Chicago Theater Review: ANGINA PECTORIS (ShPIeL–Performing Identity at Theater Wit)

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by Lawrence Bommer on November 22, 2015

in Theater-Chicago


ShPIeLAnginaPectoris6Some absurdities are just too stupid for satire. Transparently ridiculous, they automatically self-indict, hanging themselves on their own petard. Such is the object of scorn in Michal Aharoni’s world premiere Angina Pectoris (a title that sheds little light on its theme). Well-intended but heavy-handed, Aharoni’s political comedy centers on a flagrantly unscientific Israeli law that would prevent Jews, dying or just sick, from receiving organ transplants from non-Jewish (i.e., Palestinian) donors. What would happen, he wonders over 100 minutes, if the nation’s Defense Minister desperately needs a new heart to replace his bum ticker and his only hope comes from a (once) young and healthy Israeli-Arab? Is saving your life more important than preserving a reflexive racism? (In literature at least, this now-dated dread used to arise over interracial blood transfusions.) Can prejudice passing as patriotism outweigh simple self-preservation (a question for a nation to ask as much as an individual)?

ShPIeLAnginaPectoris4Clumsily displayed at Theater Wit by ShPIeL-Performing Identity (whatever that company name means) in an awkward staging by David Y. Chack, this good-hearted but ham-handed protest play focuses on Gary Saipe as Israeli army chief Dan Yasour, a very hearty but putatively moribund heart patient (who’s also a total jerk). A champion of the illegal settlements that have displaced Palestinians for 40 years, his right-wing daughter Masada (Katherine Bellantone) and her manipulative and reactionary husband Matanya (Michael Lomenick, fulminating with forced patriotism) urge the dying man to reject this only available heart. Caught in the crossfire is Dan’s supposedly Americanized Jewish-American doctor (JP Thomas, incarnating insincerity), returned from five years in America hoping to placate Masada for apparently abandoning her.

ShPIeLAnginaPectoris1What repetitiously follows is a crude and preposterous squabble over the heart–here a comic prop in a cooler. In what’s supposed to be hilarious but is simply idiotic, Masada and Matanya think they can literally smell out the heart as Palestinian. Of course, a real heart would be ruined by the inspection: In the most improbable–and, if you’re religious, insulting–scene, the heart is actually converted to Judaism with a tiny prayer skull cap attached. In a more serious moment the Arab parents of the dead donor attempt to withdraw the heart after Yasour’s army kills two of their relatives in retaliation for a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip. Here the humanity of unnecessary enemies shines through. The play ends with a dispute over a baby that, to put it mildly, is not worthy of Solomon.


No question, Aharoni is on the right side of morality and history as he depicts the kneejerk bigotry of fundamentalist haters. But the play’s cardiac metaphor is altogether too literal: Slapstick involving a fragile heart and a supposedly perishing politician (though Saipe acts like he’s ready to run a marathon) just doesn’t deliver the goods. Worst of all is a big lost opportunity: We never see how this defense minister finally views his presumed foe–when he’s alive because one of them is not.


Forced and frantic performances, marred by mugging and melodrama, do the dialogue no favors. Following this Chicago premiere, Angina Pectoris (originally written in Hebrew) will be performed in Tel Aviv. Perhaps something like wit or charm will be restored in translation.

ShPIeLAnginaPectoris5photos by Cassandra Kendall

Angina Pectoris
ShPIeL–Performing Identity
Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.
Thurs-Sat at 7:30, Sun at 2
(check holiday schedule)
ends on January 3, 2016
for tickets, call 773.975.8150
or visit Theater Wit
for more info, visit Shpiel Theatre

for more info on Chicago Theater,
visit Theatre in Chicago

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