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'Georg Buchner wrote Woyzeck at the beginning of the 19th century. But in this unfinished piece, Buchner, who died at the age of 23, managed to highlight the most important themes of the 20th century," says director Igor Berezin, whose Malenky Theater premieres its version of the ground-breaking classic Tuesday at Tel Aviv's Tmuna Theater.
"In terms of theater, Woyzeck is postmodernist, quoting as it does from three different genres: symbolism, realism and expressionism," Berezin explains. "Amazingly enough, the author intended to write a realistic play, based on a famous case at the time of a barber who killed his unfaithful wife. The piece is neurotic - another characteristic of our own time. Above all, this is a story of a little man in a horrible world. All these characteristics have contributed to making Woyzeck one of the most frequently performed plays."
Berezin expresses his own affinity for the play:
"I am rather apocalyptic in my views. I think our world is degrading, something this piece illustrates well. It is a tragic grotesque, the story of a little soldier who wants nothing more than to be with his wife and child. But even that is too much to ask for in a cruel world, and he is destroyed as a result."
The award-winning Malenky (Russian for "little") Theater group is one of Israel's leading fringe ensembles. It was founded by Berezin (47), who holds a circus director's diploma from the Moscow State Theater Institute, together with his actor friend Michael Teplitzky in 1997. "I did not have much choice; I knew nobody in this country and I realized that if I wanted to work here I need to create a place for myself."
It did not take long before the new ensemble, which performs more often in Hebrew than in Russian, began to be noticed by Israeli critics and became popular among more discriminating audiences. Teplitzky's one-man show of Patric Suskind's Contrabass won the Teatronetto prize. The theater's production of Camus' The Stranger won the Israeli Theater Academy's award for best fringe.
Berezin usually finds his actors in the local theater schools and nurtures them for years. Some leave, but "those for whom theater is a way of life rather than a profession stay with us. This is fringe, and life is not easy here."
The acting of the young graduates is both intense and precise.
The creative aura of Malenky attracts talented professionals, who soon become a part of the team. Despite the technical limitations of fringe theater, the lighting, sound, sets and costumes are all of top quality.
Young Israeli intellectual, writer and translator Roi Chen, who learned Russian because of his love for Russian literature, writes and edits texts for the ensemble, and is their language coach as well.
"Our newest 'acquisitions' are musician and composer Alexey Sova and movement coach Ilia Domanov, who just arrived from Moscow," adds Berezin.
While the ensemble's productions emphasize physical movement and are markedly anti-naturalist, its repertoire has ranged over disparate styles, from the Yiddish mysticism of I.B. Singer to Daniil Chram's absurdist Russian poetry in the Old Woman and the Miracle Worker, to a comic wandering knight in the medieval fable The Rose of Jericho to the numb hero of The Stranger.
"The one element that is constant is that these all are stories of little men suffering in a big, cruel world. I always keep in mind the famous quote from Dostoevsky: 'If there's no God, everything is allowed.'"
Tmuna Theater, Rehov Soncino 8, Tel Aviv; February 7, 8 and 23; (03) 562-9462.