When the Israeli Theater Finally Tackles Rabin's Murder, the Result Is a Resounding 'Almost'

Commissioned to mark the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, 'Ten Minutes from Home' has good intentions, but the result is something of a blank.

Michael Handelzalts
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A scene from 'Ten Minutes from Home' by Maya Arad, commissioned by the Habima Theater.
A scene from 'Ten Minutes from Home.' Between pageant and homage. Credit: Gerard Allon
Michael Handelzalts

“Ten Minutes from Home,” by Maya Arad, was commissioned by the Habima Theater to mark the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. The play premiered on the date for which it was written: November 4, 2015. The plot unfolds exactly a year before the slaying, when it was announced that the Nobel Peace Prize would be awarded to Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat, and when Prime Minister Rabin had to decide how to respond to the kidnapping by Palestinians of a soldier, Nachshon Wachsman.

The play does not deal overtly with the incitement that preceded the assassination or with assigning blame for the inflammatory declarations. That is alluded to in screened segments and in protests by Rabin’s secretary (played by Ayelet Robinson, in a role that leaves her no choice but to display emotion and helplessness). She complains that the incitement is not being mentioned – though that elephant is present in the center of the stage.

The author tries to locate the point at which the hope for peace started to unravel, a year before three bullets took Rabin’s life. Anyone who lived through that period and comes to the play knowing why it was written and staged, cannot but be moved by the dramatic material.

It’s not by chance that Israeli theater has barely touched this subject in the two decades since Rabin was murdered. In the face of such a highly charged segment of reality, stage realism collapses. The characters that represent that “reality” are unavoidably schematic. A case in point is Nachshon Wachsman’s parents, with the mother as the focus of the pain and the emotion. Ruthi Landau as the mother does her best in a fragmented and almost impossible part while Aharon Almog in the role of the father is one of the few on the stage whose bewildered restraint touches a deeper nerve.

Unfortunately, the attempts to find a style that is not realistic, but also not a pageant-like declaration, are unsuccessful. Most of the stage activity takes place between the Rabin character and three women, bereaved mothers. Dov Reiser as Rabin tries to do the impossible in the part of this iconic, inexpressive, insular character, maneuvering between monologues and dialogues with figures from the world beyond. He lapses into excessive emotion – his strongest moment comes when his back is to the audience, waiting for reports. Razia Israeli, Riki Blich and Naama Armon play bereaved mothers: from the distant past (Rosa Rabin, Yitzhak’s mother), a closer past (soldiers who fell in the unit commanded by Rabin in 1948) and the future (Rachel Fraenkel, whose son was one of the teenagers kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank in June 2014).

No one answers

Like sorcerers, the three mothers inform Rabin, who is refusing to release terrorists to save Nachshon Wachsman, that in another 17 years they will be released in exchange for one captive soldier. “Who will release them?” Rabin asks, but no one answers. (Might this silence be interpreted as undermining state values, and thus liable to cost the theater its budget, according to the cultural doctrine that is now being foisted upon us?)

Nathan Ravitz is businesslike in the role of Rabin’s adviser and a Shin Bet security official, and Harel Murad plays a detained terrorist under interrogation.

The play is saturated with symbolism in the form of large gates opening and closing, and also has a prop in the form of army boots from which the bereaved mothers spill sand around Rabin’s chair. Between passages of emotion, in a production that moves between pageant and homage, Reiser declaims a hypothetical inner speech by Rabin about his refusal to envisage a future of fears for his children and grandchildren and his determination to fight for the hope of peace, if not for peace itself. This is an explicit allusion to the present government.

Rabin-Reiser utters the word “almost.” Indeed, in the runup to the assassination a sense of “almost” prevailed, which is why the distress in which we have been living since then (yes, I know: not everyone; but more than we think) is so crushing. But by the same token, this play is only “almost” a play. The intentions are good, and sincere, but the result leaves a gloomy sense of – to use Yigal Amir’s word immediately after the shooting – a theatrical blank.

The next performances of “Ten Minutes from Home” are on Nov. 21 and Dec. 3, at the Habima Theater in Tel Aviv.