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Israeli Playwright in Boston This Month

Special to the Journal

Israeli playwright Joshua Sobol

Sponsored by Israeli Stage, noted Israeli playwright Joshua Sobol will be in the Boston area to present a series of lectures from March 20-31, with a world premiere of his new play to be performed on April 5. According to Guy Ben-Aharon, artistic director of Israeli stage, the 77 year old Sobol is “one of the most important voices in Israeli theater.”  He continues to create, according to Ben-Aharon, working in fringe theater as a matter of preference. “As a writer, he has a deep sense of political awareness,” said Ben-Aharon, “and his residency here is extremely timely because it addresses how theater can be a form of resistance.  He’s youthful, dynamic, funny, bold, and a provocateur.”

Author of many dramatic works, Sobol is perhaps best known for the so-called “Vilna Trilogy” and, in particular, its first part, “Ghetto,” set in Vilna, Lithuania during the darkest periods of World War II.  Based in fact, it focuses on the figure of Jakob Gens, the Jewish ghetto leader, fraught with ethical challenges, who tried to preserve the community by making it economically useful.  As a part of trying to normalize the lives of the inhabitants, he also founded a hugely popular theater in the ghetto.

“The play is about the function of theater as a means of spiritual resistance,” says Sobol. “It helped to raise the morale of the people, even though it was clear that the Nazi project was to exterminate the Jews.”

In the late 1980s, Sobol’s play “The Jerusalem Syndrome” called into question the wisdom of the Second Temple era armed revolt in Israel by the Zealots against the Romans.  The play created such a backlash in Israel that Sobol was forced to step down as artistic director of the Haifa Theater.

“There is a tendency in our collective history and subconscious towards self-destruction that manifests itself as zealotry and fanaticism,” Sobol continues.  “I feel that the same thing influences Israel today, which is why I wrote ‘The Jerusalem Syndrome.’  The result was a huge blow-up because the extreme right wing was opposed to that interpretation of our history.”

Jeremiah Kissel, a well-known Boston-based actor who recently gave command performances as Bernie Madoff in “Imagining Madoff” and as Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” at the New Repertory Theater, will perform with several other actors in a staged reading of a world premiere of the brand new Joshua Sobol play “David.King” directed by Guy Ben-Aharon, at Wellesley College on April 5.

“David. King,” according to Sobol, is based on the biblical story of David and Saul and reflects on the nature of ethical leadership which, in David’s case, involves considerable self-reflection and humility.  “At the end of his life, David abdicates the crown and gives it to his son, Solomon, who says, in response, ‘but, Father you’re the King,” to which David responds modestly “what does it mean to be a king, and what’s the importance of power?”

Concerned with the examples of just the opposite in the contemporary world, Sobol observes that “when the government starts to change the laws to suppress criticism or opposition, there’s the danger of fascism, which is about paranoia, about stirring up all kinds of fears among different sectors of society, according to the idea of divide and rule.”

Concurrent with Sobol’s residency, New Repertory Theater will be presenting a fully staged production of his play “Sinners” about the consequences of a forbidden relationship set in an unspecified Muslim country.

For more details of Sobol’s residency visit IsraeliStage.com.

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Davin Wolok March 20, 2017, 4:38 pm

    A characteristically insightful, illuminating examination of a contemporary artist by Munitz. He illuminates the cultural and historical background against which Sobol works and successfully reveals his appeal to the concerned Israeli and Jew of our times and, in truth, to all for whom openness and dialogue are existential virtues in society. Kudos to Munitz or as I prefer to say, “Yashar Koach!”

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