I've been regularly reviewing the theatre for nearly a year now. If you think that's a fun job, you must be frequenting the theatres of another country, Narnia, for example. I don't think there's anywhere in the world where going to the theatre isn't risky business. The odds are similar everywhere: out of 10 shows, one will actually be wonderful.
Oh, but how amazing that one show is! Theatre may let us down most of the time, but when it doesn't, it changes our lives more potently than any other art could. I was fortunate enough to kick off my career as a critic with one such show. It was the Norwegian National theatre's extremely minimalist interpertation of "an Enemy of the People". Things went downhill from there, steeply.
To my surprise I discovered myself to be a rather harsh theatre critic, (some of the reviews can be found here) much harsher than I have been when writing reviewes of classical concerts. There, at least, the works performed are masterpieces to begin with. In Israeli theatre, the reverance paid to "original drama" ignores the fact that this culture produced a mere handful of great playwrights, perhaps only one.
Playwrights are a rare commodity. Italian culture, for all its glory, produced only two whose names are strongly imprinted in the world's cultural memory: Goldoni in the 18th centuri and Pirandello in the 20th. What makes us think that scores of worthwhile dramatists are surrently living in Gush Dan? What makes us think that they should all be permitted to direct their own plays? Allow the playwrite to direct her or his piece, and you have yourself a show longer by at least 20% than it should be.
Nor do we do such an outstanding job when adopting foreign plays. I had the dubious honor to be mean over theatrical interpertation with both the established repertory theatres (calling the Kameri's Yentel "a fiddler that fell off the roof") and the struggling fringe companies (recently writing of Nikolai Erdman's "The Suicide" at Herzlia ensamble, that spent the duration of the entire show wishing he would just hurry up and do it.) I'm a long-legged man and for a while wondered wheather it was lack of legroom and claustrophobia at the theatres that made me so bitter. I asked for seats with legroom and recieved them. No improvement was registered.
Still, I find that when friends who aren't frequent theatre goers join me for performances, they leave even more upset than I am. Those who are not used to the stage don't understand what a gamble it is. They go expecting to enjoy themselves and are shocked when they aren't. I have come to learn: most shows will be hard to bear or at least mediochre, it's the way of the world, and yet they are still all worth attending for that tenth one, that life-transforming one.
A few of my "tenth" shows of recent months are still playing: "The Great Magic" by Eduardo de Filippo and "Scapin's Deceits" by Moliere, both at Jerusalem's Khan theatre, and Arthur Miller's "A View from the Bridge" at Tel-Aviv's Beit Lessin theatre. One great young fringe production, Ronnie Brodezky's "For she is real" dealing with Kibbutz life, is returning to the stage. Phenomenal theatre of cruely explosion "Abu Ubbu at the butchers' market" by East Jerusalem's Al-Hakawati ensamble is still performed here and there.
The best show I've seen this year was the four-hour-long "Shukshin Stories" by Moscow's Nations theatre. It is also the source of this post's only image. The troup only visited Israel for a week, but if any of you are in or around Moscow, trust me, it's worth every ruble.
All of these are worth running to, and as you run, shed a tear for me who did the legwork for ya'll. Sometimes I nearly surrender and let myself drouse, often I looked more intently at the exit signs than at the stage, but I knew that I have to stay strong. the review must go on.