Hanoch Levin’s ‘Yaacobi & Leidental’ at the Odyssey Theatre, a Farcical Crucible … with Music!

By Ernest Kearney  —  “I was born to leave,” proclaims the slovenly Yaacobi (Ilia Volok) right before erupting into a rumbling ecstatic rant in which he luxuriates in the viciousness he intends to unleash on poor unsuspecting Leidental (Michael Redfield) who awaits his “friend’s” arrival for their customary domino game over tea.

The audience is offered nothing in the way of back story, exposition or even a morsel of situational context. It’s as if we all simultaneously emerged from a collective coma to find ourselves situated in the middle of a WWE ring just in time to experience the opening round of WrestleMania’s heavyweight Battle Royale championship.

Thus, we are not enticed by Israeli Hanoch Levin to follow him down the rabbit hole of his absurdist comedy Yaacobi & Leidental, we are shanghaied.  

At his death in 1999, Levin left behind enough dark comedies, macabre dramas, short stories and other works of prose and poetry to apparently overshadow Mount Sinai.

Yaacobi & Leidental is currently having its US premiere at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble and the merging of play and venue is certainly a match made in the Black Hole of Calcutta.

Levin’s bitter, misogynistic, enigmatic musing of the tragic slapstick knitted from the foibles of humankind could not have a better whetstone to hone the sharpness of the work’s sardonic cutting edge; and cut it does with an abundance of brutality punctuated by the occasional bleak ballad crooning over the malignancy of love and the euphoria of unbridled flatulence.

Upon arriving, Yaacobi wastes no time in announcing the quietus of their association, flaying the fawning Leidental with the stinging rebuke, “Hasn’t it ever crossed your mind that you and I are not the same thing?” before marching off to whatever new adventures life holds. 

Deserted by his former friend, Leidental withers like a shadow in a blackout. But soon he’s slinking off in pursuit of the swaggering Yaacobi, exhibiting once and for all that the meek shan’t inherit the earth they’ll just cling to it.

In a fashion, Levin has reversed engineered the dynamics of Samuel Becket’s Waiting For Godot, in that Becket’s two clowns couldn’t endure being parted allowing him to merely position a tree on stage with them; whereas, Levin’s disjointed pair require to be “yoked,” and what better binding than a well-endowed vixen with a “tochis” worthy of serenading?   Approaching Ruth (Sera Heywood-Rakhimova) and learning that she is a serious artiste, the smitten Yaacobi declares that a man’s dream is “feeling up a woman deep in thought.”

Sera Heywood-Rakhimova, Michael Redfield, and Ilia Volok / Photo by Jenny Graham

From here Levin’s theatrics, which were all ready whirling like a dervish on meth goes into warp drive.

And while he repeatedly fires off both barrels of his sawed-off existential farce with wild abandon, the resulting blast-patterns reveal his meticulous targeting and his dead-eye accuracy, employing those  comprising his love triangle with the adroitness of a New York  Three-card Monte hustler.

Passion’s shallowness, the exploitation of emotions, the deceptions of desire, those lullabies of the lies we litter our lives with, and the delusions we disguise our disappointments in, all clash as Redfield and Volok go at it with the rashness of Rathbone and Flynn dueling.  Meanwhile, Heywood-Rakhimova succeeds in being somewhat spectacular as she shifts from dainty dictatrix to weepy succubus, as pianist Nisha Sujatha Arunasalam deftly provides the onstage accompaniment for Levin and composer Alex Kagan’s Kurt Weill-ish ditties.  

Working from a translation by Naaman Tammuz, Director Yonatan Esterkin has admirably succeeded in bringing Levin to American audiences and demonstrating why it is he is so justly celebrated by their nation.

In John–Paul Sartre’s 1944 existentialist work No Exit we were told, “Hell is other people.”

In Yaacobi & Leidental, Hell is presented as the prison of our own pettiness.

Levin’s work is a vast fun house full of mirrored ideas, concepts, and perceptions that at first glance may seem illusionary and distorted but look again. 

The clarity of those reflections is perfection. Painfully so. 

(In Main Image:

Ilia Volok and Michael Redfield in Yaacobi & Leidental / Photo by Jenny Graham)


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Yaacobi & Leidental

March 18 – April 30

• Wednesdays at 8 p.m.: March 15 (Preview), March 29, April 12 and April 26 ONLY

• Thursday at 8 p.m.: March 16 (Preview)

• Fridays at 8 p.m.: March 17 (Press Preview), March 24** and April 14** ONLY

• Saturdays at 8 p.m.: March 18 (Opening), March 25, April 1, April 8, April 15

• Sundays at 2 p.m.: March 19, March 26, April 2, April 9, April 16

• Mondays at 8 p.m.: April 3, April 10 and April 24 ONLY

*Post-performance discussions on Wednesday, March 29 and Wednesday, April 12
**Wine Nights on Friday, March 24 and Friday, April 14: complimentary wine and snacks and after the show.


Odyssey Theatre
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90025


• Previews: $20
• Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays: $25–$40
• Mondays: Pay-What-You-Will (reservations open online and at the door starting at 5:30 p.m.)




(310) 477-2055 ext. 2

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Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. Kearney remains focused on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. His stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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