I’m not Purim, and I’m not happy, to contradict the hoary kids’ song, but two of my grandchildren came to stay with me over the holiday. Since I harbor well-placed doubts about my abilities to keep them entertained on my own (it’s the way of the world; grandchildren always amuse their grandfather, but seldom, if ever, is the reverse true), I decided to take them to a children’s play.
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Not without reservations. More than 30 years ago, when my own children were of that age, I dragged them from theater to theater, and once I asked them to express their opinion of a show on Army Radio. I don’t think they’ve ever forgiven me for that, and occasionally I notice a tic-like grimace passing over their faces when I mention the word “theater.” But, I said to myself, maybe one time wouldn’t hurt the grandkids.
Choosing a show wasn’t easy, since as usual I left it until late and there weren’t many options remaining. I went with “Sipur-Siyyur” (“Story-Tour”). There wasn’t much information on Habima’s website (as in, none), but from the title and a scan of the Internet I inferred that it was a story that actors (young ones, I assumed) tell to children and a tour of the stage and backstage. How bad could it be, I said to myself, and turned to the task of obtaining places for the kids and two adults. (I don’t trust myself to handle two children on my own.)
I hadn’t planned on it being a work event, so I intended to purchase the tickets. I must commend the national theater company for providing a pair of complimentary tickets plus two additional tickets at a cost of 35 shekels (around $10) each. And so we, the two young ones (aged four and six) and the two oldtimers (myself and my helpmeet) reported to the lobby of Habima before 10 A.M. There were lots of children and adults in costume, waiting.
We were requested to turn our attention to the steps leading up to Rovina Hall, and slightly after the appointed hour a male and a female actor descended the staircase, carrying a chest. After inquiring later, we learned that they were Jessica Ouzen and Shlomi Bertonov, who under ordinary circumstances are part of the chorus in “My Fair Lady.” Bertonov was responsible for adapting “Hansel and Gretel,” in rhyme, for the “story” part of the story-tour. No one mentioned to the parents and children, at least not when I was present, that Shlomi is the great-grandson of Yehoshua Bertonov, one of the national theater’s leading lights in its glory days and the namesake of the theater’s Habimartef performance space, and the grandson of Shlomo Bertonov, who also was an actor in Habima. For me, that fact alone lent the event a theatrical charm.
Ouzen and Bertonov told the children — with the help of the chest, whose lid they hid behind while changing hats and wigs — the first part of the story, in which the stepmother throws Hansel and Gretel out of the house. They were likable and amusing, and above all I was impressed by the civilized way they handled the children in the audience. Volunteers were asked to hold branches for the forest scenes, and everyone was asked to make owl and wind sounds. There was none of that, “Children, we can’t hear you, didn’t you eat breakfast this morning?” of ordinary children’s shows. Instead, the children were encouraged, in a cultured manner, to participate.
For the second part of the story time (Habima has made it a permanent fixture, and on that day Ouzen and Bertonov had three performances in succession, without sufficient time in between, by my calculation), the storytellers brought the children and their parents to the main auditorium, named for Hannah Rovina. (That fact was transmitted to the children, but it didn’t seem to make an impression on them). There, with the scenery of Covent Garden from “My Fair Lady” in the background, the children and their parents gathered to hear the next part of the story.
The scary parts
That was pretty much where it ended for me, since my mobility restrictions left me in the last row of the auditorium, which is where I usually sit for plays. Next to me was a woman who had sent her children to the stage, in front, and was energetically arranging for deliveries of some sort, using two cellphones. Meanwhile, on the stage Bertonov pulled out of the chest a puppet (designed by Amira Pinkas), and the two continued with the story, before the eyes and ears of the children sitting on the stage and their parents (I think I was the only granddad in the audience), including the scary parts with their hints at cannibalism, the cruel incident in which Hansel and Gretel shove the witch into the oven and the moving end, when the children are reunited with their father, who had gotten rid of the stepmother.
Next came the active part of the show, in which the children were taken on a quick tour of backstage, the dressing rooms and the costume department, after which everyone returned to the stage and the kids were given the opportunity to play with props and costumes. From that point, however, my involvement in the event was purely symbolic. Not only was I not on the stage, and didn’t join the backstage tour (one mother with a walking disability, who at first was left behind in the back of the auditorium as I was, made a noteworthy effort to join her children in the wings), I didn’t get a chance to play with the wigs, hats and other props. My grandchildren announced that they’d had enough (“deathly boring,” the 6-year-old pronounced; I wonder where he gets that from ...) and requested, that is demanded, to go home. I hasten to point out that they were definitely in the minority. And I ask myself whether it’s the influence of the television and the tablet computer in their lives. I am quite certain they did not give “Story-Tour” a fair chance. From what I saw, there was no cause for complaint.