In Tamar Milstein's production, 'Stom', the Jewish and Arab cast explore the bizarre realities of life in Israel.
By BARRY DAVIS
Tamar Milstein doesn't exactly believe in making life any easier than it has to be. Milstein is the life and soul, and steady directorial hand behind the Notzar Theater's new musical production "Stom", currently running at Tel Aviv's Kultura Club. Not to be confused with the famous dance-percussion show of the Nineties "Stomp", The name of Milstein's production derives from the Hebrew expression "stom et happeh" - or "shut your mouth".
According to Milstein "Stom" may not be for everyone. "We don't explain what is going in the show," she says. "There is no real narrative or dramatic development, and the audience has to complete the picture itself." There are voice-overs, and plenty of high-energy electronic music to accompany the on-stage action but, for instance, the central character played by Ahmed Hamada doesn't utter a single syllable throughout.
"The character goes through all kinds of situations - unconnected social situations - and it isn't absolutely clear whether he is a Jew or an Arab. That's not important. The only consistent element is that the character is not able to speak."
The show follows on the heels of "Shoo-Kiyum," Milstein's previous foray into the gray areas surrounding Jewish-Arab coexistence. Half of the ten-person cast survive from this previous effort, including seven Jews and three Arabs between the ages of 17 and 24.
Milstein explains the show lies in the realm of absurd theater, and categorically denies imbuing any political bias.
"We chose absurd theater because, if we think about it, our lives here are totally absurd. It is an absurd play about the absurdities of life."
Still, Milstein is savvy enough to realize that practically everything that happens in the Middle East is construed, or misconstrued, as a political statement. When one puts on a production with a Jewish-Arab cast, dealing with freedom of expression and other strangled liberties, the political domain is difficult to avoid. "The main character experiences social dilemmas, not political issues," Milstein insists, "But, I suppose, in this country there isn't really a difference between the two areas."
Milstein says the idea for "Stom" was sparked by discussions within the theater company about the civil rights of the Jews and Arabs in the troupe. "We looked at the officially sanctioned civil rights in this country and extrapolated from the very narrow area of Jewish-Arab issues our individual ability to run our own lives. It's a sort of a philosophical point, a deterministic matter..."
By now it is clear that the Notzar Theater is about much more than merely entertaining the public with thought-provoking shows. All the actors go through a character-developing experience on their way to the stage. "We talk about things between us," says Milstein. "Some drop out along the way. It really is a developmental process, and not just a matter of grabbing the limelight on stage."
Public response to "Stom" has been varied and, at times, overwhelming. "During the first show I could tell whether the audience was getting it," Milstein says. "The younger members of the audience laughed at the black humor, but the older ones found some of the material hard to take."
One person at last Wednesday's opening night actually confronted Milstein after the show with complaints about the main character in the play.
"He said the voice-overs should have been in Hebrew, and that would have made the show more universal. Isn't that absurd? How can presenting something in a specific language make something universal? That's absurd."
Stom is playing at the Kultura Club at 154 Herzl St., Tel Aviv tonight at 8:30 p.m., and on November 7 and 8 at 8:30 p.m. Tickets may be booked in advance by calling 03-5189914, or bought on the night.