habimah theater 88.
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Three Western hostages - an American psychologist, an Irish journalist and an English professor - are chained to a wall in a Beirut cellar.
The timing for Habimah National Theater's opening of Irish playwright Frank McGuinness's powerful play Someone Who'll Watch Over Me this past Tuesday was uncomfortably apt because Gilad Shalit, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser are still in the hands of their terrorist abductors. But rehearsals for the play were underway before any of this happened, says director Tatiana Canelis Olier.
"Beyond the obvious political dimensions of the hostage situation, this play is about survival and the richness of the human spirit under even the most unspeakable conditions.
"Nothing in this play depends on externals; everything that happens is born from and among the characters. Each comes from a different country, culture, outlook and mentality. They would never have met had they not been captured, yet they manage to create a communal life, and that helps them retain their sanity."
The play is loosely based on the autobiographical An Evil Cradling by Brian Keenan, who was captured en route to his job as an English teacher at Beirut University by Islamic Jihad in April 1986 and released on August 24, 1990. The book recounts his life during those ghastly years.
First performed in London in 1992, Someone Who'll Watch Over Me won the New York Critics Circle and the Writers Guild Best Play award for 1993, and was nominated for a Tony.
McGuinness had met with Keenan a few months after his release, telling him of his ideas for the play, yet hesitating because there were still hostages in Lebanon. Keenan encouraged him and wrote an introduction in which he says, among the rest, that McGuinness "hit on... all the gamut of emotions that make us, break us and remake us."
Veteran Habimah actor Yigal Sadeh plays Michael, the Englishman, on his way to market to buy pears for a flan when he is captured. Dov Reiser, another Habimah veteran, plays the Irishman, Edward. Young actor Zohar Strauss is Adam.
For all of them, the heart of the powerful play is not its topicality but its humanity, its focus on the almost minute-by-minute existence of the hostages, of which the essence is survival, says Sadeh.
"Think of the title. Someone has to watch over someone, and that's the strength of the play - the strength that they give - must give - each other."
"The play talks of hostages but also of the need to connect. The Irish and the English are ancient enemies, but even they are now trying to live in peace," says Reiser, whose character baits Michael, dredging up 800-year-old animosities between their two nations.
Strauss is blunt, saying "Someone in a cage in the dark is someone in a cage in the dark, and that's what we have to transmit." His psychologist character, he says, is an opportunist whose career depends on the misfortune of others and who's now in trouble himself. "For me as an actor it's important to show what Adam goes through from day to day."
Michael and Edward are older and, as a journalist, Edward can be cynical and sarcastic, "but in that cellar he plumbs places in himself that he'd flee from in the past. Here, there's no place to run." For Michael, "humanity is the weapon that will help him survive," says Sadeh. "He lets himself be himself, and that's his strength."
Award-winning actress Olier, who will start rehearsals this fall for Bergman's Autumn Sonata, started directing as a natural outcome to the acting classes she teaches at Seminar Hakibbutzim.
Three years ago she directed Butterflies Are Free for Habimah. Someone Who'll Watch Over Me is the second "and, of course, it speaks to us because we live with kidnap and terror. But when I read it, I realized it speaks to everyone, no matter what place they are in or come from."