On a warm spring afternoon, Levan Tsuladze, artistic director of the Marjanishvili Theater of Tbilisi, and Ekaterina Mazmishvili, the CEO of the theater (and the TBS International Theater Festival), sit in a Tel Aviv café and talk about their theater and cultural life in their native Georgia.

On June 12 and 13, the Marjanishvili Theater, one of Tbilisi’s two major theaters, will present Molière ‘s timeless masterpiece Tartuffe in Jerusalem, within the framework of the Israel Festival. This will be the theater’s second time in Israel. A few years ago, they performed Chekhov’s A Lady with a Dog with great success.

Even as a Soviet republic and before that as part of the Russian Empire, Georgia always had a certain degree of independence.

“We were conquered, the communist ideology was forced upon us, it was not really ours, and as much as possible, we looked at it with a kind of irony,” says Tsuladze. “Sometimes controversial plays premiered in Tbilisi and then returned to Moscow.”

In 1997, when Georgia gained independence from the Soviet Union, Tsuladze became the founder of the first private theater in Tbilisi.

“The theater was situated in a cellar. We were so poor, that for two years we didn’t even have money to build a normal entrance – we just helped our spectators come in through a hole in the wall. But it was very popular! People waited for two months to get tickets. The theater was in the spirit of the time – a hard time for Georgia. But people saw that we were fighting for survival and somehow managed and thought, ‘Well, maybe I can win, too,’” he says.

Tsuladze continues, “Rebellious spirit has always been characteristic of Georgian theater.

During the Soviet period, people knew how to speak and to read between the lines, and it looks like this spirit is in our theater’s veins forever.”

“Life is still not that easy in Georgia, but it is good,” says Mazmishvili. “You can feel this drive in the air. Our theater takes part in important festivals throughout the world. In 2012 we participated in the Globe to Globes international project, with 38 theaters performing the Bard’s plays in different languages in Shakespeare’s theater.

Our As You Like It was sold out and was hailed by critics and was the only show that got five stars in The Guardian! As a result, the following year we were invited with our six different shows.”

Becoming the artistic director of one of his country’s major theaters, Tsuladze has not lost his adventurous spirit.

“In Georgia of today, the experimental approach has moved from small fringe theaters to major stages,” he says. “In our theater, we combine classic repertoire with the most modern productions, and the audience is mature enough to understand and enjoy both. For example, the classic Uriel Acosta, a production that is some 80 years old, still runs at the Marjanishvili Theater. At the same time, a new generation of actors has entered the professional world. They are open, they are not afraid of anything.

Unlike us, they were not brought up under the Soviet regime. But we have changed, too. I remember how in the past we hated Stanislavsky’s system [techniques used to train actors to draw believable emotions to their performances] because it was the only one taught at that time. But later we fell in love with it again because we were already free and able to appreciate its positive aspect.”

Mazmishvili says, “Tbilisi has become an international cultural center. We create international co-productions with European artists and, at the same time, do our best to develop cultural life in other regions of our country and to nurture the young generation of Georgian playwrights.”

Speaking about Tartuffe, Tsuladze says that originally he “just wanted a Moliere comedy as a season opener.”

Why Moliere? “I believe that his approach – to both amuse and educate – is close to me as it is close to Georgian theater in general.” he says. “But the deeper we delved into the play, the better we realized that it was not exactly a comedy but rather the sad story of a man who tries to believe in something that does not really suit him. We have not changed the play much, but we omitted the final act. It is obvious that Moliere wrote it only to please the king. There is also the theme of religious extremism in this play, and although we did not want to accentuate it, the audience clearly grasps it, too, because in our country the religious establishment goes a bit too far, and people cling to the church a bit more strongly than you’d expect in a happy, stable society. But again, this is understandable because life in Georgia is far from easy.”

Tartuffe will be performed at the Jerusalem Theatre on June 12 and 13.

For more details, and tickets, go to http://israel-festival.org/.

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