Am văzut această seară punerea în scenă a dramei lui Ibsen “Stalpii Societății” la Teatrul Cameri din Tel Aviv, în regia lui Arthur Kogan, cu Itai Tiran în rolul principal. A fost o performanță solidă, o montare care, după un inceput lent in primele 20-30 de minute a intrat in ritm și a dezvoltat bine dimensiunile sociale și morale ale piesei. Utilizarea inteligentă și eficientă a scenei rotitoare a adăugat mult stilului cinematografic al montării, iar Itai Tiran a adăugat încă un rol memorabil palmeresului său deja impresionant. Recomand spectacolul, este probabil, unul dintre cele mai bune ale actualei stagiuni teatrale israeliene.
M-am simtit in acea seara dintre putinele petrecute in scurta mea vizita bucuresteana de acum cateva zile, ca transportat si transfigurat in timp cu vreo patru decenii si mai bine in urma, in anii de vraja in care Liviu Ciulei impreuna cu o cativa colegi regizori de mare talent, profunzime si curaj si cu o echipa de actori care aduna impreuna unii dintre cei mai mari actori ai multor generatii ale scenei romanesti de la Clody Berthola trecand prin George Constantin si Stefan Iordache pana la Florin Pittis si Ion Caramitru, creasera la Teatru Bulandra unul dintre centrele de greutate ale teatrului lumii. Incerc sa evit cuvintele mari si voi spune doar ca in acei ani am vazut pe cele doua scene ale Teatrului Bulandra – cea din Gradina Icoanei si cea de langa Podul Izvor multe dintre cele mai bune spectacole de teatru cu care am fost si voi fi binecuvantat vreodata.
Revederea cu spatiul din Gradina Icoanei este intr-un fel pentru mine o calatorie in timp. Uitasem de adancimea scenei. Imi amintesc spatiul ca multi-functional si flexibil ca pozitie a scenei – ‘Elisabeta’, ‘Furtuna’, si altele cred, mi le amintesc cu scena in mijloc. Acum insa se revine la configuratia ‘proscenium’ si la sala in panta, ceea ce aduce actorii mai jos de ochii majoritatii publicului. Intr-o perioada in care fragilitatea constructiilor in care isi joaca de multe decenii spectacolele teatrele romanesti de traditie, sala din Gradina Icoanei nu este – sper – amenintat acu vreo relocare sau inchidere, desi foierul si caile de acces tare ar mai putea beneficia de o renovare. Pentru mine a fost parca un motiv in plus de nostalgie, dar indisponibilitatea unui program de sala pentru un spectacol de o asemenea tinuta cum este ‘Omul cel bun din Seciuan’, care se joaca de mai bine de un an, si care a apucat deja sa fie premiat cu un important premiu al anului teatral care a trecut, a adaugat un element ne-necesar de reamintire a timpurilor de restriste.
Nu l-am cunoscut niciodata personal pe Andrei Serban, dar am totusi cu el o intersectie biografica interesanta. Prin anii 60 invatam in particular engleza de la aceeasi profesoara – Doamna Ghinopol, fie odihnita, o femeie cu o biografie franta de o condamnare politica, singura ei vina fiind ca in anii imediat de dupa razboi lucrase la Biblioteca Americana. Eu eram un baietel in pragul adolescentei cand dansa imi povestea despre perechea de prieteni – un tanar regizor extrem de talentat, si un critic de teatru pe masura – care ii sunt elevi si de care era extrem de mandra. Cativa ani mai tarziu numele lui Andrei Serban si George Banu incepeau sa faca istorie in teatrul romanesc, si apoi in teatrele lumii. Engleza invatata de la profesoara noastra comuna a fost suficienta pentru a-i permite lui Andrei Serban, ajuns in lumea cea mare in 1969, sa frecventeze studiile cu Peter Brook si apoi sa realizeze in 1971 prima sa punere in scena importanta in Statele Unite, cea cu ‘Medeea’ la teatrul ‘La MaMa’ din New York.
Andrei Serban a fost in Romania si in acest an si am avut ocazia sa-l vad intr-un interviu televizat. Pare mult mai tanar decat cei 72 de ani pe care ii are astazi, si tineretea sa nu este doar fizica si ci spirituala, si pare sa vina in mare parte din interior. Seamana mult fizic cu Paul McCartney, unul dintre cei doi supravietuitori Beatles, dar isi poarta varsta (foarte apropiata) mult mai bine decat acesta. Dar inainte de toate pare a fi in plina forta creativa, si ‘Omul cel bun din Seciuan’ la Teatrul Bulandra este o excelenta dovada.
Andrei Serban descifreaza textul lui Brecht dintr-o perspectiva contemporana care combina politicul cu umanul. Personajul principal, tanara Shen Te din Seciuan, este pusa la proba de zei, asa cum se intampla intotdeauna in teatrul lumii de la clasicii greci incoace. Este ea ultimul om bun de pe suprafata planetei, cea a carei bunatate poate salva omenirea, macar in ochii zeilor? Ea se va stradui, dar sunt oare suficiente bunele intentii in lumea in care traia Brecht sau in lumea in care traim astazi? Inactiunea este condamnabila din start. Actiunea insa are de multe ori consecinte neasteptate si contrare intentiilor, lumea este construita stramb si oamenii sunt manati de interese meschine, cel care actioneaza in numele binelui este folosit, furat si manipulat iar actiunile grupurilor sociale protestatare nu numai ca nu dau rezultatele asteptate dar se intorc impotriva celor care ar trebui sa beneficieze in urma lor. Putem discuta desigur daca intrebarile puse de Andrei Serban in mod destul de explicit despre protestele sociale de acum cativa ani si ‘primaverile’ de tot felul care s-au transformat repede in toamne reci si ploioase prevazand ingheturile iernilor, sunt puse dintr-o perspectiva personala conservatoare. Eu cred ca ele intentioneaza sa genereze o discutie intre spectatori si in mintile si sufletele acestora. Si asta este bine – este unul dintre scopurile teatrului bun, care poate fi politic fara a fi propagandistic.
A trecut vreo jumatate de secol de cand Andrei Serban epata burghezia proletcultista a Romaniei anilor 60 cu un ‘Iulius Cezar’ in stilul teatrului Kabuki, despre a carui moarte lenta, in ‘slow motion’, s-a scris si s-a discutat enorm. In spectacolul de acum am putut descoperi sau redescoperi aceeasi maiestrie a alegerii formei care pune in cea mai buna si mai expresiva forma continutul. Remarcabil este si faptul ca alegerea este facuta dintr-un registru larg de traditii si tehnici teatrale, care sunt combinate intr-un ansamblu de joc actoricesc, muzica, miscare, costume perfect integrate. Si in plus spectacolul distreaza. Teatrul este o arta si o forma de divertisment, si nici unul dintre marii regizori ale caror puneri in scena am avut sansa sa le vad nu omite aceasta – de la Brook la Ciulei, Pintilie, Andrei Serban sau Purcarete. ‘Omul cel bun din Seciuan’ combina elemente din teatrul antic, ‘commedia dell’arte’, circul, baletul modern, costumele orientale, cabaretul perioadei lui Brecht si un fond muzical inspirat dar evitand sa devina dominant. Am remarcat o singura nota stridenta, in parodierea vorbirii evreiesti a unuia dintre personajele negative – o tipologie etnica nenecesara si de gust indoielnic dupa parerea mea. Altfel este de admirat realizarea unui spectacol unitar si consistent care nu ar fi fost posibila fara o perfecta sincronizare a tuturor componentelor spectacolului, fara o munca sisifica si perfectionista la nivelul ultimului detaliu. Rezultatul este spectaculos. Intreaga echipa de actori joaca la nivelul marilor echipe de actori ale Teatrului Bulandra pe care le-am vazut cu decenii in urma. Nu pot sa nu mentionez numele lui Vlad Ivanov (actor urias si pe scena si in film), Ana Ularu sau Rodica Matache, dar facand asta simt ca fac o anumita nedreptate restului echipei, caci toti au fost excelenti.
Un spectacol de mare tinuta, demn de traditia acestui mare teatru.
Multumita prietenilor care mi-au procurat bilete cele trei seri petrecute in Bucuresti la sfarsitul saptamanii trecute s-au transformat in trei seri de teatru. Am vazut trei spectacole bune, care chiar daca nu au fost toate ireprosabile, au oferit cel putin prilej de discutii si schimburi si diferente de opinii cu prietenii si chiar si cu criticile pe care le-am citit ulterior. Este si un prilej de comparatie intre starea actuala a spectacolelor teatrale din Romania si din Israel, un alt subiect de discutii pasionate cu amatorii de teatru care au ocazia sa vada reprezentatii in ambele tari.
In prima seara am vazut la Teatrul Bulandra spectacolul ‘Conversatie dupa inmormantare’ al Yasminei Reza tradus de regretatul critic de cinema Alex Leo Serban, regizat de Alexandru Darie si acompaniat de muzica lui Adrian Enescu. Sala aleasa pentru aceasta reprezentatie a fost sala Studio din Gradina Icoanei, un spatiu la care ajungi dupa o plimbare scurta prin curtea teatrului, urcand niste scari spre un fel de pod. Scena este plasata in mijloc, oarecum in topologie elisabetana, dar la inaltime, ceea ce creaza in unele momente probleme spectatorilor caci actorii sau joaca cu spatele la jumatate din public, sau se mascheaza unii pe altii. Nu mi s-a parut solutia cea mai inteligenta, desi probabil ca scenografia (Octavian Neculai) face parte din concept. Aici apar in opinia mea alte probleme.
Plecat fiind din Romania din 1984 nu imi amintesc sa-l fi ‘prins’ pe Alexandru Darie ca regizor. Inteleg ca in timp a devenit unul dintre cei mai apreciati oameni de teatru din Romania, si ca regizor si ca director de teatru. Marturisesc insa ca viziunea sa in acest spectacol nu m-a entuziasmat. Este vorba despre piesa de debut a Yasminei Reza, pusa in scena in 1987, pe vremea cand era inca doar o ambitioasa actrita. Aveau sa treaca inca sapte ani pana cand ‘Arta’ avea sa o consacre drept una dintre cele mai spumoase si spirituale autoare de teatru ale Frantei si sa-i castige notorietate internationala. Textul are putin de a face cu ‘Arta’ sau cu ‘Doamne, ce macel’ – un alt succes international care a generat si un film (‘Carnage’) regizat de Polanski. Este o drama de familie, cu caractere si complicatii care aduc mai degraba cu piesele (bune) ale genului din dramaturgia americana de la mijlocul secolului trecut. Problema este ca Darie pare a fi dorit sa faca un spectacol Cehov pe textul lui Reza si in aceasta incercare cauta mult in subtext si construieste cu ajutorul actorilor trairi care nu au neaparat o baza in ceea ce sunt personajele. Pe drum devin vagi sau dispar cu totul alte aspecte ale textului initial – de exemplu conflictul intre generatii sau maturizarea personajului fratelui mai mic se pierd intr-o conceptie regizorala in care cam toate personajele au aceeasi varsta – asta explicit in contradictie cu indicatiile autoarei care diferentiaza personajele pana la 30 de ani ca varste. Jocul actorilor este excelent. Pentru mine sunt toti necunoscuti, asa incat le insir numele in ordinea din program – Cornel Scripcaru, Ioana Macaria, Camelia Maxim, Daniela Nane, Dan Astilean, Marius Chivu. Spectacolul insa ca ansamblu m-a nedumerit in multe momente.
Am revenit in a doua seara la Gradina Icoanei pentru a vedea in sala mare ‘Scaunele’ lui Eugene Ionesco. In perioada ‘dezghetului’ anilor 60, perioada care a coincis si cu afirmarea unor extraordinare generatii de actori si regizori, Ionesco fusese adus pe scenele romanesti intr-o incercare de a-l adopta, poate – cine stie – de a-l repatria macar spiritual pe fostul rebel al anilor 30, devenit unul dintre marii dramaturgi ai lumii si creatorul ‘teatrului absurdului’, concept cu nu putine filoane culturale romanesti. ‘Scaunele’ a fost una dintre piesele cele mai putin jucate – nu imi amintesc sa fi vazut-o pe scena in acea vreme, si versiunea cea mai cunoscuta (poate singura?) despre care doar am auzit a fost cea a lui Vlad Mugur la Teatrul Maghiar din Targu Mures. Nu este de mirare, caci piesa scrisa in 1952 este o combinatie de existentialism, dialog caragialesc-urmuzian care transmite imposibilitatea comunicatii reale, satira si protest care produce insomnii oricarei dictaturi si functionarilor ei.
Pe scena de la Bulandra am asistat la un spectacol pe care nu il consider cu nimic mai prejos decat marile momente de varf ale teatrului romanesc din totdeauna pe care am avut fericirea sa le vad pe aceeasi scena in anii lui Ciulei si Pintilie. Regia ii apartine lui Felix Alexa si spectacolul se afla de mai mult de un deceniu in repertoriu, devenind un fel de punct de reper stabil. Jocul actorilor este exceptional, Oana Pellea si Razvan Vasilescu sunt un cuplu ionescian de cea mai inalta clasa aducand pe scena trairile, sperantele, amintirile, disperarile, iluziile si spaimele personajelor lor. Viziunea regizorala creaza in spatiul scenei vidul care se umple treptat cu fantasmele create de mintea personajelor si transmise de ele publicului, si mai ales cu cuvintele cu vraja vorbei rostite de mari actori. Cred ca Ionesco ar fi iesit fericit de la vizionarea acestui spectacol.
In a treia si ultima seara de teatru bucurestean din aceasta scurta calatorie am vazut ‘Nebun din dragoste’ scrisa de dramaturgul, scenaristul (‘Zabriskie Point’, ‘Paris, Texas’) si regizorul de film si actorul Sam Shepard. Spectacolul acesta a reinaugurat sala Atelier din complexul Teatrului National din Bucuresti – deschis publicului dupa multi ani de renovare cu cateva saptamani in urma. Un spatiu foarte generos din cat am putut vedea nu numai cu teatrul ci si cu alte arte, in holurile teatrului fiind expuse doua expozitii de arta plastica din care am retinut mini-retrospectiva cu lucrarile lui Ion Alin Georghiu.
Spectacolul regizat de Claudiu Goga a demarat putin cam greoi pe gustul meu. Unul dintre motive este poate faptul ca dramele sentimentale din sudul pauper american nu sunt neaparat ceea ce ma intereseaza cu prioritate in viata, si cam asta pare sa fie ‘Nebun din dragoste’ in prima sa parte. Treptat insa relatiile dintre Eddie (Gavril Patru) si May (Diana Cavallioti) evolueaza si capata complexitate si tensiune, personajul ‘batranului’ (Mihai Calin) prezent in scena (si poate si in realitate, sau poate nu) capata semnificatie si da contur unei drame puternice si unui spectacol inchegat si articulat. Jocul actorilor, si aici, impecabil, Diana Cavallioti in special avand toate datele fizice si talentul de a deveni o stea in teatrul romanesc si nu numai.
Cum se compara teatrul romanesc cu cel israelian? In trei zile am vazut la Bucuresti trei spectacole care fiecare depaseste sau este egal cu nivelul celui mai bun spectacol pe care l-am vazut in aceasta stagiune in Israel (‘Gorodish’ la Cameri). Nivelul actorilor in fiecare dintre cele trei spectacole este atins doar in rare cazuri de actorii din Israel. Ca regie si conceptie artistica teatrul romanesc pare sa evolueze in continuarea traditiei de inovatie a anilor 60-70 cu accent pe puterea de exprimare si personalitatea actorilor, in vreme ce teatrul israelian se desprinde cu greu de traditia bulevardiera si de divertisment ‘usurel’. Abordarea repertoriului international pare sa fie destul de sincrona. ‘Ivanov’ de pilda este unul dintre spectacolele cele mai apreciate si mai de succes si in Bucuresti la ‘Bulandra’ si in Tel Aviv la ‘Cameri’. Cateva alte succese internationale sunt preluate mai mult sau mai putin simultan in Romania si in Israel. Ceea ce pare a fi oarecum de mirare cel putin in acest moment si in aceasta stagiune este lipsa aproape completa a dramaturgiei originale contemporane de pe scenele principale din Bucuresti. Oare nu mai exista in Romania de astazi dramaturgi de talia lui Baiesu sau Mazilu care umpleau salile cu teatru semnificativ chiar si in anii dictaturii? Din acest punct de vedere (al abordarii contemporaneitatii) teatrul israelian pare sa indrazneasca mai mult. Ar mai fi de spus ca ceea ce am comparat sunt varfurile teatrelor de repertoriu din cele doua locuri, in conditiile in care in ambele tari se face si teatru experimental, in sali mai mici, teatre cu mai putine pretentii si fara ‘nume sonore’, teatru care este de multe ori mai interesant decat cel de ‘mainstream’ si o indicatie buna despre viitor. Despre acesta insa, poate cu alta ocazie.
This posting comes instead of two reviews I would usually write about two performances I saw a week one from the other in Tel Aviv. One is a theater play ‘Az BePrag’ (‘Then in Prague’) by Hilel Mitelpunkt at the Beit Lessin. The second is Verdi’s ‘Otello’ on the stage of the New Israeli Opera. Hilel Mittelpunkt’s well written play is an intrigue of love, friendship, treason and deception set in the year of Israel’s independence and the two following decades. It even has a small dose of a spy story, added atop of the post-Holocaust drama lived by all principal characters. Otello‘s production is quite typical for what the Israeli opera offered most of the time in the last few seasons – a sumptuous staging taken over from an European Opera house, interesting sets, beautiful costumes, but mediocre musical interpretation with one soloist exception or maybe two, with the orchestra playing too loud and the singers not being hear loud enough, but this is probably a chronic problem of acoustics in this opera hall we need to learn to live with.
None of the two is really bad. Actually both of them are average (the opera) and even average plus (the play). And this is actually what is worrisome for me, and led me to put on the blog these thoughts. Because during both representations I felt too many times bored, and at the end I came to question my renewing of the respective subscriptions for the next season (well, it’s too late for the Opera, but not for Beit Lessin).
The problem is in my view first of all in the selection of the repertoire. Beit Lessin (as all other mainstream theaters) have a standard repertoire which balances Israeli original plays who look so much one as the other and all like the TV dramas we can see for free on TV, imports from Broadway or East End, Greek tragedies, Shakespeare and Chekhov, and a few adaptation to stage of classical European Jewish literary works. If you add the musicals you get how 90% of the repertoire of any mainstream theater in Israel looks like.
Now let us take the opera program. All performances I have seen this season were operas that I had seen at least once in the past of the stage of the New Israeli Opera. All were 19th century composers works with one exception which was early 20th century. All stagings were imported from European opera houses, and the majority of the singers in the main roles were 2nd hand singers from the international circuits.
Are there alternatives? Of course there are! The Israeli selection of plays can be much more daring, challenging the consensus, as the Israeli theater did in the past but seems to have given up doing nowadays. The contemporary international repertoire can be much more diverse, Broadway needs not be the only place where Israeli theaters look for inspiration, the international non-English or French repertoire should be also researched. There is much more interesting theater going on off-Broadway nowadays, or on the European scenes, or in the festivals. Even on the Israeli non-mainstream stages.
The Israeli spectators can watch almost daily operas on Mezzo TV and see what the big opera houses are bringing on stage nowadays – from Baroque operas to the late 20th century and even contemporary composers. What about the Israeli works? One original opera every five years is a lamentable average. Dare I say what about Wagner? I understand that the NIO cannot afford paying big opera stars for every performance, but don’t we really deserve to see and listen at least once a season to Anna Netrebko or Angela Gheorghiu or their likes? The rest of the time I would suggest that they rather give the opportunity to the young Israeli singers to sing the lead roles and not to the 2nd hand international singers who are brought here all the time.
Certainly, there is a reason for the lack of vision and the fear of daring of the leadership of the two theaters. The subsidies from the state were seriously cut, and the theaters and the opera are on their own, or depending on sponsors. The halls fill only if you answer the public requests. But is the public really that conservative? Nobody can say in the absence of alternate programing. Experience from other places in the world shows that building a more diversified set of options in the repertory not only prepares the future but also can succeed commercially. It also offers more and different experiences to the actors, the singers, the stage directors, the musicians including the young ones. Stagnation will eventually lead to the mainstream theaters being deserted by knowledgeable audiences, in favor of new options who will surge from the peripheries, in the spirit of free enterprise and creation, or in favor of other forms of recreation and spending of the free time. I am one of those who have prepared their suitcases and I am looking for alternate sources.
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.
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.
The performance with ‘The Trojan Women’ put on stage by the Cameri Theatre in Tel Aviv and the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre is a proof of the way great theater transcends time, and to what extend a tragedy written 24 centuries ago can be so actual and can speak so directly to the issues of modern history or even of the contemporary times. It certainly tells a lot about the genius of Euripides, but also about human nature, and about the world we live in. The play deals with the fate of the Trojan women, waiting for the Greek victors to decide their fate – slavery or death – after the defeat of Troy. It can be seen as a long lament and a dispute with the gods about the fate of a vanquished nation, the destruction of a homeland, the loss of freedom and the vicissitudes of the condition of women in times of war.
The ambitious project now on stage (for only one week) in Tel Aviv is the result of the collaboration between the Cameri Theatre and the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre. Director Yukio Ninagawa is a well-know name in Japan, very high regarded for his staging of Shakespeare and Ancient Greece playrights. He is not at the first tentative to work with an Israeli theatre. The history of his collaboration and involvement with the problems of the region and some of his thoughts and experiences during the realization of the current production are described in an interview given a few weeks ago to the Japan Times. It is no easy task to bring together on the same stage Japanese, Jewish and Arab actors, to make them work as one team, to bridge the cultural barriers, to defuse the political tensions and the tensions created by the text and subtext. Because of its perennial nature Euripide’s text can be read as a metaphor of Hiroshima and the disaster of Japan in the 2oth century, of the Holocaust, or of the Palestinian exile and occupation. The mission of the director was to transform these tensions into artistic tension, in art.
I find the result spectacular. The stage is deprived of any garments, all the rendition of drama is left to the actors and to the stage music which combines intonations of Japanese music with Middle Eastern lamentation tones. The cast is composed of Japanese, Jewish Israeli and Arab actors, in an almost mathematically equal distribution. All actors speak their own language, and the chorus (composed of five Japanese, five Jewish and five Arab actresses) repeats each incantation three times, once in each language. Although text translation is offered, at some point in time it becomes irrelevant. While director Ninagawa allowed or maybe even instructed each sub-team of actors to act in their own (classical Japanese, modern European, and melodramatic Arabic) styles, the whole performance has a definite Japanese atmosphere, and especially in the second part stage movements and intonations became more important than the words of the text. A great contribution is brought to this esthetic quality by the lead actress Kayoko Shiraishi in the role of Hecuba. She dominates the whole performance, melding the personalities of a hero of Greek tragedy with the calculated drama of a Japanese acting star. I will not mention other names, but the whole rest of the team is homogenous and very well directed.
This version of Trojan Women is an event from many points of view. It stages almost every day of the week until Saturday. For these of you who can reach this week Tel Aviv, love theatre, and can find tickets my strong recommendation is not to miss it.
This is maybe one of the most unusual texts about a theater performance that I have ever written. It is not only about Shakespeare’s masterpiece, not only about the staging (and I have great references to compare with, starting with Laurence Olivier’s 1955 version in film or the classical staging in the 60s with the Romanian actor George Vraca on stage), but also about the atmosphere of the performance. The play is now staged at the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv, together with Richard II which I wrote about a few weeks ago. Both kings are played by the same actor, Itay Tiran, the uncontested star of the younger generation of Israeli theater actors and both performances are directed by Arthur Kogan.
The performance today in Tel Aviv had two parts of classical Shakespearean theater and one surrealistic interlude. Seconds after the first part ended with the crowning of king Richard one of the actors returned to stage and announced ‘Do not go to any other place, stay here, this is the safest place’. The Hebrew word he used has a double meaning of defended place and bomb shelter. Many of the spectators laughed at the joke, but some other opened their smartphones to learn that we were experiencing the second rocket attack alarm on Tel Aviv from Gaza in the last 24 hours. That hall of the Golda complex, two levels under the ground is really also the bomb shelter for the whole theater, the sound of the alarm sirens does not get there, but the theater staff is trained to direct people to that hall in case of an alarm. At the end of the break we were told that in case of another alarm the performance will be interrupted, and the people with seats in the balconies are asked to descend to the safer stalls level.
There was no second alarm, and the second part as the whole performance was one of the best I have seen in the last few years on the scene of an Israeli theater. It’s much better than the pairing Richard II performance which I saw first, it’s a colorful and complex staging, with well drawn characters, which makes a good service to the Shakespearean text (well translated into Hebrew) and brings to life the bloody drama of power and human vice, of glory and moral decay. Itay Tiran is at his best, but so are also Eli Gorenstein (Sir James Tyrell as a professional killer and a lover of classical and opera music descended from Kubrick), Ruti Asersai, Elena Yaralova, Dudu Niv.
The play ends with the monologue of the Earl of Richmond which is to become Henri VII and start the dynasty of the Tudors:
Enrich the time to come with smooth-faced peace,
With smiling plenty and fair prosperous days!
Abate the edge of traitors, gracious Lord,
That would reduce these bloody days again,
And make poor England weep in streams of blood!
Let them not live to taste this land’s increase
That would with treason wound this fair land’s peace!
Now civil wounds are stopp’d, peace lives again:
That she may long live here, God say amen!
The word England was translated to Hebrew as Eretz. And suddenly the words written by Shakespeare more than 400 years ago seemed so true and so actual. Almost like a prayer. Some of the actors and many people in the audience had tears in their eyes.
Was there a real Fiddler on the Roof? This question is being asked by viewers enjoying the well-known musical or the movie inspired by it, or admiring Chagall’s paintings. The historical figure behind the character actually existed, he was was a famous klezmer in shtetls of Russia in the second half of the 19th century and the source of inspiration for a now almost forgotten novel by Shalom Alechem. His name was Stempenyu. The novel tells about the life and adventures of a man whose two passions – for music and for women – marked his whole path in life. It was brought to stage on Broadway in the 1920s and is now being revived on the stage of the Cameri Theater, in an adaptation by Edna Maze (Mazya – I am not sure about the English transcription of her name).
I did not read the book, but from what I read around the adaptation is pretty free, the authors having preserved most of the characters but focused on the first part of the story and changed the perspective on some regards. The Jewish world and Alechem’s characters come to life naturally and we recognize the prototypes and they all look immediately familiar, they are our family, our grand-grand-parents – the musicians and their nomad life, the book-keeping wife and the scrutinizing mother-in-law, the absent husband focused on his Torah studies neglecting his beautiful wife who strives foe another life, the student attracted by the modern life and socialist ideas and the hopeless orphan girl never daring to put in words her love for him. All become real on stage in a minimal setting, without too much story building, we there is no need – we have already read and heard this story many times.
The directing idea is to use no live music in a story which is all around and among music (there is a very well played musical score but it’s a recording). Instead of singing the actors at some points dance or use pantomime, and this combination works very well, creating living pictures of life and characters which express their feelings and reactions not only in text but also or mainly in movement. Above all Yehezkiel Lazarov is excellent in the main role, combining his exceptional skills in both acting and dance. Stempenyu is the closest thing we can get to Yidish theater on the Hebrew stage in Israel today, it is realized in a modern and attractive way and is a performance I do recommend.
What is a rock musical? or a rock opera? I confess that I never understood exactly where are the borders of the genres, actually where the classical operetta ends and the musical genre starts. Maybe when it is staged on Broadway? Now when do we add the rock adjective? (Is it an adjective?) This may be a little simpler – when electric guitars and maybe a rock band replaces the violins and the classical orchestra. Really so?
All these questions and some more may be asked around the staging of Next to Normal (Kima’at Normali) at HaBima. The text is written by Brian Yorkey, and the music by Tom Kitt, and the play enjoyed great success on Broadway a few years ago, wining Tony Awards and a Pulitzer prize for drama. The story tells of a mother in an average American family suffering of bipolar disorder, her fall into insanity, the electric shocks treatment she is going through, the effects on her and on her family, the ultimate dismembering of the family fabric and of her personality. The music composed by Kitt fits well the developing personal and family drama on the stage. Both the musical and the dramatic awards seem justified.
And yet the next question needs to be asked – is this the proper material for the national theater of Israel? Here the answer is even more complicated, as it would need a definition of what is fit for a national theater, and whether such a concept still exist in the conditions where such institutions face commercial viability criteria. I would say that shows like Next to Normal are not a guarantee for audience success, and the largest hall at HaBima was not full the night we watched the show (second day of Rosh HaShana, scheduled in conflict with the first night of the Champions League matches – I should mention).
How was the show? Not bad at all. Gathering a proper cast for a two hours of intensive acting and singing is not an easy task, and all the participants get a good grade for the combination of their dramatic and musical performances. Only one of them is a pop star (Harel Skaat) and I expected him to be good, but Ayelet Robinson was also remarkable in the lead role. Daniel Efrat’s Hebrew version of the text sounds very good in Hebrew, one would not say the play is translated. Director Hanan Schneer built a rather fluent performance, the musical score is well played by a group of musicians led by Nadav Rubinshtein, the only problem was with the sound, voices seemed strident at many moments, maybe a problem of acoustics, maybe the lack of experience of the sound engineers with the genre. Overall Next to Normal was a pleasant surprise not only as a repertoire choice item.
Playwrights do not have an easy task writing about the Israeli contemporary realities. How strong and impressive you can be writing a tragedy about the Israel of today when thousands of people in the land called Holy have lost their lives or seen their destinies destroyed by wars and the conflict between Jews and Palestinians that seems to never end. What credible dramas can be written when every newsflash in Israel brings several dramas with social or human background that exceed whatever was ever written for stage or in books? How political satire can work when the daily reality brings under the lights of the political stage characters that seem to exceed in behavior, corruption, absurdity the sharpest imagination a satirical writer can have. Never and nowhere the saying that reality exceeds fiction seems to have applied better than in Israel Today (capitals intentional).
Yet, the Israeli audiences love satire. The satirical shows are on the top of the TV and audio ratings. Last night the audience at Habima in Tel Aviv filled a hall with a capacity of about one thousand people, near me sat a pair of what looked like elder kibutznikim, in the row in front of a bunch of young religious people, the whole hall was a mosaic of people who came to laugh about ourselves in a play that could have been the subject of a tragedy as well as of a wild comedy. Israel is under attack from North, South and West. The war is ravaging the country taken by surprise, and the prime-minister and the members of an inept government seem busier with saving their own skins and personal real estate assets, dealing with political intrigues, and most of all, covering themselves for the inquire commission that follows inevitably all the wars of Israel since the Six Days War.
While the text written by popular entertainer and radio show host Shay Goldstein provides many moments of good comedy, the opportunity of asking any more serious questions – to the politicians, to ourselves – is missed. The performance at Habima is a good comedy show but a very superficial satire, which says nothing new or different of what was said in shows like A Wonderful Country (Eretz Neederet) on TV or Shay and Dror on the radio. Moti Kirshenbaum is an experienced TV producer and host, and does a good job in directing a team of actors which has the popular comedy actor Eli Yatzpan (as the prime-minister) in the center. However, the result is not much different than a ‘Yatzpan show’ and the good feeling results from remembering the laughs and the fact that for an hour and a half the reality on the stage seemed to be more dangerous and absurd than the reality in our lives.