Stage Animal

A Vindication That the Show Must Go On

A fine performance of Cyrano de Bergerac at the Cameri provided a welcome respite from rockets and an encouraging reminder of the power of theater.

Daniel Kaminsky

This is not an easy time for anyone, and that is an understatement. Cultural institutions, including theaters, report a sharp drop in attendance. After all, who is in the mood for cultural entertainment when day after day the bloody and despairing spectacle of our lives is being broadcast? I decided to buck the trend and be just a normal theatergoer..

The question was what to see. I knew in advance that there was nothing on stage that would reflect these times or provide any insight into them. Today’s original Israeli theater avoids the political reality (as opposed to the custom in the 1980s, for example) and tends to focus on the bourgeoisie experience, even if there is a flickering of political theater on the margins. But I also did not want to see my reality on the stage. I was looking for theatrical escapism and, if possible, not just entertainment but something cultural.

I had one other wish too: Since there are very few premieres anyway, I preferred to seek out a play that I had enjoyed before. I am not a masochist who wants to suffer a bad play for a second time. The choice fell — without any difficulty — on Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand, translated by Dori Parnes and directed by Gilad Kimchi. And who am I kidding? It was really the clear choice because it was being staged at the Cameri Theater, only a three-minute ride from my home on my little electric scooter. I am not just a Feinschmecker, I am also lazy.

It was not hard to justify the choice to myself: Let’s see how big an audience there is for a play written in the Nineteenth Century in France, whose story takes place in Paris of the Seventeenth Century, and is about a musketeer and poet with a very long nose, and his unrequited love for his beautiful cousin, who is in love with a handsome and stupid young man. Will the audience have the heart and mind to sit for three hours or more and hear a play in verse in Hebrew, about things that do not affect them at all.

If I expected to find a half empty theater — as the theater managers cried when they came begging for emergency aid from the treasury due to lost revenues during this emergency situation — then that was not what I saw. It was a completely sold out house brimming with employees of Israel Aerospace Industries, who filled the large hall at the Cameri (about 900 seats) almost completely. But alongside the happiness I felt over the full house, I nevertheless felt a doubt arise. I saw the play, in which the text is really the important thing, for the first time in the more intimate Cameri 2 hall. How would it work in this large hall? After all, I have already seen what happens to good plays (Richard III, for example) when they move from a small hall to a large one.

But first, the all-quiet alert siren. The play preserved its quality and has ripened so as to fill the large hall without losing its intimate quality. The theatrical spectacle was rewarded by the larger hall as if it grew into its dimensions. But that was not the most important thing: After the recorded announcement asking the audience to turn off their cell phones (and to my amazement I did not hear a single phone ring during the play, and I did not see anyone sending text messages either), Dudu Niv took to the stage wearing his costume — he plays the pastry chef Ragueneau, Cyrano’s friend with a love of poetry — and in a loving and calming tone he explained to the audience what to do in case of a siren warning of rockets (which never occurred).

And then the play started, and I confess it has been a long time since I have seen an audience so tense and alert to what was happening on the stage; an audience that reacted to emotions and words (not bellowing with laughter, but rather the laughter of understanding and enjoyment), and all this while they were riveted by the story — not from here and now, something unrealistic, artificial and from a ridiculous “realistic” viewpoint on love; and the words, the pride and panache — the same word that is impossible to translate – for which Cyrano lives. With Itai Tiran in the title role, the Cameri has played Cyrano 99 times already in Cameri halls 1 and 2 alternately -— in a production that is patently not commercial.

The audience from the IAI, gathered in the Cameri during the days of Operation Protective Edge, days of missiles and tunnels and our victims and theirs, understood and felt it. And that was a badge of honor for the audience, and for this play with its special characteristics, and also for the art of the theater itself, when it is performed faithfully and accurately. The audience’s tense listening to such a performance at such a time was in my eyes the finest proof that the show — the act of the play and the watching of it — truly must go on, for the sanity of all of us.

I have already written quite a bit about this play and its excellence. I will not repeat myself. I will only say that it has been preserved quite well, and it is done with charm and wisdom, combining entertaining and suspenseful events with moments of emotion. The scenery is done wisely too.

One of the nicest and most fascinating things in the performance is that despite the story and the characters, the essence is in the words. And this cast excels in its ability to handle the verse, much more than usual in Hebrew theater, and this is what makes most of the difference.

There were a number of good performances. I can happily note those of Dudu Niv and Yoav Levi (the Comte de Guiche), Kinneret Limoni (Roxane), Ido Rosenberg (the handsome Baron Christian de Neuvillette, and he truly fits the part), and Yossi Tzabari (in the role of the poet Ligniere). But the first among the many was Itai Tiran in the title role. I will not wax lyrically about his talent as an actor capable of playing diverse roles and his ability to change and renew from role to role. I just want to enthuse here about how he handles the text. It is not just that every word, letter and comma are clear; it is his ability to use his voice and the words to charm the audience, with full control in the service of the character and the plot that does not for a moment draw any attention to itself — and is nonetheless exciting.

Daniel Kaminsky