A man of words

Shakespeare’s works have been translated and performed in numerous languages, generally to great and convincing effect.

Dori Engel (photo credit: GERARD ALLON)
Dori Engel
(photo credit: GERARD ALLON)
William Shakespeare was the most universal of playwrights on all kinds of levels. While he is revered by academics the world over, he is also lauded for addressing “the common man,” and performances of his works at the fabled Globe Theatre in London four centuries ago were attended by landed gentry and proletariats alike.
Shakespeare’s works have been translated and performed in numerous languages, generally to great and convincing effect. Indeed, a couple of years or so ago the Cameri Theater ran a highly successful Shakespeare Festival with productions in Romanian, Polish and Slovenian, all of which went over very well.
But, of course, there is nothing like performing a work in the language in which it was originally written, especially when the creator in question is a master of the idiom, and so adept at sculpting expressions of subtle and gripping natures alike.
The forthcoming Teatronetto Festival, an annual solo show vehicle that has been doing good business for 27 years in these parts, will take place in Acre (April 12 to 14) and Jaffa (April 13 to 15).
The wide range of performances on offer will address the theme of madness and how society as a whole relates to characters who are deemed to be beyond the pale of acceptability.
If your Hebrew is not quite up to scratch, you might like to get yourself over to Jaffa Theater on April 14 (4 p.m.) when Dori Engel will unfurl a colorful roster of Shakespearean roles in his English- language show Now I Am Alone.
The show is the result of a collaborative endeavor between the Israeli actor and British director Nick Hutchison, an expert on the works of the Bard who came here recently to direct a Shakespeare compilation and present some workshops.
Now I Am Alone takes in a fascinating gallery of types – from the exiled king to the village idiot and the refugee. All are social outcasts and all, it appears, have something to say about society and human nature.
This is clearly a non-A lister roll call that promises to offer a left-field take on life and to shed light on how Shakespeare himself viewed his sociopolitical milieu.
“Shakespeare addressed all levels of society,” says Engel.
“His plays cover deep philosophical issues, aristocratic characters and the simple man – the farmer, servants, with dirty jokes and slapstick and all that stuff.”
Sounds like the Monty Python of the 17th century.
“You could say that,” Engel concurs.
While it was a rare boon for the local thespian community to have Hutchison over here for a while, Engel also brings more than a whiff of the source culture and mind-set. After completing an honors bachelor’s degree in acting at Tel Aviv University, Engel furthered his grasp on the art form by participating in the Acting Shakespeare program of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He has previous experience in the onstage field, directing and playing in a fun Shakespeare- based work by the name of Youth & Will, at the prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival, as well as playing the role of Prince Hal in Falstaff & Son – which is inspired by Shakespeare’s Henry IV – at the RADA Festival.
Engel says there is no shortage of “oddballs” in the Bard’s oeuvre.
“In many of his plays you can find a character who is an outsider. You have an exiled king – Richard II – who is now shut away from society, in jail, and you have Richard III, who is physically disabled, feels hatred and wants to take over the whole world. You have Edgar from King Lear, who disguises himself as a beggar in order to save his own life, and, of course, you have the character who presents himself as a madman, so he can tell his own truth.”
That is a diverse bunch of figures who, Engels feels, all share common ground and are all exploited by the writer to serve a premeditated purpose.
“It’s probably not by chance that Shakespeare repeatedly addressed these outsiders.
It gives him an artist’s angle on society, with an element of irony thrown in.”
There was no small amount of social comment in there, and it seems Shakespeare was not averse to dropping the odd barbed observation about some leading figure of the day.
“He was loved by all classes of society, yet he knew how to insinuate his messages for people from all walks of life. He was also happy to do satire – political satire – including fierce criticism of society – although he never spelled it out. For example, he’d refer to the War of the Roses, which happened earlier in history [based on Shakespeare’s first historical tetralogy – the three Henry VI plays and Richard III], to say something political.”
Like many of his professional counterparts, Engel was drawn to Shakespeare’s output, and was keen to get some firsthand experience when the opportunity presented itself.
“I decided I needed to learn from the greats,” he explains. “I had to study Shakespeare at RADA. I was fortunate enough to be accepted for a program that takes actors from all over the world, with the best teachers. It was there that I fell in love with Shakespeare in the source language.”
While there have been some commendable efforts at translating Shakespeare into Hebrew by poet Shaul Tchernikowsky and more recently by musician and translator Dori Parnass, Engel was keen to sample the iconic playwright’s works unfiltered.
“Shakespeare’s works are not just about the content. It is about the rhetoric, and what he did with the words. It is really music.
And to study that with those teachers [at RADA] who know how to teach voice, text and style – what you’d call classical training, which you don’t really get in Israel – that comes from the tradition to have in England. That is priceless.”
One of the aforementioned coaches was none other than Hutchison.
Today, Shakespeare’s writings are reverently studied and performed, and are quite rightly looked up to as classic literary masterpieces. However, according to Engel, the playwright was all for introducing the odd spot of slang into his penmanship, and even adding to the vocabulary of the day.
“There are quite a lot of words in English, today, that Shakespeare invented himself. He had quite a substantial impact on how people wrote – although not that many people wrote back then – and how people spoke.”
Amazingly, it appears the Bard introduced close to 2,000 words into what is now common English usage. Imagine, of you will, where we would be without such common or garden words as grovel, blanket, bedroom, gossip, tranquil, luggage and eyeball. All are Shakespeare originals.
Now I Am Alone offers what should be a rare opportunity to catch some Shakespearean gems in the mamaloshen.
Elsewhere in the Teatronetto lineup – if your Hebrew is up to speed – you can catch Subhi Hosri’s rendition of Obsession, which looks at the fine dividing line between logic and madness, get some insight into a traumatized girl’s innermost thought and feelings in Rachel Shalita’s Back River, acted by Daniel Gartman, and how the disappearance of a gay teenager affects a whole town, in The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey by American writer James Lecesne.
For tickets and more information: www.run-art.co.il, and (09) 894-5957.