Based on Etgar Keret’s 2012 book of the same name, Suddenly, A Knock on the Door is a fast-paced work comprising several stories glued together by an unlikely standoff between a flustered writer in his home and the armed invaders who, like his little son, just want him to tell them a story.
The book features a very stripped-down way of storytelling that relies on surrealism, symbolism and the magical to hold up the emotion. For the most part, the play follows suit. There are a few props and only a few pieces of costume, so for the most part it is up to the actors to deliver on a promised feeling. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they do not.
What works on the page does not always work in the stage. In this case, and the six actors playing a variety of characters are required to pantomime their surroundings, and one must even play the part of a goldfish. Two guitarists sit stage right playing accompanying music, playing the roles of the apartment doors, and playing the peanut gallery. It’s a fun attempt to work around the set’s special limitations, and the occasional commentary was entertaining.
There are really eight stories told over the course of 90 minutes. The hostage-taking story has within it three stories by the author — assumed to be Keret — and three stories by the gunmen and knife-wielding pizza delivery girl. Each of these is different in tone, and each in their own way moving. There are some that linger in mind, like one with the goldfish and another about a woman who is brought by police to identify the body of a man she technically married, but who ran away from the alter, eight years prior. Others I recall for the awkward presentation. The story of a divorcee speaking with his young son about his mother-in-law’s abuses would have hit with much greater impact if the actor playing the son hadn’t been as much a caricature as a character.
Despite the awkward way in which the stories are presented, the work as a whole moves surprisingly quickly and with good humor. Much of that humor is rooted in the various Israel-isms scattered throughout the play, words or characters that may make sense only if you’re familiar with the place and the language. The question is how those moments translate to a New York audience.
In the end, the show succeeded in that it made me want to pick up Keret’s books and start reading so I could imagine the scenes for myself. And if that’s the worst that can be said, it’s good enough.
Photos by Peter Welch
Suddenly, A Knock on the Door
Through June 19, 2016
Theater for the New City
155 First Avenue