Talk about men needing to get in touch with their feminine side. Ido Bornstein’s new comedy, “Dogs,” starting this week at the Fringe Festival, centers on a group of Israeli men, both Jewish and Arab, who stage a musical version of “Romeo and Juliet” that not only helps them to explore their emotions, but leads to one of them getting pregnant! The play, which has enjoyed a successful run in Israel, is newly translated into English; it runs at the New Ohio Theatre in the West Village.
Directed by Shlomo Plessner, “Dogs” is a production of TheaterCan, an Israeli company that has won plaudits for using the actors’ own life histories as the springboard for its plays. Founded by Plessner and Bornstein (who are a married gay couple) in 2009, TheaterCan staged “Dogs” as its inaugural production, and then went on to produce “Sunrise,” “Lice,” “Hunger” and “Honest” (also playing at the Fringe Festival) — plays that explore aspects of malaise in contemporary Israeli and Western society.
In “Dogs,” which is partly inspired by “The Full Monty” (the 1997 British film in which a group of unemployed steel workers put on a striptease act), the five actors clash repeatedly as they endeavor to stage the Shakespearean tragedy. Even as their inexperienced director, Gili (Lavi Zytner), tries to keep the rehearsals moving smoothly, the men get sidetracked by their political differences, by the pregnant cast member’s water breaking, and by the absence of anyone who can play Juliet. The music, composed by Galit Florentz, ranges from an Israeli marching song to the ballad of a Palestinian refugee who pines to return home to the land he calls his own.
“We wanted to explore the aspect of the male psyche that perpetuates violence,” Bornstein told The Jewish Week in a joint interview with Zytner last week. “The characters fight like dogs with each other even as they struggle with their own fear of intimacy.”
Even among the members of TheaterCan’s troupe, Bornstein noted, the war between the Israelis and Palestinians remains not so far in the background. Nevertheless, he pointed out, “when a man looks in the eyes of another man with whom he has conflict, it becomes personal — he can get to know and even love something in that man. And then he’s not just serving the conflict, but serving himself.”
Why have one of the actors get pregnant? Zytner speculated that women have a different view on the sacredness of life. “If you create lives, you can’t destroy them,” he said. “Life would be very different if women ruled the world.”
“Dogs” opens on Thursday, Aug. 16 at 6:30 p.m. at the New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher St. Additional performances are on Sunday, Aug. 19 at 5 p.m., Tuesday Aug. 21 at 2 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 23 at 8:30 p.m. and Friday Aug. 24 at 10:15 p.m. For tickets to all the shows at the Fringe, $15 ($18 at the door), visit www.fringenyc.org.