‘Sherlock Holmes on Stage’ – available in Hebrew

Amnon Kabatchnik continues his writing adventures at age 93.

 Amnon Kabatchnik  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Amnon Kabatchnik
(photo credit: Courtesy)

The phone connection between Beit Shemesh and Santa Monica, California, is clear and strong, and the early-morning voice of 93-year-old Amnon Kabatchnik at the other end of the line is even more robust. 

Kabatchnik, who was born in Israel and fought in the War of Independence – “it was the greatest era that I can think being part of” – enjoyed a long and storied career as an acclaimed director of dramas, comedies, thrillers and musicals off-Broadway, in national companies, resident theaters and summer stock. 

Kabatchnik moved to the US in the early 1950s, holds a BS degree in theater and journalism from Boston University and a Master of Fine Arts from the Yale School of Drama, and served as a professor of theater at numerous universities. In addition to his work in the US, he directed plays at Habima and the original Hebrew production of Fiddler on the Roof. His hit production of Genesis (“Bereshit”) at Habima Theater launched Leah Koenig’s career. 

Sherlock Holmes on the stage (Credit: Scarecrow Press, Inc.)Sherlock Holmes on the stage (Credit: Scarecrow Press, Inc.)
The Hebrew version of Sherlock Holmes on the Stage has recently been released (Credit: Zameret)The Hebrew version of Sherlock Holmes on the Stage has recently been released (Credit: Zameret)

Since his childhood in Tel Aviv, Kabatchnik has harbored a lifelong affinity for dramas, mysteries and suspense novels. “When I was a boy in Tel Aviv,” he recalls, “English-language paperbacks began to appear in Israel. I read the works of Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen and Erle Stanley Gardner, among others. They appealed to me regarding the plot, the action and the surprises. The whole issue of characters fighting for their lives appealed to me.”

After completing his army service, Kabatchnik came to the US to study theater and, encouraged by the success he encountered in school and the theater, decided to make it his lifetime calling. “I found myself immersed in the theater,” he says, “and I decided to stay there.” In addition to directing plays and teaching theater, Kabatchnik also appeared on television, using his accented English to his advantage, frequently playing foreign characters.

Amnon Kabatchnik (Credit: Courtesy)Amnon Kabatchnik (Credit: Courtesy)

Kabatchnik channeled his passion for reading mystery and suspense novels into collecting, and today, he has amassed a library of some 75,000 books. He began with specific authors in paperback, then graduated to collecting complete hardcover sets, eventually acquiring signed first editions with dust jackets. 

“In each apartment or house where I have lived,” he says, “I first check the area of the walls and calculate how much space I have for the bookcases. The cabinets have already taken over the place for the TV and the place for hanging pictures and posters from my shows at Yale. This collection has become an obsession.”

Kabatchnik directed the Hebrew version of Fiddler on the Roof in 1965 (Credit: Courtesy)Kabatchnik directed the Hebrew version of Fiddler on the Roof in 1965 (Credit: Courtesy)
Kabatchnik has penned a popular series of books entitled “Blood on the Stage. (Credit: ”Scarecrow Press, Inc.)Kabatchnik has penned a popular series of books entitled “Blood on the Stage. (Credit: ”Scarecrow Press, Inc.)

Several years ago, Kabatchnik began writing books about the history of murder and mystery plays. The books eventually became a seven-volume series, titled Blood on the Stage – Milestone Plays of Murder, Mystery and Mayhem. Each volume covers a period in history, providing overviews of plays, including plot synopsis, production data, opinions by critics and scholars and sketches of playwrights and key actors. The first volume covers the years 480 BCE to 1600 CE, and the last volume ends in the year 2000. The Blood on the Stage series has received wide acclaim from mystery magazines, and Kabatchnik has received the Benjamin Franklin Gold Medal Award (IBPA), the Independent Publishers Book Gold Medal Award (IPPY) and was a finalist for the Agatha Awards and ForeWord Book of the Year Awards.

Kabatchnik says his initial expectation was that these books would be of interest primarily to theater students and departments of literature in high schools and colleges. To his pleasant surprise, the books became popular among the general public. Kabatchnik’s personal favorites in the series are the sections that deal with the works of Shakespeare and crime.

Several years ago, Kabatchnik decided to focus his scholarly attention on the Sherlock Holmes detective series, and issued Sherlock Holmes on the Stage, which focuses on the original plays written by the character’s creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, one-act productions and plays and adaptations written by other authors. Each entry is arranged in chronological order and provides a plot synopsis, production details, and other unique features.

Why a book on Sherlock Holmes? Answers Kabatchnik, “After more than one hundred years, he is still the number one consulting detective in the entire field of suspense publishing. Sherlock Holmes detective books are still coming out monthly.”

Sherlock Holmes on the Stage was recently translated into Hebrew for Israeli fans of the world-famous detective and is available at Steimatzky bookstores in Israel and on the Zameret website (zbooks.co.il). Kabatchnik has family in Israel, and he visits annually. 

Until his next visit, he is hard at work on two soon-to-published volumes – one on courtroom dramas that have appeared on stage and the other on the horror genre. “Writing books keeps me going every morning,” he laughs. As our conversation ends, Amnon Kabatchnik is eager to get back to work. 

This article was written in cooperation with Amnon Kabatchnik.