Think About It: Two German-Israeli co-productions
Two German-Israeli co-productions at the Cameri and Habimah theaters
Habimah Theater Photo: Yoni Cohen
In the past two months both the Cameri and Habimah theaters put on original
plays, each with the participation of three actors – two women and one man – in
collaboration with German theaters, the Cameri with the Schauspielbühnen from
Munich, and Habimah with the Residenztheater from Stuttgart.
productions there is an Israeli actress and a German actress – Sarah von
Schwarze (an Israeli actress of German origin) and Cornelia Heyse in the case of
the Cameri’s Between Two Worlds, and Evgenia Dodina and Juliana Köhler in the
case of Habimah’s Persona.
Such co-productions have become quite common
in Europe in the last decade, and Israel, which may be considered marginally
European, has occasionally been part of this phenomenon, especially in
co-productions with German theaters. The Holocaust is always somehow present in
the background, even if the plays in themselves have nothing to do with German-
Jewish, or German-Israeli relations.
The two recent plays exemplify this.
Between Two Worlds, written by von Schwarze and partially autobiographical,
deals with Israeli, German and Jewish identities. In the play, in which both
Hebrew and German are spoken, von Schwarze plays the role of Ruth, who
unexpectedly arrives in Munich and breaks into the loft where her estranged
father Avraham (played by Eli Gorenstein) lives with his partner
Avraham is a German convert to Judaism who came to Israel with
his family, and then left them suddenly, returning to Germany, where he lives as
a Jew, with a non-Jewish lawyer – Sabine, who previously lived with a
At first one gets the impression that Ruth has come to confront
her father, who is celebrating his 70th birthday, with his desertion. However,
it soon transpires that her visit was an impulsive decision, resulting from the
fact that she believes she accidentally killed an Israeli soldiers in the West
Bank, and since she is afraid of the consequences she has come to Munich to seek
Sabine’s professional services.
IN THE course of a very angry and
aggressive confrontation with her father it transpires that the background to
his conversion was his own grandfather’s suicide during the Nazi era; after
discovering that he had a Jewish ancestor, he believed that by killing himself
he would save his family.
It is also revealed that Avraham decided to
leave Israel because of a traumatic experience in the course of the First
Lebanese War, and that Sabine was unaware of the fact that he is a convert –
i.e. originally a Christian German, like herself.
What finally emerges is
that no Israeli soldier was killed in the West Bank on the relevant date, and
consequently Ruth’s panic is without foundation.
“What you need is not a
lawyer, but a good psychiatrist,” Sabine says to her as the play
The plot sounds a little like a Latin American soap opera, and
those elements that are not autobiographical are not always credible. However,
from a purely theatrical point of view the play isn’t bad – texts that confront
some very real issues regarding the German past, the Israeli present and the
human dilemmas that they create. The acting is also good.
I do not know
how the play was received in Munich.
In Israel it received rave reviews,
but even though it was performed in the smallest of the Cameri’s theater halls,
the house was not full, and the audience was a very specific sector of the
population (largely elderly Ashkenazim, of German background).
a different kettle of fish. The play is a German adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s
1966 film by the same name, which in turn was based on a four-page, one-act play
written by Swedish playwright August Strindberg in 1889.
The play has
nothing whatsoever to do with Israel, Germany or Jews, but like Between Two
Worlds deals with the uncovering of secrets, and tortured souls.
original play was about two actresses who fortuitously meet in a café on New
Year’s Eve, but in the original only one of them does all the talking. Bergman
used a few motifs from Strindberg’s play, but changed the plot. The adaptation
to the stage by Amelie Niermeyer is generally based on Bergman’s
It tells of a nurse (Alma) who is asked to take care of an
actress (Elisabet Fogler) who for no apparent reason has stopped speaking. The
male figure in the play (played in Israel by Alon Neuman) is the
husband/psychiatrist/ stage director, who is trying to get Elisabet to start
talking again, and return to her acting career and her role as wife and
Except for a single word at the end, Elisabet remains silent
throughout the play, and all her reactions are facial. Most of the talking is
done by Alma, who ends up telling secrets from her own past, and is
instrumental, through her interaction with the male figure, in revealing details
from Elisabet’s past.
The text is extremely emotional at times, as for
example when Alma discovers that Elisabet has betrayed her confidence. As in the
case of Bergman’s film she ends up walking away from Elisabet, but whereas in
the film Elisabet turns completely catatonic as a result, in the play there is a
suggestion that she might have returned to her previous self.
Between Two Worlds, Persona is not bilingual.
In Munich German actor Götz
Schulte and Köhler, as Alma, spoke German, and Dodina played the mute Elisabet.
In Tel Aviv Alon Neuman and Dodina as Alma spoke Hebrew, and Köhler played the
Those who had seen Bergman’s film were apparently
disappointed with the play, but since I had missed the film I could judge the
play on its own merits. Once again, the play was good theater, thanks to clever
staging using an almost totally bare stage, and the magnificent Dodina and
However, there was really no specific reason for putting it on
stage as a German-Israeli co-production, beyond the availability of (German)
financing for the project.
Since no German was spoken during the play,
the audience was not necessarily made up of persons with a German background,
but Habimah’s smallest hall wasn’t full. This is not because of antagonism
toward German-Israeli cooperation, but simply because the audience in Israel for
highbrow cultural events such as this is small, and diminishing.
any chance that such cooperation will stop the growing political rift between
Germany and Israel, against the background of Israel’s policy in the
territories, and regarding negotiations with the Palestinians? I am doubtful.
Israel’s critics in Germany are as unlikely to go to see these co-productions,
as are those in Israel who are disgusted by the European position in general and
that of Germany in particular.
Nevertheless, such cultural interludes are
certainly welcome to those of us who crave for some “time out” from the complex
and problematic reality of Israel’s daily existence.
Now back to the
theater of coalition building.
The writer is a former Knesset employee.