Sun 20 May 2012
The Israeli national theater Habima is back home in its renovated location in central Tel Aviv. The many years of wandering in temporary spaces, the problems with the building and funding seriously impacted the conditions of viewing and the level of the performances for the last few years. As a faithful subscriber I was waiting for the meeting with the old theater in the renewed building with the expectation of meeting an old friend I could talk only by Skype for a while. At last, that moment came last evening. I will begin with the building.
Unfortunately I could find more detailed information about the history of the building and the new project only in Hebrew, and very little about the history and the location in English. The overall impression is good, the renewal designed by sculptor Dani Karavan keeps the principal lines and ideas of Oscar Kaufman’s original International Style building raised between 1935 and 1945, but integrates it better with the neighborhood, and has an airy and spacy look. The underground parking provides a much better access than before, space for the cars of visitors of the halls in the theater and of the Mann Auditorium (the siege of the Philharmonic whose turn is now to be in renovation) and of the Helena Rubinstein pavilion of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The exit rush was far from the nightmare described in some other reports, but maybe we just were lucky with a less crowded evening. The HaBima complex pairs well with the Golda Center which is located less than ten minutes walk away, to give to Tel Aviv a second focal point of culture and recreation fit to the first (and only by now) great metropolis of culture in Israel. The interiors are also airy and elegant, the crowded and dark corridors of the old theater are gone, although I personally miss the gallery of portraits of the great actors – where are they now? The only darker nuance in the silver cloud is the theater hall itself, or better said the Maskin hall which seems to be the same as before renovation, including known problems like the tall balcony edge that preempts good viewing in the first rows of the balcony area.
The play last night was The Beauty Queen of Leenane, by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, premiered in 1996, which enjoyed success on Broadway and East End as well. It’s a black comedy, mixing realism and even naturalism inspired by the grim landscape and realities of country-side Ireland in the years before the industrial boom of the 90s, family drama, dark comedy and absurd theater. Although the themes are not necessarily among my favorites I enjoyed the mix and the balanced and well paced writing, as well as the professional direction (Hanan Shnir) and acting. The two central characters, mother and daughter, embraced in a relation of hate and disillusions were especially well played by Dvora Kider and Lilian Berto. HaBima is back home, and the theater needs to ger back the confidence of its viewers disappointed or skeptical after all the years of wandering in periphery theaters and of mediocre productions. Stagings like The Beauty Queen of Leenane are not breakthroughs but they can provide the building blocks of the solid performances well chosen from the world contemporary repertory which need to be bart of the re-building process.