After four and a half years of renovations, Habima Theater will finally return to its original home Monday night with a performance of Hanoch Levin's play "Morris Schimmel."
The revamped building was dedicated yesterday by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and the theater's director, Odelia Friedman, though the official gala opening will take place only in January. Huldai also gave journalists a tour of the building, which, he said, represented the fulfillment of a decade-old dream.
While acknowledging that the new design has come in for extensive criticism, Huldai praised architect Ram Karmi, saying: "In the end, this building will be a home for Habima and a theater for the people of Israel."
The project, originally budgeted at NIS 30 million, wound up costing NIS 105 million. Of this, the Tel Aviv Municipality chipped in NIS 57 million, while the rest came from the state.
But Huldai insisted the project had not overrun its original budget. Rather, he said, a decision had been made to expand the renovations beyond what was originally planned.
Regarding the theater's debts, Huldai said he hoped a solution would be found. Last week, Haaretz reported that Habima had signed a recovery plan with the government under which its NIS 18.5 million debt to the state would be erased, but it would have to repay all its other creditors within three months. Friedman said yesterday that this deadline would be met.
Tonight's play, which has just returned from a tour of Poland, will take place in the new theater's main hall, the Rovina Hall. Next week, on November 27, the smaller Meskin Hall will be inaugurated with a performance of Amos Oz's play, "The Same Sea." Gradually, the other two halls will be brought into use as well.
A visibly excited Friedman said that after years in which Habima had wandered from venue to venue throughout the country, "the time has come to go home."
Each of the four halls is a different size and color: Rovina, which is blue, seats 930 people; Meskin, in lavender, seats 320; Bertonov, in green, also known as the Bimertaf (literally, "Bima-cellar" ) seats 220; and Habima 4 (formerly known as Heineken ) is made of wood and seats 170. But unlike in the past, when each hall had a separate entrance from the outside, today, all are accessed via the main lobby. The lobby, painted white, with a marble floor and huge windows looking out onto the street, offers a contrast to the more intimate feel of the halls.
The Rovina Hall was built without an orchestra pit, even though Habima plans to stage musicals in the future. Friedman explained that the theater decided to forgo the pit because that gave it space for two additional halls. Instead of the pit, there is a separate musicians' room with all the necessary equipment. The audience will thus be able to hear the musicians but not see them.
The new Habima Theater forms one element of a larger complex to be known as Tel Aviv's Culture Square, which is modeled after New York's Lincoln Center. The complex also includes the renovated Mann Auditorium.