Women take the plunge

From the beatbox to the mikve, at the Holon Theater’s Woman International Festival.

Mikve  (photo credit: MEIR ARAZI)
(photo credit: MEIR ARAZI)
I t is a moot point that, even in this postmodern PC-sensitive world of ours, the Woman International Festival is taking place at Holon Theater for the 18th time (March 6-8).
The need to champion the female side of artistic and cultural endeavor aside, festival artistic director Sigal Weissbein-Rozman has lined up an impressive program of entertainment and intriguing items for the general public.
Each year, political shenanigans permitting, the festival features a big gun from pastures foreign, and this year’s big draw from abroad is the high energy, all-female Boxettes a cappella group from Britain, which includes beatbox world champion Bellatrix.
There is plenty of quality homegrown entertainment lined up for us, with one of the more emotive slots in the program feeding off some recently discovered work by poet Dahlia Ravikovitch, who died in 2005.
The Israel Prize recipient’s previously unknown poems have been put to music and will be performed, in a show called Warm Memories, by a glittering array of seasoned artists such as Yehudit Ravitz, Yoni Rechter, Shem Tov Levy and Yael Deckelbaum.
The show will be emceed by TV personality Kobi Meydan, and will be broadcast live on Army Radio.
There will also be a powerful blast from this country’s musical past, courtesy of Aya Korem, Raz Shmueli and Yisraela Asgo, who will team up as the Shalosharot threesome, to perform songs popularized by some of the great trios in Israeli pop and rock history, including The High Windows, Gesher Hayarkon, Hashlosharim and Chocolate Menta Mastik.
On the non-musical side of the Woman International Festival proceedings, veteran actress and comedienne Miki Kam will present her latest comic offering Miki.com, while the theatrical entertainment includes the premiere of The Women of Bashevis Singer, directed by Pnina Geri, about the female personalities in the late Nobel Prize-winning author’s life. Meanwhile, the Holon Theater’s Acting Studio will perform a new rendition of Mikve, a stirring and thought-provoking work by Hadar Galron.
Galron’s work touches on some of the most contentious areas in the Jewish way of life, including the gender divide and social taboos. The play, as the title suggests, centers on activity and discourse that take place at a neighborhood ritual bathhouse. Various women come to the mikve each month to bathe and, by the by, engage in gossip and conversation on all manner of topics, from seemingly inviolable religious principles to chitchat that borders on the downright scandalous. Five of the eight-member cast of the show come from the Holon Theater’s Acting Studio, augmented by two graduates of the program and guest actress Yuval Pelach; director Eran Laor teaches at the acting studio.
The characters in the play cover a very wide spread of opinion, and religious and individual outlook on life. “The older bathhouse attendant [55-year-old Shoshana-Devora] represents conservative thinking, and the younger attendant [35-yearold Shira] is the more liberal one,” explains Laor. “That is one of the main axes of the play – the collision between these two forces.”
There is a fascinating seesaw exchange between Shoshana-Devora and Shira throughout the play, with the former doing her best to lay down the law, while Shira oscillates between toeing the religious line and suggesting her older colleague take a more relaxed, and humane, approach to her work and to the women she serves.
As the story line unravels, we gradually become aware of some dark confidences hidden behind the fragile but steadfast veil of religious respectability. “Each woman who comes to the mikve has some sort of secret,” continues Laor.
“Each woman has to cope with her secret in the face of all kinds of social pressures. It is a society that is full of prohibitions. Everyone keeps her secret hidden and that engenders a feeling of fear – fear that they may inadvertently disclose something, or that they will be found out.”
There are also some open secrets, which are there for all to see but are carefully skirted around. No one, for example, dares to make too much of the fact that Hedva, a woman in her mid-40s who is married to one of the most respected figures in the community, comes to the mikve each month sporting new bruises on her face and body. “That is an open secret, but it also a secret of the whole of society,” notes Laor, adding that while the hush-hush ethos is inherently unhealthy, it also creates a bond between the bathers.
“It generates unity between the women, which gradually increases while all sorts of secrets emerge, and that creates a sort of snowball effect which, slowly but surely, opens up cracks which enable the women to talk about the things they have kept bottled up inside for so long.”
The character spread stretches from ultra-Orthodox women, to a secular woman who makes her living as a pop singer and only goes to the mikve to please her newly observant husband. The diversity of the personalities and levels of religious observance lead to some dynamic and highly engaging exchanges. The conversations traverse expansive topical and emotional ground, and all kinds of subjects and facets of life float to the surface. There is tragedy, high drama and hilarious comedy in Mikve, and it is a thoroughly absorbing work that leaves the spectator with plenty to think about.
The Woman’s Festival program also features discussion panels on a wide range of topics, including female cultural frontier pushers, architecture and genders issues in society. And there will some aesthetic elements, too, including the “Horses of My Dreams” photography exhibition by Avital Palaci Peleg of portraits of well-known actors caught at intimate junctures of their working life, while students of the Seminar Hakibbutzim’s Stage Design Department will exhibit costumes and mannequins of characters and actors from various plays.
For more information: (03) 502- 3001/3 and www.hth.co.il