Dramatizing our demons

This year, the Israel Festival presents various versions of 'The Dybbuk' and the Dreyfus case to drive home the theme of the monsters around us - and within us.

the dybbuk 88 (photo credit: )
the dybbuk 88
(photo credit: )
Two major stories figure centrally in this year's Israel Festival, one of the largest in recent years due to the 60th anniversary of the state: S. Ansky's 1914 play The Dybbuk and the late 1800s political scandal the Dreyfus affair. For Yossi Tal-Gan, general manager of the Israel Festival, the two are strongly connected. "There is a direct link between the famous production [of The Dybbuk] of the Habimah Theater - then still in Moscow - and the Dreyfus affair, which led to Herzl's vision and later to the creation of the state, where the Habimah Theater moved and established itself as a national theater," he says. The Dybbuk will be presented at the Israel Festival in four different productions: one from abroad (Hadibbuk by the Warsaw Theater, June 3 at 8:30 p.m. and June 4 at 6 p.m. at the Jerusalem Theater, 560-5755) and three local versions - a puppet and mask show entitled Between Two Worlds by writer and director Shmuel Shohat (June 3-5 at 8:30 p.m. at the Khan Theater, 671-8281); a dance program entitled At Midnight by choreographer Renana Raz and theater director Ofer Amram (June 3 at 4 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. at Hama'abada, 629-2001); and the main performance, Dibbuks, performed by Habimah and written and staged by Mor Frank (June 5 at 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. at Hama'abada). The idea to bring various interpretations of the story to the stage was that of Habimah artistic director Ilan Ronen. "Habimah is preparing for its 90th anniversary this October, and we were looking for an appropriate topic for this event. Since we currently don't have a home of our own [the Habimah Theater is undergoing renovation], we thought that the opening of our anniversary year should take place on a prestigious stage. And what could be more appropriate than the Israel Festival, and on the 60th anniversary of Israel? It is both a national and an international stage, and what could be more identified with the Habima than The Dybbuk?" The Habima renews a production of The Dybbuk once every decade, adds Ronen, so taking the play's basic theme and reworking it wasn't a new idea. "We, of course, are looking for the new generation to come and learn and love The Dybbuk, but not only the younger generation. We aim to bring refreshing yet deeply rooted versions of the same basic and profound theme, which can be easily transposed to different situations and epochs," he says. "There is a definite link with the original production. It is impossible to recreate the first moving experience, like it was in those days and with [lead actress] Hannah Robina, but we can find ways to continue to tell the story, which is an eternal one, and we propose it in different artistic ways," says Ronen. "I went to Yossi Tal-Gan with this idea; he liked it from the very beginning, and pretty soon we'll see the results on stage." Israel's 60th anniversary aside, this year also marks the 110th anniversary of French writer Emile Zola's famous newspaper editorial "J'accuse," which accused the French Army of wrongfully convicting Jewish Capt. Alfred Dreyfus of treason. It comes as no surprise, then, that for Alex Anski, a well-known Israeli actor and writer, this year couldn't be more appropriate to present his one-man play I Am Not Dreyfus. It tells the story of Ferdinand Esterhazy, the anti-Semitic officer who betrayed both his country and Dreyfus. What is the significance of focusing on the villain of the story? "The villain is always much more interesting. We want to understand what drove him to do what he did; not only Esterhazy, but all villains, everywhere," explains Anski. "There are two factors," continues Anski, who had approached playwright Yehoshua Sobol with the idea for the production. "First, we have to acknowledge that in every human being there is a hidden monster, a monster that in the blink of an eye could step out and take over. Second, to tame that monster, we should never use the monster's methods - never. There are other ways to grapple with it - through words, culture, free speech, the media, art. All these things distinguish us from the monsters. "These monsters are also closely connected to the problem of anti-Semitism. More than 60 years after the Shoah, anti-Semitism and anti-Semites still surround and threaten us," he continues. "When I heard the horrible story of that young French Jew, Ilan Halimi, who was kidnapped and tortured to death in Paris just two years ago, I was so horrified that I couldn't just go on as if nothing happened. I learned all the details of the terrible affair and went to my friend Sobol, and that's how this play came about - to present the Other, the Villain, the anti-Semite, who is still here. "In the play, I try to expose him - Esterhazy or any other anti-Semite - and I use the stage and the play to show his different aspects," explains Anski. "We have to be careful, to recognize these people. They don't usually look like monsters; we have to identify them, to know them, to learn their modes and manners." He adds, "Villains can be found everywhere, even among us [Jews]." As with The Dybbuk, the Dreyfus affair will be performed on stage in more than one way during the Israel Festival. The evening before Anski's production, a rendition of the story by a French theater company will focus on the Jewish officer's life and character. The Dreyfus Affair, written by Pierrette Dupoyet and starring David Arveiller, himself a distant relative of Dreyfus, deals for the first time with Dreyfus's frame of mind, feelings and beliefs. I Am Not Dreyfus, featuring Alex Anski, will be performed on June 12 at 6 p.m. The Dreyfus Affair will be performed on June 11 at 8:30 p.m. and June 12 at 9 p.m. - all at Hama'abada. The Israel Festival will also feature a symposium (in Hebrew) entitled "The Dybbuk as a National-Cultural-Social Junction at the Beginning of the 20th Century," offering topical music, films, panels, readings, seminars and lectures. The roster includes writer Haim Be'er; composer Oded Zehavi; professors Freddy Rokam, Dr. Rivka Gonen and Dr. Rivka Goldberg; and actor and singer Baruch Brenner. Produced by the Hazira Habein-T'humit theater, the symposium will take place in the Leo Modell Hall of the Gerard Behar Center from June 5-7. For more information, call 678-3378. Another Dybbuk-related symposium, entitled "Between Two Worlds: Spirits, Devils and Dybbuks in Jewish and World Traditions," produced by the Scholion Center of the Mandel Jewish Studies Institute, will take place on June 11 and 12 at Mishkenot Sha'ananim. For more information, call 588-1279.