Beit Lessin’s Hamlet: Witness the true power of theater - review

For our own confused age of fake news and reduced attention spans, Beit Lessin’s Hamlet offers a breathtaking voyage into the true power of theater.

 ELI GORENSTEIN as the ghost of Hamlet’s father. (photo credit: Isaiah Fainberg)
ELI GORENSTEIN as the ghost of Hamlet’s father.
(photo credit: Isaiah Fainberg)

Rami Heuberger walked to the stage barking into a mobile phone. “Hamlet tonight!” he boomed, “Seven hours long!” The audience laughed. Eli Gorenstein began his vocal exercises, and Asaf Jonas and Tom Hagi began sword-fighting in anticipation of their duel scene as Hamlet and Laertes at Beit Lessin’s Hamlet, under director Yair Sherman.

Heuberger (Claudius) brought to the role his unique stage persona, which gives a deep insight into Israeli masculinity. “Bring me pita with tahini!” He shouted into the phone before he transformed into the man who sent his nephew to England with instructions to have him killed.

Claudius, half naked and frightened over his rank offenses, considered the possibility of divine mercy and rejected it.

“That cannot be; since I am still possess’d /Of those effects for which I did the murder,” Heuberger cried out.

A voyage into the true power of theater

Heuberger is now in a unique place. He is the master of portraying crude men who still possess, despite their brutality, a thread of sensitivity which prevents them from being total monsters.

William Shakespeare (credit: Wikimedia Commons)William Shakespeare (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The production is so generous with its gifts, it can be likened to a special King’s Cake; one with so many flavors baked into it that every slice, every bite, reveals a fève.

As the late King’s ghost, Gorenstein is brilliant. Sherman cleverly matched his ghost to a voice anyone who watched a Disney movie in Hebrew would recognize. Gorenstein did the voice acting for Scar (The Lion King) and many other animated hits. As Hamlet’s dead father, Gorenstein has an almost hypnotic effect on the grieving prince. He is an actor whose every syllable reminds us of childhood; he touches that nerve.

In this production, Gorenstein shouldered not just the role of ghost, but also of actor and grave-digger. The scene in which he schools Polonius (Yoram Toledano) on acting is a tour-de-force. The moment he and Gertrude (Shiri Golan) exchange looks is a gem. In that brief moment, it is not only the heart of the king caught in the mise en abyme, but also the soul of a woman reminded of the visage of her late husband.

The nude body suites worn by the actors playing The Murder of Gonzago, the play Hamlet commissions for the Danish court, are grotesque. The exposed, dangling male-members swing from the stage like a pendulum into our political reality; ripe with allegations against lawyers and generals for sexual offenses that may ruin a kingdom.

THANKS TO translator Dori Parnes, the poetic Hebrew used by Gorenstein in the role of Hamlet’s father becomes earthy and colloquial when he plays the clever grave-digging clown.

“What is he that builds stronger than either the mason, the shipwright, or the carpenter?” Gorenstein asks, before he answers his own riddle: A grave-maker, “the houses that he makes last till doomsday.”

A woman in the row ahead of me held a library copy of the printed translation to explore its richness. Those who fear tackling the Bard of Stratford in Hebrew need not worry. Bilingual Hebrew and English titles flash above the stage in this performance, which values “words, words, words.” 

Sherman does not show us Shakespeare by flashes of lightning. His Shakespeare is a rich constant stream of gestures and colors. When Jonas sneaks from Ophelia’s room he is in the buff, and tiptoes away glancing at Polonius’s back as the old man patters. Jonas is inspiring in his courageous, risky portrait of the tormented prince.

When Ophelia (Carmel Bin) dines with her father they devour Chinese takeout. We see the lack of a mother figure in Ophelia’s life and recognize Polonius’s failure to see the obvious in an instant. Bin’s Ophelia was hurled from a naïve child-like girl to a mad force of nature that can make rocks shed “tears seven times salt.” Toledano, with his vain, waxed mustache, was superb.

In 1989, Heuberger played the role of Claudius in an epic production under Rina Yerushalmi with Shuli Rand as Hamlet. Back then, Claudius and Hamlet were roughly the same age, whereas now, roughly 24 years later, Heuberger’s Claudius is pregnant with depth and meaning hard won by years lived on and off the stage.

In 2005 Itay Tiran rose to fame playing the moody Dane in a Hamlet production under late director Omri Nitzan.

For our own confused age of fake news and reduced attention spans, Beit Lessin’s Hamlet offers a breathtaking voyage into the true power of theater.

Hamlet at Beit Liessin will run for 50 performances with the final one scheduled for Wednesday, March 22, at 8:30 p.m. NIS 250 per ticket. The show includes nudity and is not suitable for under 16s. 

Heuberger is joking, the show is three hours long, not seven, and has one intermission. 101 Dizengoff St. Tel Aviv. 

To book, call (03) 725-5333. Readers can read the Parnes translation for free on his site: