Theater Review: Did You Hear the One About the Lawyer With the Cellphone? – “Kol’s Last Call”

An entertaining but surprisingly slight monologue from Israeli playwright Joshua Sobol.

Kol’s Last Call by Joshua Sobol. Staged reading directed by Guy Ben-Aharon. Presented by Israeli Stage at Hibernian Hall, Roxbury, MA on September 24.

photo: Israeli Stage

Jeremiah Kissel in the Israeli Staged staged reading of “Kol’s Last Call.” Photo: Israeli Stage.

By Ian Thal

Mickey Kol (Jeremiah Kissel) enters, a paper coffee cup in one hand, a mobile phone in the other, a duffle bag over his shoulder, and a bluetooth in his ear. He is alone and waiting for something — though it is not the phone call that interrupts his anxious silence. The call is from the law library he once frequented. Kol is an attorney, recently disbarred, standing outside a prison where he is about to serve a one-year sentence for a courtroom outburst. He is cooling his jets because the facility is on lockdown because of a suicide; he still has enough respect for the legal system to wait. It turns out that Nina, a librarian, has come across news that may make all the difference in the case that led to Kol’s plight.

The play is made up of Kol’s phone calls with all the women in his life: Yael, the widow of Kol’s client, a doctor who was railroaded after he published his suspicion that a medication was causing fatal blood clots in his patients; Nina who has just told Kol that a Swiss regulatory agency banned the medication the day before he is to start his sentence; Donna, his former assistant, whom he is cajoling to take up the case again; Ronit, his wife, first estranged by his obsession with the law and then by his affair with Donna; and his mother, to whom he is lying that he is going to be working for a business venture in South America for the next year.

Kol is vulgar, resentful, and paranoid. He fights passionately against the corruption he sees all about him. He is not blind that his pursuit of justice – particularly on behalf of a client who was driven to suicide after Kol failed to exonerate him – has led him to make make many bad decisions, leaving a destructive wake behind him.

Kol revels a bit in the zesty contradiction between his virtues and vices, and Kissel has more than enough exuberance to keep an audience engaged through a full length monologue. (In truth, Kol’s Last Call is not much of a stretch for this superb performer.) Even as an actor still on book, Kissel invests interesting detail in his characterization; for example, there’s the rhythmic ways in which the actor cocks his head or paces across the stage. Kissel also uses the pages of the script as a prop – doubling a stack of legal documents that will doubtless be confiscated, along with his phone, the moment he walks into prison.

The question, of course, is what do all these legal melodramatics amount to? The answer was debated in a post-show panel that featured Kissel, defense attorney Susan Howard, and Harvard Law professor Matthew Stephenson. Howard come up with a litany of verisimilitude bugs: the unrealistic presentation of the courts and penal system deviated from the procedures of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; the severity of Kol’s sentence. And then there was the casual way he was allowed to stand outside the prison’s walls — that didn’t make much sense. Stephenson countered, arguing that these kind of liberties are routinely taken in American crime dramas. He suggested viewing the play as more as an existential parable, in the tradition of Franz Kafka’s “Before the Law” (which is alluded to in the script). Kissel pointed out that Kol’s Last Call is a set in Israel – a country with it’s own legal traditions as well as those inherited from both the Ottoman Empire and British colonial rule. So some differences should be expected.

Legal dramas have traditionally taken great liberties with the law – sometimes to dramatize (or satirize) a particular issue affecting society, or perhaps just provide a formula for conflict between two antagonists. Sadly, the post-show talk didn’t answer a more elemental question; was this staged reading more than a pleasant dramatic vehicle for Kissel?

This past spring, fans of Joshua Sobol enjoyed a boon of riches. He was in Boston for a spell that included Greensboro Arts Alliance & Residency/The Mirror Theater’s production of his drama Sinners (The English Teacher), as well as a staged reading of scenes from Love in Dark Times and Israeli Stage’s workshop presentation of David, King. There were also a number of public lectures and panels that focused on the dramatist. Those who were excited by the thorny conflicts at the center of those Sobol’s scripts — their exploration of how authoritarian regimes and movements or examination of  the dichotomies that have existed in Jewish nationhood for thousands of years — may feel let down by the relative slightness of Kol’s Last Call.

This character study is genuinely entertaining, but it’s hard to imagine that there is anyone in this day and age will be shocked that the law and the courts can be manipulated by powerful inner circle types who are interested in corrupt ends rather than justice. Or that there are those in the medical and pharmacological industries who are willing to overlook harm for the sake of profits and healthy branding. And who will be surprised that that there are still few good souls (and, in Kol’s case, even compromised souls) who are willing to make considerable sacrifices to make a better world? Frankly, we would be better served if GAAR and The Mirror came back with its production of Love in Dark Times or if Israeli Stage managed to pull off a full run of David, King.

Ian Thal is a playwright, performer, and theater educator specializing in mime, commedia dell’arte, and puppetry, and has been known to act on Boston area stages from time to time, sometimes with Teatro delle Maschere. He has performed his one-man show, Arlecchino Am Ravenous, in numerous venues in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. One of his as-of-yet unproduced full-length plays was picketed by a Hamas supporter during a staged reading. He is looking for a home for his latest play, The Conversos of Venice, which is a thematic deconstruction of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. Formerly the community editor at The Jewish Advocate, he blogs irregularly at the unimaginatively entitled The Journals of Ian Thal, and writes the “Nothing But Trouble” column for The Clyde Fitch Report

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