All the world’s a stage in 'E Syndrome'

The Maya Buenos Ensemble presents its musical-based theater production based on the minutes of the Eichmann trial.

The cast of Maya Buenos Ensemble’s ‘Syndrome E.’ (photo credit: ARIEL COHEN)
The cast of Maya Buenos Ensemble’s ‘Syndrome E.’
(photo credit: ARIEL COHEN)
In this so-called postmodern world of ours the boundaries of what is considered socially acceptable are constantly being tested. Even with the PC police brigade on full alert, there are some cultural offerings that manage to slip through the conservatism cordon and make it to an auditorium, or some other arts facility, where members of the public can get an eyeful and earful of something that might provide them with a rewarding nudge out of their comfort zone. E Syndrome should manage that, with ease.
The work in question is a music-based theater production which lifts its Hebrew texts straight from the minutes of the trial of Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann. This is one of the architects of the Holocaust we’re talking about, not a bit player in some minor felony. But Maya Buenos has no qualms about presenting some of the judicial proceedings in an entertaining, and often comical, musical format.
Buenos is founder and artistic director of the Maya Buenos Ensemble, which will perform E Syndrome at the Tzavta Club in Tel Aviv (October 17 and 19, both 8:30 p.m.). The cast includes three actress-singers, dressed in lawyers’ gowns, and a string trio.
The score was written by Daniel Fine.
It must take some courage or, if you wish, spunk, to take material relating to the most tragic event in the history of the Jewish People and present it in a sort of (albeit dark) cabaret vein.
Buenos begs to differ.
“I have been asked about that on numerous occasions,” she remarks.
“People have asked me how I dare put this kind of material on a stage. My answer is, how do they not dare to do that? How do they not summon up their inner bravery to do that?” Confused? I was.
“I truly believe that every person has to confront the question: what would I do if I found myself on the wrong side of history?” she posits.
Buenos maintains the conundrum mindset, adding that “the wrong side,” in fact, relates to both sides of the Holocaust – perpetrators and victims alike. Among other issues, she wants us to take a long hard look at ourselves, and ask ourselves what we might have done had we been a German or Austrian citizen, and whether, say, we would have stood up to the Nazi Party, or extended a clandestine helping hand to Jews.
Despite her Latin-sounding surname Buenos has family Holocaust ties, but she does not think in terms of “legitimacy” with regard to her “right” to address such a sensitive matter based on whether there are any victims of Nazism in her personal lineage.
“I think I have the legitimacy to deal with this kind of material as a woman of the world, and as a rank and file citizen.
That’s all. I think it is important that we should examine these matters every so often.”
Such “matters” are not so straightforward, and Syndrome E unfurls a collision course for anyone who goes to the one of the shows. Fittingly, Buenos and I met up at a café on Bezalel Street, a stone’s throw away from what now serves as the Gerard Bechard Center. Construction of the center was, after numerous hiccups, completed in 1961, specifically so that it could serve as the venue for the Eichmann trial. It was then known as the People’s House – Bet Ha’am – and only took on its current moniker in the 1980s.
Buenos feels the fact that the auditorium eventually became a theater and cultural venue is of paramount importance.
“Just consider a courtroom,” she notes. “It is all theater. You have the judges and lawyers in their cloaks, the judges sit on a raised dais – like a stage.
And trials are conducted very much like a theatrical performance.”
She believes that much of the thinking behind the setting, and the way the trial was administered, owes much to theatrical dynamics.
“The stage for the Eichmann trial was installed specifically for that purpose. And just think about the bullet-proof glass booth where Eichmann sat. That’s a theatrical element par excellence, and it was positioned so that Eichmann, the culprit, faced Holocaust survivors, the victims.”
Buenos also posits that David Ben-Gurion, the prime minister at the time, was media savvy, and fully appreciated the impact the trial could make on the world.
“He understood the media and the world of theater. In that respect he was one of the chief stage directors.”
All of which leads straight to E Syndrome.
The opening initial of the title show refers to “evil,” but also to a neurological model developed by Prof. Yitzhak Fried, an Israeli brain surgeon and researcher. The model describes the process by which a normal person becomes a mass murderer.
Buenos references that scientific viewpoint in the play, in a practical, hands-on way, through a degree of audience participation. The fact that E Syndrome is a music-based work is also central to the whole theatrical, philosophical and moral exercise.
“The role of music in E Syndrome is to allow for a new external viewpoint of the trial,” notes the director.
The musical aesthetic of each scene is employed to express a different idea, with every sound containing its own manipulation. The social-legal debate is presented to us through its various voices. In this way, E Syndrome seeks to deconstruct mechanisms of violence, justice and performance, in order to illuminate them anew and ask how we might ‘perform evil,’ how we might ‘perform justice,’ and what role these two things play in establishing human morality and the social fabric.
Through the music we ask how a civilized society transforms into an exterminating machine and what is the role of performance is in this process.”
At the end of the day, Buenos wants us to leave the theater with food for thought.
“I am asking questions about obedience and morality, and about individual responsibility,” she says. “This is about the mechanisms of justice and violence which have been part of human history since time immemorial.
They are still with us today.”
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