A Delicate Balancing Act

The Hanoch Levin Festival Begins next week

'Murder'  (photo credit: SEBASTIAN HOPPE)
(photo credit: SEBASTIAN HOPPE)
Hanoch Levin is considered one of Israel’s most celebrated playwrights. While back in more conservative times his works often put many of noses out of joint and challenged social and political conventions with almost gay abandon, few would say that the man was not gifted nor adept at conveying his messages in a direct and sometimes startling manner.
Last year, the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv initiated a worthy salute to the late writer. The second annual International Hanoch Levin Festival will take place at the theater from November 9 to 24 as part of the eighth annual Tel Aviv International Theater Festival. The program features 11 works, with productions from Germany, France, Bulgaria, Poland, China and Israel. The festival lineup offers a good spread of Levin’s plays. It includes a Polish production of the tragicomic Ya’akobi & Leidental , which was first staged in 1972, and an intriguing Chinese-Israeli tribute to Levin that takes in a potpourri of sketches, monologues and poems written by Levin, performed by members of the National Theatre of China Beijing and the Cameri Theater.
One of the more emotive items on the Levin roster is Murder , which the late playwright scripted in 1997 in the aftermath of the first intifada. It is a compelling piece with more than a modicum of violence and stark scenes but also some of Levin’s trademark irony and dark humor. The play tells a gripping and equally horrifying tale of violence and counter-violence as the complex web of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians continues to become ever more entangled. Murders and other feral acts are committed by both parties, as Levin seeks to pass on his understanding of the situation in the Middle East and his belief that as long as we continue to rail against the other side and stick to the idea that one side is right and the other wrong, there is little hope for peace in this part of the world.
Director Dedi Baron’s rendition of Murder adds another significant layer to the already manifold plot. Her production will be performed by the Dusseldorf Municipal Theater Company in German which, in the context of the wanton violence in the play, naturally evokes Holocaust connotations. Baron has no direct familial Holocaust connections, although she says she was painfully aware of the atrocities from a young age and developed an acute sensitivity to anything related to the Holocaust and to Germany. “I read the Diary of Anne Frank when I was a kid, and I really thought I was there,” recalls Baron. “I also vowed never to go to Germany.”
It took many years for now 60something Baron to reconsider her resolution. She was eventually drawn to Germany in a professional capacity when she was in her late 40s. It was quite an epiphany for her. ‘MURDER’ (Sebastian Hoppe) dining radio television events movies highlights dining radio television movies highlights events “When I got to Germany and saw the trains there, I thought, ‘It’s all going to happen again’ [the Holocaust]. But when I went into the theater and met the people, I saw that they had come a long way and that they had taken a long, hard look at themselves and what Germany did. That was an eye opener for me,” she says. Murder is the first Israeli work that Baron has directed with the German company, after putting out a string of classics. The play premiered at the Cameri Theatre in 1997, under the aegis of Cameri artistic director Omri Nitzan. It portrays a seemingly endless cycle of hatred and acts of barbarism, by both Israelis and Palestinians. An Arab youth is killed by three IDF soldiers. A few years later the boy’s father murders a bridegroom, claiming that he was one of the aforementioned soldiers, and he rapes the bride before killing her as well. The play’s sequence of tragic twists also features the lynching of the Arab youth’s father, following an unrelated explosion, while one of the soldiers, who has been blinded in a war, subsequently searches for the father who desperately wanted to know what his dying son’s words were. As tales of woe go, you might put this in the quintessential paradigm league.
Despite her latter day acceptance of the German people, Baron says there was still a cultural divide to bridge to get the current show up and running. “We talked about everything beforehand, and it was really crazy. Here I am, an Israeli working with German actors on a play about all this violence.” Baron says it helped to take a step to one side and try to consider the text from a more general standpoint. “Ultimately, I took a universal approach to the play,” she explains. “This is a play that talks about reactions. This is not just about bloodshed between Israelis and Palestinians. It is something that exists in the DNA of all human beings. It is about looking at the potential of all individuals to commit acts of violence and the price of governing other people.”
It took Baron a while to get to the more inclusive take on the script, even though she says it was there all the time. “To begin with, I rejected the universality of the material; but Hanoch Levin also addresses the subject in a generic way. There’s a pale soldier, a tanned soldier and there’s an Arab youth, and Levin offers the possibility of looking at the story in a general, human- based way,” she says.
But there was still a high hurdle to be negotiated and a human message to be conveyed. “I had a sense of responsibility, and that made the work very difficult,” she says. “It’s not good to feel responsibility when you are directing. You should feel you are working with material that is close to your heart and that you also have something to say. I had a feeling of responsibility to say ‘Let’s stop all this stupid violence.’” Baron feels that is one of the core messages in Murder . “Levin devised a sort of symmetry between the stupidity of the Israelis and the stupidity of the Palestinians in the sense that there is no end to it,” she says.
It sounds like there are many unequivocal statements intertwined along the Murder route, but Baron says she endeavored to keep things as open as possible. “There are all sorts of symbols in the production, and there is a video backdrop that we shot in a desert which looks like Israel, but you could say is a universal location. And we took a soundtrack from a Bosnian composer who experienced plenty of war himself. The music is Yugoslav, but there are also Jewish elements in there. I wanted to pin the play down to here, but I also wanted to tell people to care, that violence and the potential of an outbreak of violence is everywhere. We have to be on our guard,” she says.
For tickets and more information about the International Hanoch Levin Festival: (03) 606-0960 and http://www.cameri.co.il