Shakespeare comes to life in Jerusalem Public Theater’s ‘As You Like It’

There is a new English-speaking theater group in town, and for its first act it is proving that Shakespeare is fun.

'As You Like It' at the Jerusalem Public Theater (photo credit: Courtesy)
'As You Like It' at the Jerusalem Public Theater
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Theatergoers in Jerusalem can count their blessings. They are able to enjoy the output of several talented theater groups that make available a wide range of plays through the year.
Now they can add one more theater group to their counting: Jerusalem Public Theater. This week, the curtain rises at the Khan Theater on JPT’s first production, William Shakespeare’s As You Like It.
Believed to have been written in 1599, As You Like It is in many ways surprisingly contemporary, grappling with issues such as love, lust, greed, romance, gender roles and politics, but one of the play’s enduring take-aways is how good people can be and how much pleasure life (and theater) can offer.
The Jerusalem Post pulled co-directors Toby Trachtman and Dinah Elashvili aside during one of the play’s hectic final rehearsals to probe their thoughts about the production.
Why did you create an English-speaking theater group?
Tractman: There are a number of really good theater groups in the capital that produce wonderful plays, and we recommend them all, but, like ice cream flavors and vacation options, the more the better.
Our goal is to fill a niche, to share our love for theater by offering fun and satisfying theater experiences for the entire family at extremely reasonable prices.
Elashvili: There is also a wealth of amazing acting talent in our city. It is a pleasure and an honor to work with these actors and give them an outlet for their gift: a stage and an audience.
Out of all of Shakespeare’s shows, what made you decide to direct As You Like It?
Trachtman: We wanted to do a comedy, and As You Like It spoke to us on many levels – not least of which being the intriguing character of Rosalind, one of Shakespeare’s most colorful heroines. We believe that both Rosalind as a character and the play as a whole have enormous comedic potential, which is oftentimes not fully explored. We were eager to present a heroine that an audience could both laugh at and fall in love with.
When did you first get involved in theater?
Trachtman: I first appeared on the stage and learned the ropes backstage 17 years ago with the Jerusalem English-Speaking Theater under Leah Stoller, and have been involved in dozens of productions with several theater groups since then.
But Shakespeare? Is the show really suitable for all ages?
Elashvili: Definitely! One of our primary motivations for bringing Shakespeare to a theater in Jerusalem is to expose children to the magic of his works, to break down the fear that is associated with his language, and show that even a child can understand and enjoy Shakespeare. Toward this end, we offer discounted tickets to children who can recite a Shakespeare quote at the door! We believe in getting them involved.
What makes your production of As You Like It unique?
Elashvili: In addition to telling a funny, light and entertaining story about a cross-dressing girl hoodwinking her love interest, the text provides so many singular opportunities for memorable and uproarious comedic moments that are often missed. Our main goal is to present lovable and relatable characters that make our audience laugh as much as we do.
What is your favorite Shakespearean comedy?
Trachtman: Macbeth!
Elashvili: For the last time, that’s not a comedy!
Trachtman: It is the way I direct it!
What is it like to direct/perform Shakespeare in this day and age when people have a hard time understanding his language?
Elashvili: While there is the occasional outdated reference, Shakespeare’s language is perfectly accessible to audiences of all ages, if delivered properly. People often think that if they do not understand every word, they cannot comprehend or appreciate a Shakespeare play, but that is not true. Most of Shakespeare’s text can be delivered in a way that even a five-year-old can understand. Conversely, it could also be delivered in a manner that even a Shakespearean scholar would have trouble deciphering.
It is the job of the actor/director to find the optimal, most natural way to present the text for the audience’s understanding and enjoyment. This is why we both strongly believe that there is value in seeing Shakespeare’s plays, not just reading them.
If you are looking for a compelling and pleasurable theater experience, there’s a lot to like about JPT’s high-energy production As You Like It.
June 19, 20, 21 and 26 at the Khan Theater. Tickets are available at or (02) 630-3600.