Home is where…

Examining personal and cultural identity.

‘There’s No Place Like’ (photo credit: EVA TAPIERO)
‘There’s No Place Like’
(photo credit: EVA TAPIERO)
Migration has been around probably as long as humanity.
The Hebrews got in on the act, back in Jacob’s time, when the climate became unfavorable for farmers in these parts, and people have been ebbing and flowing for a variety of reasons – often not very positive ones – from time immemorial.
And with the refugee crisis in Europe still sadly in full flow, a play that examines aspects of cultural and personal identity appears to be as relevant as anything you are likely to see on the stage, anywhere. The seemingly truncated title of the play, There’s No Place Like, addresses that very topic, and will attempt to entertain and enlighten audiences at the Arab-Hebrew Theater in Jaffa on March 5 (9 p.m.) and March 6 (7 p.m. and 9 p.m.).
The work, in English, was written by Lilach Yosiphon, who also makes up half of the cast, and will perform alongside Sam Elwin. Both are members of the Althea Theater company, an emerging international ensemble made up of 11 British and non-British actors who write and devise original theater.
Over the last three-and-a-half years, the 28-year-old Israeli-born Yosiphon has spent much of her time in the UK, studying and working, but she is back here for a variety of reasons. One of the main purposes behind her current Middle Eastern sojourn is to facilitate the appearance of her play here, after doing the rounds of some of the leading venues in Britain, including London’s West End and the Brighton Fringe Festival, as well as a highly successful run in Paris.
The play tells the tale of – unsurprisingly – an Israeli teacher named Hannah who moves to the UK and ends up working in a pub. That is almost a carbon copy of the way things panned out for Yosiphon, who worked here for six years as a theater teacher before making ends meet in London in a bar.
In There’s No Place Like Hannah meets a down-at-heels character named Jordan whose mother has recently died.
He is also newly unemployed and is pondering his next move.
How much of the female character’s role is autobiographical? Are Yosiphon’s emotions divided? Does she long to be here when she is in London and, now that she’s back here, does she miss the hustle and bustle of the British metropolis and the largely gray skies? The writer-actor feels the neat split-identity epithet does not quite fit the bill. “I wish I could define identity and a whole that only divides into two halves. I experience my identity as being far more fragmentary and as something which incorporates many more parts. On the one hand I see myself as an Israeli and as a woman and a Jew, who lives in London and creates theater that combines quite a few cultures that may not necessarily be British.
And this multicultural approach spawns a new wholeness.”
Having a “new wholeness” may sound a like a return to a tidy comfort zone, but the truth of the matter is that every nascent entity undergoes a constant process of metamorphosis, to some degree or other. That, says Yosiphon, is the product of a subjective take on life.
“This new wholeness is constantly being redefined. There is quote which we, in the [Althea] ensemble, are constantly quoting, which comes from the Talmud,” explains Yosiphon. “It says that we don’t see things the way they are, we see things the way we are.”
The “we” can, of course, add up to more than the sum of the parts, and that is one of the company’s primary guiding lights.
“In the ensemble we are always looking to stretch the approach that falls under the category of ‘we,’” the writer- actor explains. The thespians also look to feed off energies and mind-sets from further afield. “Each time we encounter an audience, the aim, in fact, is to bring the distant closer to us and also to achieve a larger ‘we.’” That synergy naturally offers greater opportunities for growth when the parties concerned comprise a wider cultural and social hinterland. That can happen when the company goes on the road, and particularly when the story line of the performance resonates strongly with the spectators.
“I am so happy we are managing to bring the play to Israel,” remarks Yosiphon, adding that the actors also get a lot out of visiting foreign climes, and can sometimes find them to be more familiar than they might have expected.
For Yosiphon the forthcoming twodate berth in Jaffa offers an opportunity to check out where she is today with her cultural baggage. She is clearly happy to live in London, but she is also very much aware of her cultural roots.
“This is a play about an Israeli woman who lives abroad, for whom the topic of home raises all kinds of questions, including issues relating to a sense of belonging. The way I see the play, I am talking about my Israeliness in London, and bringing the play here is part of a process which is crucial to British society but also to Israeli society.”
Anyone reading the name of the play will, no doubt, have a knee-jerk impulse to add the word “home” at the end. But “home” can mean different things to different people. Half a century or so ago, soul singer Marvin Gaye sang that wherever he laid his hat was home for him, while American radio comic Jane Sherwood Ace once wittily and sagely noted that “home wasn’t built in a day.”
Yosiphon is very much aware of the process-building element involved in developing one’s emotional and physical base.
“Home, for me as an artist, is the ability to talk about the place from which I come, and about the reality today about where I am today.”
Having such a fluid state of affairs as the basis for what one calls “home” must take some guts. According to that ethos the only stable thing about home is its instability, the fact that it is in a state of constant change. Then again, isn’t that what being an artist is all about? When artists finds a comfort zone, possibly in the wake of having a hit production or song, they may find themselves inexorably attracted by the idea of clinging to that success and trying to replicate it. Once they do that, they lose the creative thread.
There doesn’t appear to be much danger of the London-based Israeli losing the artistic plot. “We are now bringing the show to Israel, and it will look at all kinds of things, like how Israelis here relate to Israelis who live abroad, how the British are viewed here. We are very excited, and a little apprehensive but mostly excited, about how the audiences here will respond to the play,” says Yosiphon.
The play is more than likely to leave the spectators with something to mull over, and they will be able to express some of their own observations and thoughts in a post-performance chat with the actors.
“The play evolves each time we perform it, with the energies we get from the audiences,” notes Yosiphon. “It will be interesting to see what happens here.”
For tickets and more information: (03) 518-5563 and www.arab-hebrew-theatre.org.il