Laughing with Levin

A tribute to Israel’s preeminent playwright comes in the form of ‘Oh Elias, Elias!’

Moni Moshov, Dror Keren and Lillian Barreto star in a salute to Levin during what would have been his 70th year. (photo credit: Lillian Barreto Collection)
Moni Moshov, Dror Keren and Lillian Barreto star in a salute to Levin during what would have been his 70th year.
(photo credit: Lillian Barreto Collection)
Hanoch Levin is considered by many to be our preeminent playwright. Levin, who died in 1999 at the age of 55, would have turned 70 on December 18.
The milestone anniversary provided Moni Moshonov, Dror Keren and Lilian Barreto with a pretext for getting the Oh Elias, Elias! show on the road, as a tribute to Levin’s work and genius.
All three actors have professional Levin synergies in their résumés, and had a close off-stage relationship with him, Barreto more than the others.
She was Levin’s life partner during his last four years and, naturally, knew both the man and his oeuvre better than most.
For all three actors, Oh Elias, Elias! offers an opportunity to not only to salute Levin the man and the professional who left an indelible mark on the lives and consciousness of so many thespians and theater lovers, but also to get his work out there to previously unmined cultural and social hinterlands.
To date, performances have taken place in Tel Aviv, Ashdod and Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem, with another slot lined up for Tzavta in Tel Aviv on January 26.
In Barreto’s case one might have thought that, long years of acting experience notwithstanding, emotional baggage could have impacted on her efforts to maintain a purely professional approach to the new show.
“No, that did not happen,” she declares. “Over the years I received many offers to do something with Hanoch’s material, and I always turned them down for that very reason.
“But many years have gone by, and I have accumulated enough professional experience now to be able to perform Hanoch’s work on stage. I have engaged in his plays and other materials for a long, long time now. I came to this production ready to handle it, and from a very relaxed standpoint. Moni, Dror and I chose the material for the show in a purely professional way.”
Levin is probably best known for his politically and socially challenging creations, such as Queen of the Bathtub, which flew in the face of the euphoria that swept Israel in the wake of the Six Day War, and took a stridently caustic line on national pride in the victory on the battlefield.
“Oh Elias, Elias! comprises all kinds of material that Hanoch wrote, including excerpts from his plays,” explains Moshonov. “The idea was to put on a show that anyone can enjoy, and not scare people away with some of Hanoch’s tougher stuff. There is the idea that Hanoch was scary or heavy, but there is a side of Hanoch which is hysterically funny. “ Oh Elias, Elias! is patently designed not to ruffle any feathers. It is a joyous celebration of Levin’s entertaining and comic side, with sketches and musical numbers, which all three proponents feel are eminently accessible and palatable for all and sundry. The proof has, indeed, been found in the pudding.
“We want to take the show all over the country, to periphery regions, and not just perform in the main towns,” says Keren, adding that the Ashdod show provided the necessary collateral for that mind-set.
“We performed in the municipal library there, and the place was packed. People stayed on after the show to talk to us, and we got loads of wonderful responses on Facebook. It was a great experience for us.”
“Yes, it was great,” c o n c u r s Barreto. “It was a really stormy day outside and we thought we’d maybe get 70 people. A hundred and twenty people came and packed the place.”
Moshonov, Keren and Barreto have put their all into the show, and it is clearly a labor of love for them.
“We are not looking to get rich on this,” says Moshonov, with blatant understatement. “The audience responses have been wonderful and heartwarming, particularly because this is an independent production.
We planned this, edited the material, produced and directed the show and even made the scenery ourselves. We want to get Hanoch’s material out there to as many people as possible, and I believe we will succeed.”
Moshonov says that in addition to disseminating Levin’s word, the show is something of a breath of fresh air for all three actors.
“I believe that in order to survive in the acting profession, and to maintain a high artistic level and not just to entertain, you have to make constant changes in your work, and not to take the easy way out. Personal initiative is the best and most important thing for your work.”
Barreto says that she never tires of Levin’s material, and that his oeuvre has a rare timeless quality to it.
“We rehearsed for the show over the space of four months and went over the sketches many times, and of course I am intimately familiar with all Hanoch’s work. But we always discovered some new element, some surprising color or new level of appreciating and understanding the texts as an actor. Audiences get that too.”
Keren adds that Levin’s work also appeals to people from right across the cultural board. “I have performed in Hanoch’s plays all over the world, in the Far East and Europe, everywhere. And everywhere we went the audiences responded enthusiastically to what they got from us. There is a special magic and basic humaneness to Hanoch’s work.”
This is not the first time Barreto has performed her late partner’s material, and she says she received her initial push in the direction of Oh Elias, Elias! a couple of years ago at a library in Ramle.
“That was the first time I’d ever performed something by Hanoch, I think it was also with [pianistvocalists] Yoni Rechter and Shlomi Shaban, and the show worked so well. That was a powerful and formative moment for me.”
Moshonov says he is keen to convey the eclectic and down-to-earth qualities of Levin’s work. “Hanoch had a unique perspective on life and human relationships – similar to [famed playwright Anton] Chekhov.
He used street-level language and higher forms of language, and his own special expressions. We also included new material by Hanoch which has never been performed before, and perform some of his songs, like ‘Ma Ichpat Letzipor?’ (‘What does the bird care?’), in a new way. People who don’t even know Hanoch’s work come to our shows and have a good time.”
“We see people leaving the show with a smile on their face,” notes Keren. “That is reward enough for us, and I think Hanoch would have liked that.”
For tickets and more information: (03) 695-0156 and