pretty dormant over the past decade or so, but has come back with a bang. Most of her earlier work is still hanging out on YouTube, and it’s still funny even though the 1990s are not even a twinkle of an eye to today’s teenagers. I had originally planned on doing one huge salute/tribute dedicated to Miss Brown, but since she started it, I’m just going to roll with it.

This song comes from a parody film called National Lampoon’s Attack of the 5 Ft 2 In Women which satirizes the stories of everyone’s favorite penis-chopper Lorena Bobbitt and everyone’s favorite Olympic ice skater rivals, Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. If you don’t know either of those stories, stop reading, click over to Wikipedia, and come back when you’re done. I’ll wait.

Okay, so now that we’ve established the situations, on to the video. We open on Tonya Hardly (played by Brown herself) gliding around her attic in a snazzy black and white sweater and early-90s white floofy scrunchie…oh wait, that’s actually supposed to be her hair. Flash over to the Nancy Kerrigan character being pursued by Tonya in a fit of rage and a dress that could turn Medusa into stone (bonus points to those of you who get that reference!). Her anger-fueled, acid-trip tune turns deadly when she pulls out her “little hammer,” something that I initially thought was just an unusual rhyme, only to realize about fifty re-watches later that it’s a cultural reference to the Olympics in Lillehammer. I’m not quite sure what the significance of the parrot lady is, but Julie Brown’s finest moment in the video is when she bites her lip and takes aim with her gun. Pure, unadulterated, early 90s vengeance. The music turns sweet again as she scrolls through a list of her “idols,” other infamous ladies from the early 1990s. Then, here comes a wrestler with a wheelbarrow of money, for no apparent reason, and then Brown skates around some more, dances a bit on the podium under the American flag, and ends with a triumphant slap to Nancy’s face.

What did I learn from this video? Skating and shooting are two activities that go well together. Skating in the fog is fun and mystical. The girl who plays Nancy has a weird-shaped face. But the most important lesson of all is that Julie Brown is so talented that she can make the world fall in love with Trailer Park Tonya all over again (like they say in those commercials on PBS about the technicolor Shirley Temple Collection).

But seriously, folks…skate at your own risk.

This episode of Masterpiece YouTube has been brought to you by Winter. Winter: When you go outside and the snot freezes inside your nostrils, that means it’s working.