Natan Datner: An actor’s director

The veteran talent returns to the stage to act in and direct ‘Art’ at the Haifa Theater this month.

Natan Datner 311 (photo credit: Courtesy of Zirar Alon))
Natan Datner 311
(photo credit: Courtesy of Zirar Alon))
With an illustrious career as an actor and director, Natan Datner returns to the stage as both in Art, a modern “dramedy” about testing the bounds of friendship and defining what is art, at the Haifa Theater this month.
Three men who have been friends for 15 years, Mark (Datner), Serge (Ohad Knoller) and Ivan (Norman Issa), find their strong bond challenged when Serge pays some 200,000 francs for an ultra-modern painting that is simply a white canvas. While Mark attacks Serge for the decision, Ivan tries to make peace between the two, but soon gets caught up in the quarrel. The disagreement fuels a deeper fight among the men, getting personal, and causes them to question the love and patience they have for one another.
Originally in French and written by Yasmina Reza, the play premiered in 1994 in Paris, and was first produced in Israel by the Beit Lessin Theater in Tel Aviv in 1996 with Yossi Banai, Sasson Gabai and Avi Uriah as the three friends.
Datner, 55, says he identifies with his character’s reaction to the piece of art, but not to the way Mark treats his friends.
“I also lose my patience when modern art sometimes challenges me with a stupid agenda and places a type of analytical conversation without any connection to feeling, which is the place that art must first of all touch,” he says.
Datner adds that he doesn’t identify with his character Mark’s desire to make his friends share the same (his) taste, opinions and views on art.
To prepare for the role, he says, “I tried a little to delve into what they call contemporary art and I tried to test the system of relationships with my friends via the prism of the play.”
Before serving as director of the Beersheba Theater from 2004-2010, where he directed a slew of plays, since the ’80s Datner’s name has been a recognizable staple on television shows, in film and songwriting.
Datner, who in 1991 received the Klachkin award for outstanding actors and artists, received critical acclaim for his 2008 performance as the iconic Tevye the milkman in Fiddler on the Roof at the Cameri Theater.
The veteran talent approaches his actors in Art as a fellow actor, he says.
“I really understand the difficulties they have,” Datner says, adding that as a director he has worked on knowing when to push and when to give the actors space.
“There’s no doubt this... is a great combination,” he says of being both an actor and director.
While the passionate and expressive Mark is a good role for him, Datner says he prefers guiding the actors.
“An actor only has to worry about his performance, but the director sees the bigger picture of the show and is responsible for the entire atmosphere,” he says. “I can say more as a director.”
Since his early childhood in Ramat Gan, Datner has known he was destined for the stage. His father, a carpenter, built him a guitar, giving him his first platform to perform.
“Once I had my own guitar I started to sing all over, wherever I could,” he says – in his family’s salon, for the young ladies in his neighborhood and on the balcony for all to hear, “until they shouted, ‘Quiet! Everybody’s sleeping now!’”
In high school, an influential theater class and teacher turned him on to acting. Soon after, he says, he began to see plays and fall in love with theater. During his time at the Beersheba Theater, where he started in 1979, he says he became an actor, a role he was always meant to play.
“You’ve got to be born an actor, it’s not something you can learn,” he says.
Performances of Art begin running January 19. For tickets: