Hélène Cixous’s play Oy directed by Georges Bigot at the Actors Gang closed this weekend.
Oy was beautifully directed: elegant blocking, and a profound appreciation for a mise en scene that reveals uncomfortable truths. After a video montage, the stars of this two person play make chopped liver on stage in silence, in real time. You would have drooled but you would not have been bored.
Everything you needed to know about the relationship between these sisters and their history is made clear. Even without the Holocaust, the exploration of these two women is powerful.
The performances are incredible. I’ve long admired the work of Mary Eileen O’Donnell. She and Jeanette Horn were terrific here. Along with Wim Wenders’ Pina documentary earlier this year, these artists shows how expressive and profound older artists are.
The play is a play of ideas. Two sisters living in Paris return from a visit to their home town in Osnabruck Germany where they were honored guests and model Holocaust survivors. O’Donnell’s character, Selma, at first appears to be the strong one. She discusses the 14 (sic) types of racism and repeats the line “And this must not be talked about” to great effect. Like their father she asks, where have all the Nazis gone? When she lowers her head, or threatens to stop telling stories, her intelligence and history are forceful. They stay with us.
These women discuss the anti-semitism that existed before the war. The playwright doesn’t stop there. She details the pettiness and superficiality of the Jewish community at that time. A professional puts stock in his resemblance to the kaiser. Jenny contemplates a nose job.
Ultimately Oy is about the weight of history and the price of truth. When the sisters discuss the building of a synagogue in a place that no longer has any Jews, the term ‘irony’ can remain unsaid but still powerful.