The Web site in Hebrew of the Beit Lessin Theatre has under the name of the theater an addition which translates like ‘the most Israeli possible’. This is probably kind of a slogan meant to attract audiences and it certainly does, as Beit Lessin is nowadays one of the most popular mainstream institutions of its kind in Israel. It is not necessarily a good thing in my eyes. Israeli when connected to theater unfortunately means for me a very strong tendency to compromise when it comes to the artistic level of the staging, an acting style which in most cases resembles vaudeville or TV satire whatever the genre or the subject, and especially a way to bring reality to stage which targets mostly cheap entertainment and avoids asking questions or raising too touch or in a too tough manner the social or political questions of the day. A very bourgeois approach.




Things are different when it comes to Hanoch Levin – a playwright, director and writer that I just start to discover. Levin seems to have been for the first part of his career the emblematic opposition figure, questioning all the slogans and slaughtering all the holly cows of Israeli nationalism and religion. He later focused on the more human dimension of the Israeli social fabric, the life of the small people, their weaknesses and personal conflicts. His writing is a combination of human drama, sarcasm and comical relief, his heroes live in a double cage, with dreams broken and movements constrained by the chains of the social conventions and the limitations of their own characters. The language is something in between Chekhov and Ionesco, expressed in a beautiful Hebrew, specific to Levin, articulated and somehow outdated.


(video source תיאטרון בית ליסין )


It is actually the second time we see Melakhat Hahaim (The Labor of Life). The first time it happened maybe 25 years ago, by the time we were new in the country and we were going to our first theater outings here. I do not remember how we chose Beit Lessin but this was the first theater we subscribed to, maybe because it was the most Israeli :-) This play may have been the first Israeli play we have ever seen, we remember very little of that version that is now considered a ‘classic’, it was acted by Yossi Banai and Tiki Dayan, and we must have laughed at the comedy moments, but I doubt we understood then all the details of the text. I now enjoyed it differently, as I could appreciate the sharp but yet compassionate look the author took at the life of couples, at the dichotomy between the fear of loneliness and the compromise of mediocrity, at the acceptance of the unavoidable physical decay, and at the fact that not all dreams can be achieved, eventually most prove to be broken. Levin’s text and the acting of Sasson Gabai made the performance more than acceptable despite the mediocrity of the rest including staging (Roni Pinkovitch) and sets. Hanoch Levin deserves more than what the most Israeli theater can offer today.