The Worst Show in Town

The new Habima theater space rises like a dam along the street, wityh walls that make all the surrounding buildings appear tiny, and a style that reminds us more of an industrial-zone shopping center than a theater ensconced within its urban environment.

When a show is received with booing from the crowd and is torn to bits by the critics, it is brought down, taken off the screen. This way at least some expenses are saved and the disappointment of all those affected - from the management to the actors, all the way to the general public - is expedited. But what can be done when the theater's building itself turns out to be both a fiasco at the bank and with the critics? Is there any power in the world that can remove it from the stage and replace it with something else?

This is the question that comes to mind at the sight of the travesty constructed in recent months at the national theater, Habima - or at least what has been built on the ruins of the previous structure: an enormous block of concrete, sealed by walls, rising like a dam along the street; walls that make all the surrounding buildings appear tiny, including the adjacent Mann Auditorium; a building which in its clumsy style reminds us more of an industrial-zone shopping center than a theater ensconced within its urban environment.

When every city resident wanting to expand a window or close off a balcony must go through the purgatory of municipal red tape, it is puzzling that such a brutal, environment-altering structure could have emerged in such an attractive part of central Tel Aviv. The planning was done without any public input, without a broad competition among architects, and with almost no public debate until after facts were already established on the ground.

In a controversial process - without a tender, and contrary to the recommendations of the city engineer at the time - the theater's board chose from only two options. It was the proposal of Ram Karmi, an architect of substantial achievement and an Israel Prize laureate who has also been associated with a series of grandiose and stylistically brutal projects that have drawn broad public criticism. These included the New Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv, as well as a plan (which has been rejected in the meantime) to transform the Prime Minister's residence into something resembling a fortress.

Habima is a nonprofit organization that doesn't require a process of tenders, but did those running it not understand the difference between farce and tragedy? And how is it possible that the Tel Aviv municipality did not take a decisive stance on such a critical change to the city's appearance?

If it's possible to put aside the architectural issue as a matter of taste, it is not so when it involves the conduct that is part of the "overhaul" - a process by which the divide between the artistic needs and the structural plans continues to grow, the timetable is plagued by delays and the growth of the building itself symbolizes the growth in costs, now nearing NIS 100 million: three times more than the original budget.

All of these delays and costs would have been forgotten if the actors and the audience could look forward to returning to a friendly, inviting and beloved building. But that is doubtful, mostly when comparing the emerging Habima building with similar structures around the world, which are characterized by a lighter and more open style. It is too late to drive this dybbuk from Habima, but perhaps other institutions will learn a lesson from this show - on proportionality, haste and megalomania.