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424Comparative Drama Glenda Abramson. Drama and Ideology in Modern Israel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Pp. ix + 263 + 12 ill. $64.95. Glenda Abramson is right in her main argument, that modern Israeli drama is a form of art that continues to intensely and often aggressively participate in the country's political and ideological controversies . Her survey of the interrelationships between drama and ideology offers a comprehensive analysis of representative Israeli plays of the last fifty years. Her summaries of the plays and her discussion of their socio-historical background contend less explicitly that Israeli drama is not only political but also documentary in its genre, and moralistic in its tendency. The ten chapters are structured along partially overlapping historical, thematic, and personal parameters. Adhering to a roughly diachronic axis, the themes of Zionism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Holocaust, and the issue of religion are treated from a socio-dramatic perspective. The author's approach is dramatic rather than theatrical, and deals with texts, not productions, but nonetheless offers occasional observations related to performance and reception. The introduction is a historical review of Zionism, the pre-State years, and some of the major events that shaped Israel, interspersed with notes on the development of the Hebrew theater that "began to play a fundamental role in acculturating the new immigrants" (6). Since the book is intended for non-Israeli readers, I feel it is lacking a note on several important socio-artistic characteristics of Israeli theater: Israel is a tiny country with much theatrical activity, and Israelis, per capita, are among the most dedicated theater-goers in the world. Most of the playwrights, directors, critics and theater scholars know one another. The inevitable familiarity has bred a unique environment—artistic, social , economic, and certainly political. The statement that "drama in Hebrew was almost unknown until the foundation of the State of Israel" (6) is somewhat misleading. Plays were written in Hebrew already in the seventeenth-century but not performed . Dozens were written and read during the Enlightenment in the nineteenth-century; and hundreds were written and sometimes performed in kibbutzim in the pre-State years, though rarely on professional stages. Since the establishment ofthe State, drama has served the performative rather than the literary aspects. In this context the statement referring to "a group of playwrights, whose influence was disproportionate to their number" (8) is unclear. Was Shakespeare's influence proportionate to his number? Abramson discusses "the relationship between Israeli drama and its society," (13) but in reality, only theater practitioners, teachers, and students read plays nowadays. The Israeli audience at large is exposed to drama mostly in performance, and it is through the live performances that the social, political, and ideological impact of Israeli drama is felt. The first chapter, The Enterprise, and its account of the drama of the 1950s offers a balanced reading of the three most influential and Reviews425 politically engaged plays by Mossinson, Shaham, and Shamir, versus Yoram Matmor's self-referential and anti-heroic A Regular Play. The author concludes that "audiences saw themselves on the stage in a positive , self-reinforced light, as a group possessing a refined moral conscience , dismayed by events in the country but not impelled to probe them too deeply" (35). An important characteristic of the 1948 plays, not mentioned in the book, is their dramatic space, often located in trenches and bunkers, and reflecting a typical "Israeli Siege Consciousness" (Chaim Shoham's phrase in his ha-Histadrut ve-"Ohel, " 1989). Whereas analysis of the dialogue may indeed lead Abramson to certain textual observations, a close reading of the stage instructions as well would have refined her conclusions regarding overall political message and contexts of Israeli plays. Only three years after the Holocaust, Israelis expressed personal and national anxieties not only in the texts, but through their choice of a besieged location as the dramatic space. This, for example, holds true for A.B. Yehoshua's A Night in May (1969) which uses a semi-subterranean room, an internalized siege. Abramson's comment that "there are no battles or sieges" in this play, contradicts her own argument regarding the "absence of metaphor in much original Israeli drama" (84). Furthermore...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 424-427
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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