Bertolt Brecht Has Something to Say to a Modern Israel Audience

Itay Tiran as Mack the Knife is superb in this sociopolitical protest play.

Michael Handelzalts
Michael Handelzalts
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A scene from the Cameri production of 'The Threepenny Opera.'
A scene from the Cameri production of 'The Threepenny Opera.'Credit: Courtesy
Michael Handelzalts
Michael Handelzalts

Yes, you can think of “The Threepenny Opera” as fine escapist entertainment: Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s musical theater creation that emerged from Germany in 1928, when it was still okay to admire German culture, and the plot is set in London in the last part of the 19th century. So you can just sit back in your seat and enjoy.

For what does it have to do with us – this story about two military men who together oppressed and massacred unknown tribes in occupied territory, with one going on to become a corrupt police commander and the other a ruthless gangster. Their friendship from army days still ties them together and they eat out of each other’s hands. And then there are the tycoons who have figured out how to earn a handsome living by making exploitation of poverty into a booming business; and the prostitutes who sell love and the men they love to the highest bidder. There’s the sex drive, which sets much of the action rolling, and the gangster who gets mixed up with the police commander’s daughter and the daughter of the beggars’ tycoon. And the whole thing is a very well-oiled machine, with everyone living off everyone else, while rumbling beneath the surface is a grinding poverty that threatens to erupt in violence over the high cost of living combined with a lack of hope amid such massive and brazen corruption.

It’s a world in which everyone has already tasted from the Tree of Good and Evil, and no one has any idea anymore what’s good and what’s evil, and for whom and when. And you can actually live quite well and enjoy very skillfully executed theater and be entertained, if you know how to play along – if you can ignore the poverty and forget that it’s not the little guppies devouring each other who are responsible, but rather the corrupt leaders above who exploit all this in order to stay in power. Anyway, none of this has anything to do with Israel 2015.

And that’s what is so splendid about this delectable Cameri production directed by Gilad Kimchi: It’s first of all that work by Bertolt Brecht, in a new translation, with just the right words by Dori Parnas, and with a marvelous musical adaptation (musical director: Amir Lekner; conductor: Roy Oppenheim), with the musicians seated onstage on scaffolding – which is transformed as needed into the bars of a prison, a brothel, and a fleabag hotel (set design: Eran Atzmon). And it all happens on a big theater stage, with spectacular lighting (lighting design: Avi Yona Bueno), and all of it is infused with the wonderful energy of everyone onstage, and enhanced by terrific singing and dancing (Kimchi is also responsible for the choreography, together with Nadav Zelner).

Magnificent concert

And I haven’t even praised the wonderful cast yet, comprised of the old and young guard: the marvelous Yossi Garber in three roles; and Gadi Yagil, who just keeps getting better and better with each role, as Mr. Peachum; and Irit Kaplan who is irrepressible as Mrs. Peachum; and Helena Yaralova as the enchanting Jenny; and Tehiya Danon as Dolly; and Simha Barbiro who brings the police chief “Tiger” Brown to vivid life; and Mack’s two young admirers, Kineret Limoni as Lucy and Merav Shirom as Polly. Well, I’m going to go ahead and name the rest of the cast, too, since they are all part of this magnificent concert: Tal Weiss, Gilad Shmueli, Eran Mor, Gil Weinberg, Eran Sarel, Bat-El Papura, Roni Sheindorf and Anastasia Fein. They all act and dance and sing and clearly understand every single word and syllable (vocal coach: Doki Atzmon).

Finally, there is Itay Tiran as Mack the Knife, who as a character is always a self-aware actor who contrives the plot, and at times looks like Richard III in another century. A large portion of this cast has hovered around Tiran in other Cameri productions – the Richards, “Little Man, What Now?” and “Cyrano” (translated by Parnas and directed by Kimchi). So shall I write yet again that Tiran is a stupendous actor? I guess I will, for he is here once more.

What makes this production special is that it is sheer brilliant and captivating theater first of all, but at the same time it’s also a sociopolitical play that has something to say to and about the modern Israeli audience, and thus some of the songs are sung/hurled directly at the audience (at the end of the first act). Which is why this is superb political theater – because it is superb theater first of all.

My only sad thought, though, was that while I was sitting in the Cameri Theater and happily enjoying the glorious and entertaining corruption depicted on stage – and also grasping its indirect political message – I was also being bad, for I was ignoring the injustices of the reality in which I live and haven’t demanded a reckoning from the corrupt ones at the top. But only when one blurs the distinction between good and evil can one escape the hangman’s noose, apparently, with an arbitrary plot decision.

The Cameri Theater presents The Threepenny Opera” by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill on August 3-8. Monday-Thursday at 20.30; Friday at 12.00 and 21.00; Saturday at 17.00 and 21.00. Russian or English subtitles. Details: