Jennifer Mendenhall Writes from the ISRA-Drama conference:
This is day three of the festival proper, though some of us started early, on Tuesday night. I’ve been taking photos of the various theatres and trying to keep track of the shows we’ve seen. Here’s a list of three theatres we’ve visited so far, with photos, and brief descriptions of the plays.
Every performance we attended has been packed with audience members. It is enough to make a Washingtonian – make that an American – weep. Not only do these theatres have several spaces, not only are their restrooms as impressive as their cafes and restaurants, not only do Israeli schoolchildren clearly get dragged to the theatre on a regular basis, but their houses are full, full, full of people who go regularly to see theatre. Check out the web sites and get to know these performing arts venues and their histories and productions. Many theatres here have a repertoire of plays that they bring back over a period of years, utilizing a company of actors who can reprise the roles they have played since the production opened.
Tuesday: the Habima National Theatre to see Kochav Yair, by Shlomo Moskovich.
A play about the damaging effects of serving in the military and oppressing Palestinian people, on the Israeli male psyche. The story follows three men, all damaged in some way, unable to succeed in their relationships with wives, children, a blank page or anyone, really. A Russian nurse-cum-free-spirit helps them to heal.
The Habima was recently renovated, and is overwhelmingly impressive, with gleaming floors, high ceilings, multiple theatre spaces, and stunning restrooms.
Wednesday: the Cameri Theatre to see The Grocery Store, by Hillel Mittelpunkt.
A family living in Jaffa in the 1970’s, in a grocery store, with aspirations to move up and out to a new suburb, has their plans foiled but nevertheless succeeds in leaving their home. The memory of the Holocaust and the hope of getting money from reparations from Germany is featured. Colorful characters, some of whom were based on the playwright’s own family members – he grew up in Jaffa – earthy domestic humor, and the dangers of sleeping next to a barrel of brined fish paint a vivid picture of life in Israel soon after the Six Day War.
We also saw the Cameri production of Hamlet at a student matinee, where a theatre usher placed a paper cup on the stage and invited everyone to dispose of their gum. We complied. You know the story of Hamlet. This was also presented at Signature Theatre. Alley staging, using the perimeter of the space, with the audience seated in swivel chairs. Fortinbras was portrayed as a military thug in full camouflage, armed, with bad table manners.
Thursday: the Jerusalem Khan Theatre, to see Eating by Yaakov Shabti.
Based on the story from the Bible, of the king who demanded his neighbor’s vineyard. The story follows the queen’s manipulation of the king and his lawyers, in her successful quest to seize the vineyard. The neighbor was portrayed as a Palestinian. He was murdered by one of the lawyers. The actors ate a whole lot of delicious food, as one sumptuous dish after another was brought to the table.
The Kahn theatre building was a 19th century Ottoman silk factory, built on the ruins from the times of the Crusaders. Later it served as a hostel for pilgrims arriving at night, after the city gates had been locked. It resembles a cave, or several, and has an interior courtyard. There is a cafe where live music was playing as we left.
More soon, on Haifa theatres, and Herzliya Performing Arts Center and Nachmani Hall.