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z [ ; CANNOT SAY THAT MY PARENTS WERE overjoyed at my decision to leave the kibbutz and follow a career in which the chances of success were so slim. Still, to their credit, it must be said that they did not entirely close the door on my ambitions. The only condition my father attached to giving me permission-and money-was that I pass my university exams, "just in case things don't work out." On this point he was insistent. As it happened, this was a wise decision, not because I needed a degree to make a living, but because those studies gave me the underpinning for a full intellectual life. Hebrew theatre in Palestine was a fairly closed-club affair. There were two major theatres in the country: Habimah, still the national theatre of Israel, and the Ohel, now defunct, whose basic support came from the Histadrut, the central labor organization. In addition, there was a satirical theatre, the Matateh ("Broom"), its name indicating a slant toward poking fun at political institutions, an aim not fully achieved in later years. In its earlier days, the "Broom" worked because the British were a handy target for its satire. As soon as the British were gone, Matateh became redundant because it was unable or unwilling to pick homegrown Israeli targets. In the first years of the new state, this same phenomenon affected all playwriting and proved to be a detriment, not to the theatre as an institution perhaps, but to the quality of original Israeli plays. Once I was able to define quality in scripts, it became apparent to me that plays dealing with Jewish or Israeli history had a basic flaw: The villain was invariably drawn from Hebrew Theat"re • 23 the outside-Jews oppressed by Germans, by Arabs, by the Spanish Inquisition, by Ukrainian persecutors. But it was only late in the game that I could give voice to my complaint: "Give me a credible Jewish villain and I will believe that the Israeli play has come of age." For now, I was a young man filled with the wonder of a world that seemed to offer nothing but beauty, poetry, and magic. Not that entering that world was easy. Both major theatres were organized as permanent companies, with the veteran actors forming a kind of cooperative. The sole criterion for full membership in the Habimah was seniority. The nucleus of the troupe had come from Russia; they were disciples of Konstantin Sergeyevich Stanislavsky, the great actordirector who had created a school of thought and a technique of acting known as "the Method:' In Russia the Habimah was viewed in theatrical circles as a curiosity for its insistence on performing in Hebrew, a language considered by many just as dead as Latin and ancient Greek. The noted directors Yevgeny Vakhtangov and Vsevelod Meyerhold, who worked under Stanislavsky, as well as the master himself , were probably intrigued by the troupe's desire to perform in the language of their ethnic heritage, and agreed to take them in hand. They did then what directors only in recent years have done: They worked with material in a language unknown to them. Even the very name of the troupe, Habimah, Hebrew for "stage;' was unpronounceable for a Russian speaker. Russian has no "H" sound; they substitute "G" and pronounce it that way: Gitler instead of Hitler, Galifax for Halifax, and of course not Habimah but Gabimah. In true European and especially Russian tradition, a theatre meant a permanent resident company whose actors played the repertoire, regardless of looks or age, until they dropped dead. It was not unusual for a sixty-year-old actress to play Juliet, a girl in her teens, or for an actor close to seventy to play Hamlet. The audience-which knew no other tradition and had not been "spoiled" by a naturalism of later vintage, dictated in part by the closeup in films-accepted the convention without demur. As a consequence, the theatre never looked for young blood, or Nachwuchs (new growth), as the Germans call it. This attitude was so pronounced at Habimah that the training of young actors was considered a no-no only a few years prior to my knocking at its doors. Tsvi Friedland, a director and one of Habimah's more daring members, decided to change that, but for quite some time he could not buck the trend. He did create a training place for young would-be professionals, but he had to...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780299300531
Related ISBN
9780299300548
MARC Record
OCLC
1017608170
Pages
484
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Language
English
Open Access
No
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