Wow. I had to catch my breath at the end of this hour spent with Itai Erdal; it’s a neat trick for a non-actor to pull off a solo show, let alone a story about assisted suicide. A lighting designer by profession, Erdal delivers his message without ever resorting to lecture, rehashed moral issues, or protest.
He implies – but of course, doesn’t quite say – that he gave his mother, dying of lung cancer, a fatal drug. “She asked me to. She asked me to.” Indeed, we watch footage of her in bed, agreeing, “as long as it works”. Theatre, as life, surely doesn’t get more raw than this.
We’ve been set up for this revelation: at the very beginning Erdal introduces himself as someone who has broken all of the 10 commandments – “no, nine, I haven’t made false idol”. Only one or two laugh at this. It’s not that it’s not a good line, it’s just that the air is already weighted with anticipation; Erdal has a capturing presence.
The format is unremarkable – footage on screen, Erdal as himself, no props save his lighting box. Yet it’s gripping. Erdal knows how to tell a story, and ups the ante with his documentary footage. He screens some wonderful, brave scenes with sister Ayana, best friend Amir whom he’s known for as long, his mother’s partner Pedro – in denial that she’s dying yet devotedly shaving her scalp! – and his mother, of course, as she deteriorates. They talk in Hebrew, which Erdal simultaneously translates.
It’s galling to find out that this seven minute episodic trailer is all Erdal has left. A year after he moved from his apartment he remembered he’d left months of film behind, now lost to him.
Notwithstanding the uncomfortable subject, it’s not all doom and gloom. A story of Erdal and a prehistoric fish that takes a fancy to him is entertaining. Amir was on the sidelines, laughing so hard it’s one of his own better anecdotes to this day. And Erdal risks asking the audience to name a country – claiming that he knows every capital, a childhood competition with his sister that he always won. On this occasion, he didn’t know the capital of Sierra Leone, and his sister would be gratified to see Erdal kicking himself.
His introduction to stage lighting, ingeniously woven through the story, is revelatory. It’s especially touching when Erdal explains which light he would use to film each member of his family – one to smooth out his sister’s hard edges, another to remove his mother’s wrinkles of pain and suffering. There are lights to warm people up, to play up their fierceness, and techniques to make a subject disappear gradually, 10% by 10%. At 0%, they disappear completely.
So it’s an engaging show, but it’s also a deeply serious topic. You can’t ignore its importance for those families facing difficult times – battling to change the law so that they too can do what Erdal, perhaps, has done.