Be a clown

Dramatic actor Sasson Gabai takes on a rare comedic role in Moliere’s ‘The Imaginary Invalid.’

Clown 370 (photo credit: Einav Shemer)
Clown 370
(photo credit: Einav Shemer)
Sasson Gabai is one of our finest actors. His increasingly chiseled features have graced many of our dramas and thrillers on the small and large screens and on theater stages up and down the country on a regular basis. He has been rewarded for his efforts with critical acclaim, a devoted following and a slew of prizes here and abroad, including a European Film Award in 2007 and an Ofir Award, our equivalent of the Oscars.
However, 64-year-old Gabai has largely plied his craft on the serious side of the entertainment tracks, notably in his role as a troubled tough attorney in mid-1990s TV series Sitton and as the eponymous character in The Kastner Trial, although there was a glimpse of his lighter side in his part as an assassin in Ari Folman’s 2001 comedy thriller Made in Israel.
Gabai’s forthcoming synergy with the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra (JBO) in Molière’s The Imaginary Invalid, set to music by 17th-century French composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier, represents something of a startling departure from his regular line of work. The JBO and Gabai will put on three shows of the play in Herzliya, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv between March 26 and March 28.
The performances will be overseen by frequent JBO British guest conductor Andrew Parrott, and the vocal lineup includes sopranos Anat Edri and Carmit Nathan; tenors Lior Lavid, David Nortman and Tal Koch; and bass Guy Pelc.
The Imaginary Invalid, in French Le malade imaginaire, is a three-act comédie-ballet by French playwright Molière. It was first performed in 1673 and was the last work Molière wrote. By a strange twist of fate, Molière collapsed during his fourth performance in the role of Argan and died soon after. The original play included dance sequences and musical interludes that Charpentier composed.
Apparently, the JBO had been after Gabai’s services for some time. “The orchestra contacted me a number of times about taking part in one of its musical events,” says the actor. “It was mostly something along the lines of a sort of emcee role, something like telling the story of the music, that sort of thing. When they talked to me about doing something with The Imaginary Invalid production, I agreed.”
In the event, Gabai found he had let himself in for more than he’d expected. “There is a clown character that I have taken on, and there are some filler passages that I do, which I also decided to portray as a clown, and three short monologues. But, I thought, if I’m in, I’m in and I go with the flow.”
The new comedic role got Gabai rummaging through his bag of props. “I got out a mask I used when I was with the Khan Theater [in the 1970s], and I’ll use that for the JBO shows,” says the actor, adding that he has had to muster his powers of inventiveness and offstage improvisational skills for the new job. “I had to create the character on my own, and I made my own costume, too. I would have been happier had there been more in the way of funding for this production but, in a way, putting so much of myself into this makes the work even more satisfying.”
In fact, he has had some help from the JBO and from its conductor and harpsichord player David Shemer.
“David and I have worked on this, and the orchestra is doing everything to make the show a success. I wanted to give my role some theatrical color, even though it is not basically theatrical. The intervals I fill between the music are pretty short, but they are an important part of the show,” he explains.
Gabai says that performing with the JBO offers him some welcome respite from his regular acting roles.
“I always play these dramatic and tragic figures in cinema and TV, and even more so in recent years. It’s been a long time since I have had the opportunity to play around with a mask and play a lighter, freespirited role. I thought it would be an opportunity to play something refreshing and, once I understood what this was all about, I dived head first into it. I feel that I ended up doing this with the JBO almost without meaning to, but I am having a good time working on it,” he says.
Serious acting parts notwithstanding, with Gabai’s striking weathered features, it is not too difficult to imagine him clowning on around a stage.
“Thank you, that is a great compliment,” he says. “To play a clown, you have to be a really good actor. If you can play a clown, you can also do dramatic parts. It is much more difficult to be a clown than do drama.”
Ultimately, Gabai is looking to leave the audience and himself with smiles on their faces.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy three shows with a lighter spirit,” he says. “I hope the audience has fun, too.”
The JBO will perform The Imaginary Invalid at the Herzliya Art Hall on March 26 at 8 p.m; the Jerusalem Theatre on March 27 at 8 p.m; and the Einav Cultural Center in Tel Aviv on March 28 at 8 p.m.
For tickets and more information: Herzliya 1-700-70-29-29; Jerusalem (02) 560-5755; Tel Aviv (03) 546- 6228.