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In "Cruel and Tender" currently previewing at Habimah, well-regarded UK playwright Martin Crimp takes a 2500 year old Greek tragedy and slams it into the twenty-first century.
In his adaptation of Sophocles' Trachiniae, the mythic hero Heracles becomes "The General" (Yigal Naor), his royal wife Deaneira metamorphasizes into the daring Amelia (Idit Teperson), and a tale of libido, revenge and the high price of pride ensues.
Amelia sets the scene in her first monologue, saying "My husband is sent out/ on one operation after another/ â€¦not understanding/ that the more he fights terror/ the more he creates terror/ - and even invites terror - who has no eyelids -/ into his own bed."
In fact the General is accused of war crimes, but has not been indicted. Despite the accusations, he's ent off to subdue yet another terrorist haven in Africa. News of a great victory spreads, and the general is set to come home. Before arriving, he sends two survivors ahead of him, as proof of the destruction he's inflicted on the terrorists. One is Laela (Clara Khouri), and it is soon revealed that the general's desire for her was the real reason for the population massacre that transpired.
To reclaim her husband for herself, Amelia sends the general a potion given to her by a former boyfriend. She realizes only too late that the potion may not be as benign as she thought. When she learns of the chemical's toxicity, she kills herself. After that, events roll on without remorse, provoked by an amoral government minister, Jonathan (Yuval Segal).
"This was a little more difficult than usual," says translator Dori Parnes, "because much of it is written almost ceremonially with echoes of the Greek tragedy it comes from. I related to the text as I would to contemporary poetry."
"Crimp doesn't make things easy for you," says "Cruel and Tender" director Arthur Kogan. "He took the shape of the classic tragedy and brought it up to date. Obviously the message is that those who fight terror, fall into it themselves. They lose moral awareness, and Crimp uses the politician to emphasize this. Jonathan inhabits a total moral vacuum in which expediency rules. Even his lines are nothing but worn banalities. Mind you, I'm careful not to make generalizations about this because the issue is so complex, and the play points this out."
Kogan says that when Habimah artistic director Ilan Ronen suggested he take the play, he "jumped at the chance. It's a great story and it's a universal story about love and betrayal. Humanity hasn't changed. All the characters in this play are terrorists in one way or another. It's a great play for actors; we keep finding new things in it, even though it's already running."
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