Leaving Israel – With Lots of Write Ups – Part 1: The Plays in Full Production That We Saw

Lots of lovely people I’m leaving behind; the most international collection of characters I’ve met in a long time! The Serbian-Slovenian contingent of fetching dramaturgs may have turned out to be my favorites, but they were closely rivaled by the dynamic duo from Kenya-Nigeria! I watched people fall in love on this trip and go skinny dipping at the beach — I did neither, of course, but I loved that it happened as theater sprinkled its fairy dust and grown adults grew younger at heart and expansive of mind. I was jazzed everyday and just as often exasperated by something lousy on stage, or self-congratulatory in the audience or lobby after, but my pique never stayed too long — what with so many great new moments awaiting.

The Institute of Israeli Drama has graciously allowed us to post the text to ALL of the hand-outs they provided to festival-goers. Special thanks to their fantastic staff and the artistic director of IsraDrama, Nurit Yaari, for making this posting possible and for providing us with a spectacular time.

And now, some really good write ups of the plays we saw in full flower (note, I did not see three of the offerings so I’ve omitted those here). But I’m really grateful that we all get to read these good descriptions and author bios here.

Plays in Full Productions

Israeli theatre in 2007 is vibrant both in content and form.
The national theatre, municipal theatres, fringe theatres and theatre groups present a colorful repertoire of classical and modern, original or imported plays.
Israeli drama is typified by its strong connection with current sociopolitical events. The experience of Israeli theatre is first and foremost a collective one in which the playwright and audience unite to relive the uniqueness of Israeli experience. The plays address issues that preoccupy the Israeli public – conflicts arising from the political situation, social schisms, the rift between secular and religious populations, memories from the Second World War in Europe blended with hopes for freedom in a new country, and the younger generation’s (second and third generation to immigrant families) search for identity. These issues are expressed in diverse forms and styles, employing original and unique dramatic writing forms, especially by the younger playwrights and artistic creators.

Play #1. Winter at Qalandia, adapted by Nola Chilton after Lia Nirgad
Wednesday, 28/11/07, 18:00, at The Arab-Hebrew Theatre of Jaffa

Winter at Qalandia is a theatrical document based on actual happenings at the Qalandia Checkpoint. The play was initially performed by students of The School for Theatre Arts at the Kibbutzim College of Education and is now being staged by The Arab-Hebrew Theatre of Jaffa with the support of the Rich Foundation for Education, Culture and Welfare.
Based on Winter at Qalandia by Lia Nirgad (published by Xargol, 2004), the play documents life at the Qalandia Checkpoint in fifteen encounters between the Arab population and the Israeli soldiers manning the checkpoint. Lia Nirgad belongs to a group of women who come to the Qalandia Checkpoint on a daily basis to document, provide assistance and alleviate the burden at the checkpoint, with special emphasis on improving the Israeli soldiers’ treatment of the Palestinian population. This experience engendered Winter at Qalandia, an accurate, spine-chilling, enthralling and at times grotesque description of the situation at the checkpoint.

In the theatre adaptation of Winter at Qalandia no one fires a rifle and no one is murdered. The daily routine at the checkpoint is horrifying and frightening. Here, Israelis encounter the Palestinian population and themselves. Here, Palestinian children, old people, fathers and mothers meet Israelis.
Theatre critic Shai Bar-Ya’akov: “The young actors present accurate performances in the clean and dense space […] The dolls add a sad and poignant element to the events”.

Play #2. Master of the House, written and directed by Shmuel Hasfary
Wednesday, 28/11/07, 20:30, at The Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv, Cameri 1

A tragicomic play that exposes everyday life in Tel Aviv under the shadow of terrorist attacks. The life of a Tel Avivian couple falls apart against the backdrop of renovations to their apartment. The couple, both in their forties, live in an apartment belonging to Joel’s parents. He is an art lecturer with a particular penchant for the Bauhaus building style in Tel Aviv and a passion for documenting all the city’s buildings built in this style. Joel’s wife, Nava, bought the apartment from his parents and now wants to renovate it, break down the walls, rip out the windows, get rid of the threadbare couch and moth-eaten books… Their everyday life, ostensibly resembling that of numerous couples in Tel Aviv, encompasses bereavement, trauma, and loss after their only son was killed in the terrorist attack at Dizengoff Center during the Purim festival. They live in silence, suppressing harsh feelings of self- and mutual blame, until Nava decides to renovate the apartment. Repairing the cracks in the apartment walls shatters the wall of silence between them and reveals schisms in their personal lives.

The program notes state: “Master of the House is a play that touches each and every one of us and speaks about us all, generations of Israelis”.
The action takes place in March 2002 in Tel Aviv.

Shmuel Hasfary is a playwright, screenwriter, theatre and film director, and former artistic director of the Acco Festival and the Cameri Theatre. His plays expose everyday scenes charged with heritage of the past and elements of contemporary Israeli reality. They contain incisive political and social criticism and expose the foibles of Israeli society over the past thirty years. Hasfary’s plays and films have won numerous prestigious awards. He was named Playwright of the Year at the 2003 Theatre Prize Awards for Master of the House, which was also named Play of the Year. The play was performed to great acclaim at the Laguna Playhouse in California in March-April 2007.

Other Plays by Shmuel Hasfary:
A Black Canopy, Tashmad, Giving of the Torah at Six, Goldin’s Brother-in-Law, The Last Secular Jew, The King, Kiddush, Hametz, Shiva, Netanya, and Accordions.

Play #3. Denuded, written and performed by Miki Peleg-Rotshtein
Thursday, 29/11/07, 16:30, Habima National Theatre and Tzavta Theatre, at Tzavta 3

A monodrama. The spine chilling testimony of a young girl writing a diary in the course of seven years, describing her perverted growing up processes since she was seven when, following her mother’s second marriage, she and her older sister moved into their ‘new’ father’s home in Tel Aviv. The play describes growing up under the shadow of her mother’s second marriage, wandering between schools and educational institutions, the complex relationship with her stepfather, the sexual abuse she suffered at his hands, and her mental collapse and physical deterioration into anorexia. At the same time the diary also reveals the dreams and hopes of an ordinary girl whose only wish is to hold onto life. At each stage she is older and more exposed and leads the audience, both chronologically and psychologically, toward an understanding of the inevitable conclusion.

“Teatronetto prizewinner Miki Peleg-Rotshtein belongs to a rare breed of actor-fighters who do it their way”, wrote Merav Yudilovitch in the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth when the play premiered. “The play she has penned, chapters from a childhood diary, is the stomach-turning testimony of a young girl who suffered sexual abuse at her stepfather’s hands. Employing minimalist means, she courageously and uncompromisingly places fragments of a life on the stage and hopes you can cope.”

And Ha’aretz theatre critic Michael Handelzalts writes: “It is difficult to take your eyes off her and almost impossible not to be swept up by her emotions as an actress. When she screams ‘Mommy!’ in a song (that she wrote), it remains in your mind long after the end of the play”.

Miki Peleg-Rotshtein is an actress and playwright. She is married and a mother of three, and has performed in numerous plays at the Habima National Theatre, Beit Lessin Theatre, Beer Sheva Municipal Theatre and Tmuna Theatre. She won first prize at the 2007 Teatronetto Festival of Solo Performances for Denuded, which she wrote and performs.

Play #4. In Spitting Distance, by Taher Najib – Project Rukab
Thursday, 29/11/07, 18:30, at The Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv, Cameri 4

A monodrama. The play tells the story of a Palestinian actor with Israeli citizenship who travels from country to country to perform. Airports become a ‘place’ – a metaphor that raises existential questions and exposes absurd situations. In his writing Najib presents the Palestinian struggle as the Sisyphean struggle of a people under occupation by a foreign power, he exposes the daily pain and sorrow that are the lot of these citizens who live as they are expected to and not as they would like. Sadness, irony and humor are interwoven in the story of the theatre actor whose art is always language- and culture-dependent.

“What made this event far beyond what one calls ‘good theatre’ is that it fulfils the requirements, so rarely met, of ‘true theatre’. In this, there is no separation between thoughts, ideas, conflicts and ideals – they all come together. What reaches out across the space from one human being to other human beings is one intense act of humanity lived together by all. This is healthy, it is life-bringing”, wrote Peter Brook after hosting the performance at the Bouffes du Nord.

Taher Najib is an actor and playwright. He acquired his professional education from actor Doron Tavori who became his mentor. He wrote and directed the play I Will Betray My Land. As an actor he has participated in plays at the Acco Festival, at the Palestinian National Theatre in Jerusalem, the El-Hakawati Theatre in Jerusalem and Paris, at the Habima National Theatre and the Laboratory Theatre in Jerusalem. He has also played lead roles in several films.

Play #5. Requiem, by Hanoch Levin
Thursday, 29/11/07, 20:30, at The Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv, Cameri 1

The plot incorporates three Chekhov stories – Rothschild’s Violin, Sorrow and Sleepy – into one tale about death. The program notes state: “In a remote village somewhere in a big land live two old people, a husband and wife, who fall ill and die, lamenting their lives. A young mother, her baby son dying in her arms, walks in the fields in search of a cure. A wagon driver whose son has died drives drunks and prostitutes in his wagon and has no one to whom he can pour out his heart. The drunks and prostitutes pursue happiness, as cherubs passing through collect the souls of the dead.”

Hanoch Levin was born in Tel Aviv on December 18, 1943 and died of cancer on August 18, 1999.

Levin – playwright, director, poet and author – wrote plays, sketches, songs, stories and poetry, and also directed most of his own plays. In his stage work as a playwright and director, he developed a unique dramatic and theatrical language that was created through a combination of the poetical texts he wrote and the images he designed together with the actors, the set, costume and lighting designers, the composer and choreographer. His plays are characterized by his ability to combine the works of different writers, and were always a celebration of words and visual images founded on a great love of the theatre and all who take part in the performance.
Levin grew into adulthood in Israel of the 1960s, in a society characterized by acute divisions between Israeli ‘sabras’ and new immigrants, rich and poor, Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews, and Jews and Arabs. These divisions became even more acute in the wake of the 1967 Six-Day War, at the time when Levin the playwright first gained attention. The seam that joined Levin’s childhood world with his youth and adulthood was without doubt a unique compound of the Israeli-Tel Avivian culture in which he grew up and for which he wrote.

Levin began as a satirist. As a student at Tel Aviv University (1964-1967) he published satirical pieces in the student newspaper. His first plays, too, were political satires, a trenchant criticism of the triumphal euphoria that gripped Israeli society after the Six-Day War. Levin derided and denounced Israeli society’s boastful attitude and his works contain some truly prophetic warnings of the tragic consequences that occupation can cause, and has indeed caused. In August 1968, the satirical review, You, Me and the Next War was staged, directed by Edna Shavit, and March 1969 saw the staging of Ketchup, directed by Levin’s brother, David. Levin’s fame came in the wake of the public outcry raised by The Queen of the Bathtub that was produced by the Cameri Theatre in April 1970 and directed by David Levin. The play was taken off after only 19 performances as a result of public pressure. Levin’s early satires embody his quintessential picture of the world – in war everybody loses, the arrogance of the oppressed who have become occupiers, Man’s inherent need for territory, the human need for definitions and boundaries: ‘us’ against ‘them’, winners vs. losers, human blindness to political and social processes, the obtuseness of victors, the shirking of responsibility by the guilty, the defining forces of disaster, memory, and especially how the dead are remembered – all stemmed from a sober, if not prophetic vision, and from his poetic genius.
In parallel with his political satires and in fact as the beginning of an additional dramatic form developed by him, Solomon Grip was produced by the Open Theatre in 1969, and directed by Hillel Ne’eman. Solomon Grip was the first in a series of comedies that focus on the desires and suffering of sad characters in the social framework of a couple or family in a housing project or any other type of city neighborhood. But Hefetz (Haifa Municipal Theatre, 1972), for example, is a play that can be given an Israeli-social interpretation, since Fogra, one of the work’s leading characters, is 24 years old, the same age as the State of Israel at the time, and also as an existential play on mutual humiliations. Other plays of this kind are Ya’akobi and Leidental (Cameri Theatre, 1972), Varda’leh’s Youth (Cameri Theatre, 1974), Krum (Cameri Theatre, 1975), Popper (Cameri Theatre, 1976), The Rubber Merchants (Cameri Theatre, 1978), The Suitcase Packers (Cameri Theatre, 1983), The Labor of Living (Habima National Theatre, 1989), Can’t Choose (Cameri Theatre, 1990), Hops and Hopla (Cameri Theatre, 1991), The Wondrous Woman Within Us (Khan Theatre, 1994), and The Whore from Ohio (Cameri Theatre, 1996).

In 1979, with the Cameri Theatre production of The Execution, a new direction became evident in Levin’s work: the mythological plays. These are based on central myths in Western culture, like Job’s Passion (Cameri Theatre, 1981), The Great Harlot from Babylon (Cameri Theatre, 1982), The Child Dreams (Habima National Theatre, 1993), Agape (Cameri Theatre, 1995), Beheading (Habima National Theatre, 1996), and on new readings of the Greek tragedies, especially those of Euripides, in The Lost Women of Troy (Cameri Theatre, 1984), Everybody Wants to Live (Cameri Theatre, 1985), and The Whiners, a new reading of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon and the last play Levin wrote. In these plays Levin develops a dialogue with the principal symbols and fundamental patterns of Western culture while attempting to write a modern tragedy and dramatically reshape human suffering. An important example of this kind of drama that focuses on suffering is Requiem, based on three Chekhov stories, and the last play to be directed by Levin (Cameri Theatre, 1999).

Levin’s road as a director began with Ya’akobi and Leidental (Cameri Theatre, 1972), when he worked with Zaharira Harifai, Yosef Carmon and Albert Cohen, and set and costume designer, Ruth Dar. He went on to direct 21 of his plays and he was known for his long-term associations with actors, designers and musicians, with whom he worked on numerous plays and with whom he created his unique language in the theatre.

Levin left an extensive spiritual-artistic legacy that includes 57 plays, two volumes of prose, The Eternal Invalid and A Man Stands Behind a Seated Woman, two collections of sketches and songs, What Does the Bird Care? and The Gigolo from Congo, a volume of poetry, The Lives of the Dead. In 1999, the last year of his life, he had all his works published in a joint project with the Siman Kriah, Hakibbutz Hameuchad and Sifrei Tel Aviv publishing houses.
Levin wrote in a variety of dramatic genres (political satires, comedies, tragicomedies, myths and tragedies) and always directed only his own plays. Familiarity with his work is becoming increasingly widespread and his plays are performed in many theatres around the world.

As a prolific writer, the quantity of Levin’s work vies only with its quality. Israeli literary, theatre and cultural critiques acknowledged Levin’s qualities many years ago, in that he is one of those writers who gained an abundance of reviews. Only a few were negative while the overwhelming majority were more than favorable. More comprehensive academic critique of his work has also recently begun to develop, from the standpoint of its social statement, unique language (which has been dubbed, inter alia, as “thin”, “precise” and “muscular”), and particularly from the standpoint of the rare relationship between categorical, blunt violence totally lacking in self-pity, and infinite tenderness, compassion, and perhaps even a facet of refined and completely non-establishment spirituality.
(Written by Prof. Nurit Yaari and Prof. Shimon Levy)

Levin’s theatrical work will be presented in IsraDrama in Yakish and Poupché at the Gesher Theatre, Make My Heart Flutter at The Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv, and in a lecture on the political satire he penned.

Play #6. Yakish and Poupché, adapted by Yevgeny Arye and Shimon Mimran after Hanoch Levin
Saturday, 01/12/07, 20:30, at Gesher Theatre

A dark, stylistic and hilarious comedy about Yakish, an ugly and impoverished young man, who through lack of choice marries Poupché, an ugly young woman who is just as impoverished as himself. When the two fail to observe the precept to be fruitful and multiply, a surreal and insane journey begins together with the bride and groom’s parents, a matchmaker, a brother-in-law and a prostitute, who all try to bring about copulation between impotence and shapelessness. The present production combines circus and fantasy, superior text and a colorful carnival, and adds a magical quality to this exceptional play.

Play #7. Fighting for Home, by Ilan Hazor
Sunday, 01/12/07, 20:30, at the Jerusalem Khan Theatre

A satirical comedy after Aristophanes’ comedies – The Acharnians, The Knights, Peace and Lysistrata. The plot takes place in Jerusalem circa 2012. The war rages on relentlessly, and famine, deprivation and destruction reign throughout the land. The government imports mercenaries from the Far East and Africa to replenish the army’s ranks, while a group of women decides to put an end to the war by withholding their sexual favors from the soldiers. Two ministers conspire to replace the incumbent prime minister. They search for and find the most suitable candidate – a market fishmonger who possesses impressive marketing and selling abilities. And amid all the chaos, Malki and Tziona, who live on the seam line between the two parts of Jerusalem and have been living on the floor of their home for the past few years for fear of snipers, embark on a quest for a private peace with the enemy.

Ilan Hazor is a playwright, screenwriter and director. He is a graduate of the Department of Theatre Arts at Tel Aviv University, majoring in writing and directing. His play Masked (first prize at the 1990 Acco Festival) won the ACUM Award and the Rosenbloom Award for Performing Arts. In August this year the play was staged at the D·R·2 Theatre in New York to great critical acclaim. His plays level incisive criticism against society and politics in Israel. He also writes screenplays for television.

Play #8. Plonter (Tangle), by Yael Ronen
Monday, 03/12/07, 16:30, at The Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv, Cameri 4

Plonter presents the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the perspectives of both sides, and depicts the pain, frustration, as well as the humor of contending with the insanity of life in the region. The performance brings to the stage images from life under occupation and life under the shadow of terror. Plonter is about the insane, complex, painful, and absurd life on either side of the roadblock and conducts a ‘dialog under fire’.

The Characters: A mixed group of nine Arab and Jewish actors (4 women and 5 men) portraying numerous roles.

Yael Ronen is a playwright and director. She is a second generation Israeli and a graduate of The School for Theatre Arts at the Kibbutzim College of Education. When she graduated she began writing plays with a group of young actors who gravitated toward her. Her plays, A Guide to the Good Life (2004), Plonter (2005), Isabella (2005), and Witchcraft (2007) have gained great acclaim in Israel and abroad. Over the past two years Plonter has been regularly performed to great acclaim in various theatres around the world.

Play #9. Good Bye, Africa!, by Hillel Mittelpunkt
Monday, 03/12/07, 20:30, Beit Lessin Theatre at Z.O.A. House

A suspense drama that exposes the personal and moral rupture in the lives of Israel’s emissaries and its dubious foreign policy in Africa during the reign of Idi Amin. Twenty years after relations between Israel and the African states were suspended, five Israelis return to Uganda for a holiday. Abie is an Israeli foreign ministry man trying to revive his failing career, his wife Malia tries to turn the holiday into her husband’s farewell trip from the diplomatic service, Dr. Joel Kaminer, who devoted most of his life to Doctors for Uganda, his wife who remained with their daughter in Israel and lived virtually alone all those years, and Dovik, a friend from the past, a businessman with a covert security background. The dream vacation they planned turns into a nightmare in which dark secrets and forbidden loves are exposed.
“This is a play about politics and morality, the extent to which these issues permeate our everyday life, the extent to which they cease to be a theoretical national problem, and impact our lives”, said the playwright in an interview that was published in the program.

Hillel Mittelpunkt is a playwright and director. He is one of the most prolific and important playwrights in Israel, and has written political satires, realistic dramas and two rock operas. In his theatre Mittelpunkt places a looking glass in front of contemporary Israeli society and enables the audience to see the cracks in it: he gives a voice to the underprivileged strata on the outskirts of the cities (Groundwater, Little Shraga, South of Paradise), in flowing dramatic language and the ‘well constructed play’ format he sketches the entire spectrum of Israeli urbanism (Shop, Temporary Separation, The Accident, Thrill), and the acute problems resulting from Israel’s sociopolitical reality (Gorodish, Ismailia, Oil Town). His plays have won numerous awards, and he was named Playwright of the Year at the 2002 Theatre Prize Awards for Ismailia. Since 2006 he has been serving as resident playwright and artistic consultant at Beit Lessin Theatre.