In 2005, when he was only 25, actor Itay Tiran first appeared in Hamlet,
produced by the Cameri Theater, in the title role. Many eyebrows were raised at
the time; Hamlet is considered a part only experienced, mature actors should
contend with. However, the unusual production, directed by Omri Nizan, in which
the audience actually sits on the stage, was a grand success, both in Israel and
abroad, and is still part of the Cameri’s repertoire.
Tiran is still playing the tormented prince of Denmark, with the same brilliance
and energy as he did seven years ago. Five years ago, Tiran wrote that before
opening night he had a nightmare in which he is preparing to take a curtain
call, and Omri Nizan scolds him: “You forgot!” “Forgot what?” “To be or not to
In fact, he has recited the lines with precision over 800 times to
As veteran Haaretz theater critic Michael Handelzalts recently
wrote, in Tiran are combined rare talent, range and good looks. Tiran is also a
trained musician, who, inter alia, played the piano as Mozart in Amadeus, and
the saxophone as the Nazi officer Kittel in Ghetto. A year ago he recited/ sang
the German text at the end of Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder with the Philharmonic
Tiran has also started to direct, with no small measure of
success. One of the plays he directed was Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, in which he
also played the title role. It was after seeing this play that I concluded that
Tiran is as great an actor as was Sir Laurence Olivier. In this play Tiran, who
usually plays dazzling extroverts, tackled a physically unattractive, mediocre
character with such perfection that one could hardly recognize him. This is
exactly what happened with Olivier’s performance in John Osborne’s The
Entertainer, which I saw in London 50 years ago.
Now Tiren has added to
his Shakespearean resumé the two Richards – Richard II and Richard III – which
he is performing these days at the Cameri simultaneously with Hamlet and Cabaret
– another tour de force in which he plays the master of ceremonies.
two Richards as depicted by Shakespeare are very different both in character and
appearance, and Tiran manages to get into the skins of both – the beautiful,
blond and narcissistic Richard II, who turns rather philosophical after
abdicating, and the blackhaired, physically deformed and murderous Richard III,
who ends up wounded in a battlefield pleading, “My kingdom for a
However, while no one denies Tiran’s greatness as a performer,
there are many who have reservations about him, to the point of actively trying
to sabotage his career. The reason for this is the fact that he did not serve in
the IDF – apparently on grounds of conscientious objection, together with his
political views, which led him to sign, with other actors, a petition in which
they declared their refusal to perform in Ariel.
While Tiran is not as
obnoxious as Maestro Daniel Barenboim in his expressions of disapproval
regarding Israel’s policies in the West Bank and its treatment of the
Palestinians, he does not conceal his opinions, and the fact that he agreed to
appear last year (where on earth does he find the time?) in a four-chapter
British television serial, The Promise, in which he portrays an Israeli who is
sympathetic to the Palestinians, enraged many.
The campaign against Tiran
has so far enjoyed only very partial success in that his biographical details
and photograph no longer appear on any official Israeli website, and the
invitation he received last year from the musical director of the New Haifa
Symphony Orchestra, Maestro No’am Sheriff, to stage a production of the George
Bizet’s opera Carmen, was cancelled after a group of citizens wrote in protest
that “the provision of a stage and public funding to someone who has dodged the
army and hurts our soldiers, is outrageous and shameful.”
were less successful back in 2010 when they tried to convince Minister of
Culture and Sport Limor Livnat to prevent Tiran’s participation in Yehoshua
Sobol’s play Ghetto, and to support his exclusion from any publicly financed
theater in Israel.
While I believe every able-bodied Israeli should serve
in the IDF, and that even when one is critical of Israel’s policy in the
territories and toward the Palestinians, one should avoid even the semblance of
support for forces that are active in delegitimizing Israel, I find the efforts
to delegitimize Tiran to be undemocratic and repulsive.
Just as Tiran
cannot be forced to perform in Ariel, so no one forces anyone to go and see him
perform. Tiran is an Israeli, and contributes to Israel in his own way. He has
done nothing illegal or illegitimate, even if many disapprove of his
It will be a major loss to Israel as a democratic state with a
rich and versatile culture if Itay Tiran is finally forced to conclude that
despite the massive support he enjoys both from the theatrical establishment and
theatergoers, he has no future in this country.
The writer teaches at the
Max Stern Yezreel Valley College and was a Knesset employee for many years.