A dubious legacy

Boaz Gaon's 'Argentina' is a compelling combination of personal and political histories set against the backdrop of military dictatorship.

Argentina play (photo credit: Gehrar Alon)
Argentina play
(photo credit: Gehrar Alon)
If you’re looking for a bit of light entertainment, to while away an hour or two of sublime insouciant escapism, you’d be best to give Argentina a miss. Then again, if it’s gripping drama that does it for you then the Boaz Gaon’s play which premieres at Haifa Theater on May 28 (9 p.m.) should be just your cup of tea, or mate – the South American country’s national beverage.
The storyline of Argentina is stark and patently designed to keep patrons engrossed, if not on the edge of their seats. The action takes place in 1978. Soccer fans will identify that as the year in which the World Cup finals were held in Argentina, but it was also during a period when the country was ruled by a cruel military dictatorship. During the seven years of the junta – 1976-83 – it is estimated that between 9,000 and 30,000 disappeared, presumed killed by the military.
The principal figures in the play include a young Argentinean- born Israeli woman who goes to see a retired diplomat in a desperate attempt to uncover details of her father’s disappearance during the years of the military regime. There are twists and turns aplenty and the plot thickens as the story progresses. Besides knowing something about the young woman’s background the former Israeli ambassador to Argentina also harbors some dark secrets.
You get the senses that we are not exactly talking soap opera here.
“No, it’s really not a soap opera although there are moving and heartbreaking elements in the play,” says Gaon.
“What is really disturbing about it is that when you start burrowing into your past you might discover some things that make you wish you hadn’t started getting in too deep. She goes to the diplomat thinking she has got all the cards in her hand but it transpires that the reality is very different.”
As the storyline suggests there are some moral factors at stake here too and Oded Kotler, who plays the lead role of the diplomat hopes that part of the play comes over loud and clear to the audience.
“This is a work that addresses the loftiest moral issue in the hardest moments of a human being’s life,” says Kotler, “do we have the right to intervene and to generate a preference for one person’s life over the life of another? Do we have the right to ‘sacrifice’ the life of one person so that another person can live? These are terrible moral and ethical questions which arise during the difficult moments of a war.”
Gaon's interest in the story was sparked six years ago when he was a political columnist for Ma’ariv newspaper.
“A state committee was set up to investigate whether the country had done everything in its power to save the Jews of Argentina,” recalls the playwright.
“I wrote an article about a university paper written by two Hebrew University students about what went on in Argentina back then, and on the committee’s work.”
But the students’ efforts, like Argentina, began taking some unexpected turns.
“They interviewed a retired diplomat who had nothing to lose, and who told them some shocking things about what went in Argentina at the time, and about what happened with the Jewish community there.”
The interviewers got more than they’d bargained for.
“They hadn’t foreseen it but they were sucked into the emotional side of things,” adds Gaon, who also had to deal with some pretty harrowing evidence.
“There were some shocking things going on, like a father having to choose which of his children would live, children who were torn from their mother’s arms. The young woman in my play discovers that her mother found herself in a similar situation.”
In Argentina the aging diplomat is also a victim.
”The ambassador was sent to Argentina by the Likud government after losing his daughter in a terrorist attack and he finds himself having to deal with the infamous generals,” continues Kotler.
“He tries his best, with the pitiful resources available to him, to solve enormous human problems in monstrous circumstances. He has no respite from the hell into which he has been drawn and he can only make decisions which have faults built in, and he has to live with that for the rest of his life.”
For Gaon the play is not just about what went on in a dictatorial regime in South America 30 years ago.
“I believe it raises the eternal question of how these situations arise. How did it happen in Yugoslavia, in Germany of the 1930s, places in Africa and here, too, in the last two or three years there has been something of what [MK Yitzhak] Herzog called ‘flirting with fascism’. When the generals took over in Argentina the public greeted them with flowers. It was if the country has sunk to such a level of depression and apathy that it was willing to discard democracy. That’s a dangerous situation.”
Ideally, Gaon wants his audiences to be totally engrossed in the on stage action but also to address the moral aspects of the story.
“I want them to follow everything in the play, to catch the drama. But I would also like them to sense this dangerous flirt with what we can call: ‘let’s be a little less democratic.’ That is generally a slippery downhill slope.”
Argentina opens at Haifa Theater tomorrow evening at 9 with further shows on May 29 and 30 (both 8:30 p.m.), May 31 (4:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.) and June 18-22 (all 8:30 p.m.). For tickets and more information: (04) 860-0500 and www.ht1.co.il