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Most residents of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem would admit to some urban sibling rivalry and a sense of allegiance to their hometown. Residents of Tel Aviv tend to moan at the prospect of having to "climb up" to Jerusalem, whereas Jerusalemites refer to the coastal city as a den of iniquity. The TheaterNetto Festival of one-actor plays will arrive in Jerusalem to patch things up and instill some unity, at least on a cultural level.
"This is the first time [in its 15-year history] that TheaterNetto is happening outside Tel Aviv," says artistic director Ofira Henig. All the shows in the five-day festival (May 4-8) will be held at the capital's Hama'abada.
"It's wonderful to have TheaterNetto in Jerusalem," Henig continues. "In fact, we work closely together with our counterparts in Tel Aviv."
TheaterNetto is an annual event featuring one-man shows that cover a wide range of issues. This year, Tvakh Yerika - which Henig directed and proudly points out is an original Hama'abada production - tells the story of an actor who travels from country to country to peddle his skills. The play, to be presented for free, was written by Taher Najib, an actor from Umm El-Fahm who worked in theater in Ramallah until the second Intifada broke out, at which point he left for Paris before eventually returning to Israel at Henig's behest.
Tvakh Yerika (May 4, 8:30 p.m.) is an intriguing vignette of the absurdities of life in transit in physical, cultural and political terms, based on Najib's experiences.
TheaterNetto's one-man slant pushes an actor's professional skills and emotional resilience to the limit.
"There's something enchanting about one-man shows," says Henig. "It brings theater back to something pure, and very exposed. You need a lot of courage to do that. I think it's wonderful to get back to an art form that's so intimate and humble."
According to Henig, Tvakh Yerika matches that description. "Halifa [Natur, who portrays Najib] tells Taher's story very emotively, but also with a lot of irony and humor, black humor. There is a very personal story there which takes place against a powerful political backdrop, but it is not a play about politics," she says.
After the play, crossover band Yamei Habeintayim will add some boundary-bridging world music in a free concert.
Occasional pieces of social commentary can also be found in the TheaterNetto schedule. Iyov, Haluk Hanakhal VeHapil (Job, The Pebble and The Elephant), for example, tells the story of 13-year-old social outcast who accompanies an elephant to an elephant orphanage, with both learning a thing or two about friendship on the way. The play is based on a book by senior Israeli author Yoram Kanyuk and features actor Guma Sarig.
There is also the odd nod to cultures further afield, such as Baretta VeOmanut HaTakhzuka (Baretta and the Art of Maintenance) which naturally conjures up memories of author Robert Pirsig's Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The Israeli version, directed by Lital Porat and starring Irit Bashan, poses all manner of philosophical teasers as a woman ruminates on life while she waits for someone to help her with her dilapidated motorbike.
Hama'abada, Rehov Hevron 28 (near the Khan Theater). For information, call (02) 629-2000.