The not-so naive performer

Slightly overwhelmed, Arye Tcherner decided to tackle 'Othello' by considering their similarities.

othello film 88 224 (photo credit: )
othello film 88 224
(photo credit: )
Arye Tcherner is playing Othello in Shakespeare's famous story of an honorable man of valor bedeviled by jealousy to murder. Tcherner, who has climbed the ranks of the Israeli theater scene for nearly three decades, recalls finding out the role was his. "When Miki [the director] said 'You'll be Othello,' the sun came out for a minute, and then went into eclipse." In other words, he was scared silly. According to Othello director Miki Gurevitz, however, Tcherner's fear was unfounded. "He fits the role," says Gurevitz, "he's a superb actor, very sensitive and intelligent, and he has the naiveté that Othello needs." It is naiveté, after all, that is the instrument of Othello's undoing. Tcherner agrees, adding that "Othello has a lot of power, he's a man who thinks he's seen it all, but this powerful individual can't ask the most obvious question, like 'Honey, did you lose my hanky?" He himself is too honorable to think that somebody he trusts could play him false. "He's a military man, first and foremost, and knows nothing of the politics and intrigues in the civilian world. I don't think he could ever get into that," says Tcherner. "Desdemona is the center of his universe, and when Iago convinces him that she's been unfaithful, that her fidelity is in question, the bottom falls out of his world." Most people know the story of Othello - a noted general and a Moor, he falls in love with and marries Desdemona, the daughter of Brabantio, a wealthy Venetian councilor. Iago, Othello's adjutant, hates him and determines to destroy him, but above all intends to do evil for its own sake. "Iago's evil is for the hell of it," says Gurevitz, "he's evil just because, and that is evil's strength. Iago is Satan's representative on earth. It's very rare that we meet pure evil and that's what makes Iago and what he does so frightening; it leaves you shaking because it has no explanation or reason and so we have no means of fighting it. "I see Othello as I see myself. I don't like to talk of character, but of situations and from that point of view, what happens to Othello could happen to me, to you, to any of us." Poor Othello. Fortunately for Arye, life turned out better. Tcherner is married to producer Tali Tcherner and they have three children ranging from eight to 18. Any other calling but theater was never an option. Acting "is like being an archeologist. You scrape away a layer or two, and suddenly what you thought was part of a jug is part of something much bigger. Acting lets me wake every morning to a new adventure." By nature Tcherner is shy, even introverted, and acting gives him a way out. "On stage," he says as he ducks his head, a little bashfully, "I say and do things I'd never say or do in real life." BORN IN Ramle in 1957 to parents who had immigrated in the '50s from Romania and Tripoli, Tcherners' father was a manager at the now defunct Ha'argaz factory and his mother was a practical nurse who worked at Shmuel Harofe Hospital in Beer Ya'akov. Tcherner served in the Israel Navy, but didn't want to become part of an IDF entertainment troupe. After his demobilization he studied and worked with a group of French mimes. From there, he moved into theater, graduating from the Beit Zvi theater school in 1981. He's a big man, over six feet tall, and solid, a character actor from the beginning who started small at the Beersheba Theater, moved to the Jerusalem Khan in 1982, and except for a few months in 1984, has been a member of the company ever since. Those few months in '84 nearly ended his theatrical career. He'd been fired from the Khan and feeling bruised, he decided that he'd go into managing entertainers. His old mentor, an unerring sniffer-out of talent, Beit Zvi head Gary Bilu, rousted Tcherner out of that idea and put him back on the stage at the then new Sifria Theater. Soon he was back at the Khan, doing roles in plays like A Woman Larger than Dreams, Spring Awakening and Romeo and Juliet, getting meatier parts all the time. These days he's playing Harpagon in Moliere's The Miser, a play that won the Israel Theater Prize for best comedy in 2003, and a variety of roles in The Successful that won the Israel Theater Prize for best comedy this year. In other words, it's been a steady progression from bit player to lead. This year, the America Israel Cultural Foundation has awarded Tcherner the Klatchkin Prize for his contribution to theater, the citation reading in part that "Arye is a generous, courteous stage partner with whom it is a pleasure to work." He has done comedy in plenty, but Othello is the first tragic hero Tcherner has played. The question of whether he prefers comedy or drama elicits stutters. "I'm sorry, but I don't prefer because I don't want to feel I can be labeled. This profession is so wide, so encompassing. It's not like a prescription that you present at the pharmacy and get the same thing every time. What you have here [when you take a role] is always the surprise of discovering somebody new." Othello opens at Jerusalem's Khan Theater on November 3.