One-woman play ‘A Hunger Artist’.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Amital Stern has come a long way during her 30something years. She was born in Canada and moved to Indiana, USA, with her family when she was very young. She was brought up in an Orthodox and ardently Zionist home, and her American-born parents insisted on speaking Hebrew with their children.
When she was 17, she decided it was time to check out the real deal and relocated to Jerusalem.
Some 20 years on and now a scriptwriting student at the Sam Spiegel School of Film & Television in Jerusalem, Stern has put some of the things she experienced about her move to Israel into a one-woman tragicomic monodrama entitled A Hunger Artist , which will be performed at Hasimta Theater in Jaffa as part of this year’s Teatronetto Festival. The play is directed by Mirit Yanai and performed by Vered Regev.
The heroine is Lila Frankel who, in fact, makes the opposite journey to Stern’s. The play is set in 1967 New York, and 22-year- old Jerusalemite Frankel runs away from her overbearing father’s home and plunges into the maelstrom of the Swinging Sixties in the Big Apple. It’s hard to think of a greater contrast in cultural milieus. The “hunger” in the play’s title refers to Frankel’s craving to get a taste of the New York sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll action.
“Yes, New York and Jerusalem of that time were very different, and the play looks at the differing cultural and personal landscapes and the different yearnings – Lila’s yearning for the explosion of youthful energy in New York,” Stern explains.
It is love that pushes Frankel to the US.
“She meets someone from New York when she is in Jerusalem, and that opens her up to the idea and the possibilities of leaving little Jerusalem and moving to the States,” says Stern. “I don’t really like to get into symbolic stuff, but in my mind I saw the transition that Jerusalem undergoes from being a divided city into a unified place with limitless possibilities and that everything would be all right and the city would blossom. In my imagination, I likened Jerusalem to a woman – a tormented a woman: a virginal woman and a non-virginal woman. In the Scriptures, Jerusalem is referred to as an aged virgin whom nobody wants. But there are many references to Jerusalem as a woman throughout history, so that is the image I saw.”
Hence the choice of Lila. “That’s why I made the parallel between Jerusalem’s cultural and historical landscape and the growth of this young woman,” she says.
That is also why almost everyone involved in the production is female. “Besides myself, the director and the actress, the music was written by a woman, and the set was designed by a woman, and so were the costumes. The sound man is the only male on the team,” she says.
The time of the play was chosen with care. “Lila leaves Jerusalem just before the Six Day War, when it was still really a small town, divided and cut off from the big wide world,” explains Stern, “and 1967 was when groups like Velvet Underground and artists like Any Warhol were making a big impact on the cultural scene.”
The title of the play also alludes to the Franz Kafka short story of the same name, which features in Stern’s work. “Lila steals a manuscript of a translation of the story from her father’s home in Jerusalem, reads it during her journey and identifies with the character,” she explains.
The play is also a vehicle for Stern to vicariously explore events and a zeitgeist she missed out on. “I am fascinated by what life was like in Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967,” she says. “There is all this nostalgia connected to people like [Nobel Prize laureate S.Y.] Agnon, but I was looking for different stories about Jerusalem.”
While New York provides the backdrop for the play, there are flashbacks to this part of the world as Lila dives headlong into the psychedelic cultural and artistic melting pot of the 1960s.
But things don’t entirely go according to plan. She doesn’t manage to leave her emotional baggage behind, and love proves to be elusive.
The creative process of the production was a collaborative one. Stern and Yanai are old friends, and both belong to the Jerusalem-based Mashoo-Mashoo social theater group, which was spawned by Stern and Yanai’s idea of establishing a writing group. They were also on the staff of Confederation House in Jerusalem. Yanai and Regev studied together at the Kibbutz Seminar College in Tel Aviv.
A Hunger Artist is something of a prequel and follows a script Stern wrote for a 15-minute film about Lila. “The film was about what happens to Lila after she comes back to Jerusalem from New York. I felt there was a lot of room to expand on Lila’s story because of the story and because of Lila’s character.
So I got together with Mirit and Vered, and we started working on the play,” she says.
The play presents the audience with a kaleidoscope of characters. Stern says Regev has her work cut out for her. “Lila meets all sorts of people in New York and has all kinds of experiences, and Vered has to convey all that herself on the stage. That’s take a lot of courage and a lot of strength of character and skill.”
Regev will have some support in portraying the storyline in the form of video art augmentation. “We wanted to add that because of the strong images associated with New York and with Jerusalem of that time,” explains Stern. “And the music will also help give a sense of place and time.”
Stern says she has been through the mill with A Hunger Artist but that it has been a very rewarding experience. “First of all, writing a play in Hebrew was very tough for me. This has been quite an adventure.”A Hunger Artist will be performed at Hasimta Theater in Jaffa on March 28 at 6 p.m., March 29 at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., and on March 30 at 6 p.m. For more information about Teatronetto: (03) 683-7676 and www.ilanagoormuseum.org