Loving Jerusalem to death

A play produced by the Nissan Nativ Acting Studio puts the city center stage.

‘Jerusalem My Love’ play (photo credit: ASHER SVIDENSKY)
‘Jerusalem My Love’ play
(photo credit: ASHER SVIDENSKY)
 Jerusalem is the composite sum of various religions, communities, cultures and schools of thought. Your average Tel Avivian would likely say the net result of that mix is tension, tension and more tension.
Director Sharon Bar-Ziv would not necessarily argue with that take on life in the capital, but he and his cast – a bunch of third-year students of the Nissan Nativ Acting Studio’s Jerusalem branch – take that powder keg up a couple dozen notches in his new play, Jerusalem My Love. They will be performing it at the acting school on May 5-7, 9, and 10-13, with an additional show at Tzavta in Tel Aviv on May 15.
Imagine, if you will, a group of 16 wildly different individuals who decide to take a guided tour of the Western Wall tunnels, each for his or her own reasons.
The 16 characters are all colorful and, in their own individual ways, highly comical. They hail from the three main monotheistic religions and pack a barrel or two of social, cultural and political baggage.
In mid-tour, the characters find themselves trapped underground when one of the tunnel walls collapses.
Thereafter, a madcap, suspenseful, hilarious storyline unravels as each gradually comes to terms with the unexpected, terrifying and unequivocal circumstances, and the demographic, interracial, intercultural, and sometimes highly politicized dynamics ebb and flow, surge and abate.
The play’s subtitle, “A Wild and Relevant Satire,” says it all.
The director is a graduate of Nissan Nativ, as well as of Tel Aviv University’s Film Department, and has experience in the world of advertising and copywriting.
The latter certainly comes through in his description of the play.
“Jerusalem My Love [expresses] an unbridled, effervescent and funny social critique of the contemporary Israeli conflict,” he proffers. “The thirdyear students used their talents, humor and love to create juicy Jerusalem characters who sometimes go overboard, and who are fighting for their place in the Holy Land.”
The idea for the play stemmed from Bar-Ziv’s promotional background.
“We want to put Jerusalem center-stage and to push the students and the school in the right direction,” he says. “In the advertising field, there is something called USP – unique selling proposition – and I thought about Jerusalem’s USP. With all due respect to Chekhov and Shakespeare, I knew from the start that we were going to do an original play. We are living in the here and now, and we have all sorts of burning issues to contend with. I wanted to speak the language of this generation – what bothers them and what they care about.”
That might sound a bit on the ponderous and heavy side, but he always kept humor in his crosshairs.
“I wanted the actors to be able to laugh at themselves, too,” he states.
He also wanted the students to be as proactive as possible.
“I was open to their suggestions about the characters,” he continues. “One brought [up] the character of a nun, one suggested a Beitar Jerusalem soccer fan, and another one brought [up] a settler.”
The dramatis personae also features a Tel Aviv woman studying at Bezalel, a young German who has come to Israel to convert to Judaism, and a Breslov Hassid. The latter two share some interesting and almost ludicrous exchanges when, along with the other members of the trapped bunch, they go in search of a secret exit from the tunnel.
Bar-Ziv says the discourse gradually evolved. “You see the Israeli verbiage, which is violent, racist and intolerant. But you can also laugh at that. It’s a bit like the style of [long-running satirical TV show] Eretz Nehederet, with all those extreme characters. You laugh at them, but in reality, you are laughing at yourself.”
The director and his student cast have really gone for broke, and the humor is about as far away from PC as you can get.
“After the tunnel wall collapses, the oxygen level begins to drop, and it starts to get difficult to breathe,” he divulges. “One of the characters, a religious Jewish woman, remarks, ‘Not all of us need to breathe,’ referring to an Arab. That’s the general style of the play.”
While Bar-Ziv is keen for us to leave the Nissan Nativ auditorium clutching our sides, he has some more sober observations about the state of the nation.
“This is a country of tribes,” he says. “That was certainly reflected in the last elections. You had the [Moshe] Kahlon tribe and the Yair Lapid tribe, the Shas tribe, the Meretz tribe. Like with all tribes, there are battles between them, but there is also a sense of unity between them, and they all live together.”
Taken at face value, some of his observations could be construed – or misconstrued – as the product of a disgruntled and weary Israeli who is fed up with the constant political, religious and social argy-bargy in these parts. But Jerusalem My Love comes straight from the heart.
“First and foremost, I am doing this play with a bucketload of love,” says the 49-year-old director.
“This crazy, violent and racist country is ours. We don’t have anywhere [else] we can call our own. This is a madhouse. You get that vibe in line at the supermarket, on the roads, in the bank, everywhere. But this is our madhouse.”
Sounds like true love, warts and all. 
Jerusalem My Love will be performed (in Hebrew) at the Nissan Nativ Acting Studio in Jerusalem on May 5-7 at 8:30 p.m., May 9 at 9:30 p.m., and May 13-15 at 8:30 p.m. The Tel Aviv show will take place at the Lula Hall of Tzavta on May 15 at 2 p.m. For more information: (02) 673-3414 or (054) 467-7765.