By Itai Erdal in collaboration with James Long, Anita Rochon, and Emelia Symington Fedy. Directed by James Long. A Chop Theatre and Chutzpah! festival coproduction, with development partner Rumble Productions. At the Wosk 2nd Stage on Thursday, February 17. Continues until February 27
In How to Disappear Completely, writer and solo performer Itai Erdal pads around the stage in his stocking feet telling us about his mother’s death from cancer 10 years ago. The event is so personal that it feels like I’m about to review Erdal’s private journal. But it is also a work of art.
As art, How to Disappear Completely has several strengths, including the introduction of Erdal’s mother, Mery. When Mery was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2000, Erdal flew to her side in Israel and started filming; his plan was to make a documentary movie. Here, we meet Mery in a film clip lying on a beach. As her son interviews her about how poorly she’s feeling, she interrupts to ask, “Is the whole interview going to be in this tone?”, and gently mocks him for his “profound questions”. Instantly, you see the strength of Mery’s humour and honesty.
And there’s an intriguing passage in which Erdal tries to interview is sister Ayana on film, and she insists that she can’t possibly answer his questions because their terms of reference are so different. But there’s similarity as well; as Erdal does a live translation of the clip’s Hebrew dialogue, he impersonates his sister, nailing her gestures and emotional tone. Within the intimacy, there’s also a soft domestic brutality: Erdal confesses to the audience that, when they were kids, he dominated his sibling. “I am louder than my sister Ayana. I can put more grapes in my mouth.”
Erdal is a prominent theatrical-lighting designer, and with his collaborators—director James Long, dramaturge Anita Rochon, and sound designer Emelia Symington Fedy—he uses the discussion of lighting as storytelling device. He talks about how he’d light the various members of his family circle, for instance. Speaking of his mother’s second husband Pedro, he says he would start by giving a sense of unease, “then I would slowly shift to a front, top, warm, light-wash with a chocolate or pale apricot, so by the end of the cue you would really like him.”
This is smart, but it’s also abstract—an idea, a description, as opposed to a dramatic moment. As much as I appreciated individual passages, I tired of the extended use of lighting as metaphor. And I longed for How to Disappear’s relationships to go further, deeper. It’s great that Erdal and his collaborators rigorously avoid sentimentality. Still, more development of the relationships that are so expertly introduced, more of a story—possibly more conflict—would have given the evening more tension and shape.
That said, How to Disappear Completely is an impressive accomplishment for Erdal, who is a first-time writer and actor. And the love in this piece is so palpable that it feels like a solid.