TA apartment is stage for truly domestic drama

The curtain goes up on the hardships of apartment hunting in Israel's cultural capital.

TA tenants (photo credit: Nathan Burstein)
TA tenants
(photo credit: Nathan Burstein)
It's a play with all the elements of great human drama: yearning, heartache, perseverance, redemption. At the same time, it tells an archetypal, uniquely Israeli tale, one fully cognizant of the burdens of history and the uncertainties of the future. It is, in other words, about the search for an apartment in Tel Aviv. The play, Dayarim (Tenants), has also proven a small-scale hit, bringing enthusiastic audiences each Friday to 27 Rehov Borochov, a fairly typical Tel Aviv address that serves, fittingly enough, as the real-life home of Kineret Peled, the production's 27-year-old creator and co-star. As its unconventional setting suggests, Tenants isn't your standard theatrical production, sending up both Tel Aviv's daunting real estate market and the youthful subculture of the country's most proudly liberal city. In Tel Aviv, Tenants' mock real estate agent says, "It doesn't matter who you are - just where you come from, who your parents are, and what you do." The play, which began its run earlier this month, carefully mimics the rituals of the Tel Aviv apartment search, offering performances during peak hunting hours, every other Friday at noon and 1:30 p.m. (The show runs roughly 50 minutes, allowing for some improvisation, and will be performed this week.) Audience members gather for the play in groups of 20 outside 27 Borochov, where they're given time to assess the building (three-story stucco, not brand new), the surroundings (more apartment buildings) and their prospects for finding regular parking should they someday move in (infinitesimal). The play's real estate agent eventually shows up and, after stalling a bit, takes his prospective buyers inside, offering advice that ranges from the useless ("There are 12 steps between floors") to the obvious ("This is the door of the apartment"). Audience members' tour of the place - living room, kitchen, balcony, bedroom - is interrupted by theatrical vignettes starring Peled and two male co-stars, who depict a slightly exaggerated version of life among Tel Aviv's young singles. The indignities and small glories of that lifestyle form the core attraction of the play - the sense of identification it taps into among viewers, who themselves are typically in their 20s and not all that far removed from the apartment-hunting process. The sketches' humor stems in many cases from universal aspects of the shared-apartment experience, with the fictional roommates squabbling over who ate the last pudding, engaging in light recreational drug use and getting themselves into various sorts of romantic trouble. The play has touched a nerve - its fame has spread rapidly by word of mouth, its 27-year-old director, Lichai Beckerman, says - because it is very much a reflection of Tel Aviv residents themselves, who, like their counterparts in London and New York, easily outdo their compatriots in their enthusiasm for discussing just how impossible it is to locate a decent apartment at a reasonable price. (Such discussions appear to be a lot more fun, incidentally, once a person has already found said apartment.) Written by and for people in the early stages of adulthood, Tenants is at its sharpest as it celebrates and lampoons - often simultaneously - the distinctive features of being young and unsettled in Israel's cultural capital, where a wide spectrum of political views are accepted ("moderate Left, Left and radical Left") and 20-somethings figure out how to balance daily concerns with a knowledge of previous generations' struggles. (In a scene whose outrageous bad taste could perhaps only be pulled off in Tel Aviv, three apartment dwellers attempt a bit of respectful conversation on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, only to end up discussing the relative merits of local housing versus the secret annex where Anne Frank hid with her family during the war.) Peled, an aspiring professional actress just like her co-stars, says she plans to perform Tenants as long as it continues attracting an audience. Because of its cathartic effect on viewers - and because of the seemingly bottomless number of apartment hunters in Tel Aviv - that could be a while. Those numbers are suggested by Homeless.co.il, one of two Hebrew-language Web sites that's become vital to any Tel Aviv apartment search (the other is Madas.co.il). The site claims to have been visited nearly 34 million times - or nearly five times per Israeli man, woman and child. Such an assertion would raise eyebrows coming from most Israeli Web sites, but with Homeless users frequently complaining - only half-jokingly - that apartments disappear even before their screens have had time to refresh, it's a claim that will strike many apartment seekers as plausible. Like Tenants, the two Web sites simultaneously reflect and develop the subculture that has grown up around the Tel Aviv apartment search. No longer home to just listings, sections of the sites have come to resemble social gatherings, with Internet surfers converging to find other guitar and naturopathy enthusiasts (Homeless' "Hobbies" page) or to get advice about whether to move in with a boyfriend or girlfriend (Madas). Additional Web sites are slowly cropping up as well, offering legal advice about landlord-tenant disputes and other day-to-day issues. The key to finding a successful living situation, Peled says, is a willingness to "invest a lot of time" in the hunt. (Having lots of money doesn't hurt, either.) But in addition to patience, Peled's play offers another source of strength for Tel Aviv apartment hunters - solidarity with their fellow man. In a market where owners can pick and choose among prospective renters, looking for an apartment can resemble "auditions," Peled says. Most auditions are followed, of course, by rejection, and on the Internet as in her play, Tel Aviv apartment hunters are increasingly finding solace in one another, sharing horror stories about former roommates and ranting about near-misses during the hunt for a new place. Not everything Peled says is comforting, however, and some wannabe Tel Aviv residents will inevitably be disappointed by her final comments on the subject. Asked about her own housing and plans for the future, Peled's answer is unambiguous. "I've been in my apartment two years," she says, "and I don't intend to leave."