Magazine article Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought

The Miracle of Russian-Israeli Theatre: From Alienation to Identity

Magazine article Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought

The Miracle of Russian-Israeli Theatre: From Alienation to Identity

Article excerpt

IN APRIL 1991, A FEW WEEKS AFTER THE FIRST GULF WAR, I was invited to see a Russian theatre show in Tel Aviv, as chair of a government committee that was allotting money to immigrant theatre groups. The members of the company all came to Israel with the giant wave of immigration from the crumbling Soviet Union, and I had already seen most of them perform: Excellent puppeteers, good choreographers, dancers, actors, each with his little show case and big dreams. But nothing prepared me for Gesher Theatre.

Gesher is one of the few bilingual theaters in the world, and stages every play with the same group of actors alternately in Hebrew and in Russian. It represents one of the outstanding examples of inter-cultural theatre, and indeed serves as a bridge for the new immigrants from Russia to Israel.

The birth of a theatre company is a rare event. Neither survival nor success were guaranteed to Gesher Theatre when it was founded in Israel in January 1991. In fact, rehearsals began during the Gulf War and neither the public nor the media showed much interest. But the energy and dedication on the stage had to do with survival as well as with art, and Gesher soon grabbed everybody's attention.

This very young theater, the brainchild of new immigrants from the former Soviet Union, has a unique artistic vision that combines the best traditions of Russian theater with an original and innovative approach. Their first production was Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (April 1991). It was performed in Tel Aviv in Russian, with simultaneous translation into Hebrew. An astounding success, the show was soon invited to represent Israeli Theater at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (NY, January 1992) where it was highly acclaimed by the public and critics alike.

Gesher has since become the main attraction in international theater festivals and has performed in Zurich, Basel, Avignon, Berlin, Manchester, Brighton, and London. The recent tours of the UK and Germany with Joshua Sobol's Village were both triumphs. The show met with an enthusiastic audience reception and rave reviews. City, adapted from I. Babel's "Odessa Stories" was successfully presented at the Lincoln Center in Washington DC and crowned the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Israel. Village and Adam Resurrected met with a warm reception at the Lincoln Center Festival '98 in New York.

Its influence on Israeli theatre is considerable, and a group of young Israeli actors joined the company in order to study its ways and ideas. With this group, Gesher 2, we hope to develop a special program for directors' training which is much needed in Israeli theatre today.

Gesher is supported by the Ministry of Education & Culture, Tel-Aviv Municipality, & Cellcom Israel.

Today Gesher's repertoire includes nine productions, all directed by Yevgeny Arye, its founding Artistic Director. They are:

           Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, by Tom Stoppard
           Dreyfus File, by Jean-Claude Grumberg
           Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Margalit Award for Best Play of
               1993)
           Adam Resurrected, by Alexander Chervinsky, based on the novel
               by Yoram Kaniuk
           The Lower Depths, by Maxim Gorky
           Tartuffe, by Moliere
           Village, by Joshua Sobol (Israeli Theatre Academy Award for
               Best Play of 1996)
           City (Odessa Stories), adapted from Isaac Babel
           Three Sisters, by Anton Chekhov
           Friends of Navot, by J. Shabtai
           The River, Ostrovsky (Without a Dowry)
           Intrigue & Love, Schiller (director: Leander Haussmann)
           Sea, after Goldoni (Chioggia) (2000)
           Mr. Brink (2001)
           A Midsummer Night's Dream (2002)
           The Slave, Bashevis Singer (2002)
           Shosha, Bashevis Singer (2003)
           Afterplay, Brian Friel (2004)

Gesher was unexpected in every way. …

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