The private lives of writers we admire are endlessly fascinating; as confirmed by the vast number of biographies, monographs and publications of personal correspondence in existence. Perhaps understanding the details of the life will bring us closer to understanding the details of the work, the process through which it was achieved, or bring us a little closer to understanding the mystery of being human. Savyon Liebrecht’s play, “The Banality of Love”, showing this week at the Beit Lessin Theatre, offers an intimate perspective on the enduring romance between political theorist Hannah Arendt and philosopher Martin Heidegger.
In conversation with the play’s director, Avishai Millstein, he makes a clear distinction between the biographical Arendt and the older Hannah as depicted in the play: “It is clear that it is a play that holds two worlds within it; that differ in time. The play captures her at a particular moment in time when she is isolated and ill. The younger Hannah represents a world of future promise and romance, a young girl at the start of her life. I tried to create two realities onstage with the set and the actors.”
The set consists of two areas: the older Hannah’s apartment occupies one side of the stage, while the other evokes the Black Forest. Millstein makes use of the spatial division to indicate the time and to suggest the process of memory, “The past is the world that she remembers, I wanted to give a different sort of life to those scenes, the life of memory. In her home nothing moves, everything is static. Memory enables her to enter that other world and in a certain sense to control it. We let her move towards memory – but it does not work in the other direction.”
In June, Beit Lessin hosted the German production of Liebrecht’s play for two nights, directed by Gunther Beelitz, and audiences had the opportunity to view the two productions back to back. The German set is completely different in style from the Israeli set, white, modular and minimalist. The text of the play in German is essentially the same, with the addition of quotes from their correspondence. Said Beeliltz, “Hannah and Heidegger wrote a lot of love poems to each other…more surprising for me was that Heidegger wrote a lot of really interesting poems, configuring like cascades of words.” Beelitz used the poems as triggers and indicators of time and memory, a verbal cue that functions in a manner similar to Millstein’s use of the visual space.
There are two Hannahs in the play, young and old. In the German production, a choice was made to have the older Heidegger (a smaller part) portrayed by a separate actor as well. The young Heidegger is played by Meinhard Zanger, who researched his character thoroughly in preparation for the role, reading Heidegger’s seminal work “Being and Time,” yet feels that the heart of the play is the love between the two, “I think at first it is usual play from Heidegger to provoke a student with his charm but then he sees that Hannah is a special kind of woman, he likes how she thinks.” As for Heidegger’s support for the Nazi regime, he says, “As an actor you have to go inside and think 1933 – as if you live in this Germany.”
It was important for Beelitz to show the physical aspect of the relationship between the two, “they have to touch, kiss, and come out of the bed after sex…this never-ending love story, this unbelievable story the Jewish Hannah and the politically really stupid Heidegger…this mystery between two persons is the main power of the play.”
For Millstein, the intellectual and romantic passions of the two protagonists are intertwined: “Hannah and Heidegger are both people with very solid opinions about their beliefs; they are people who create theories to express their beliefs. They have a passion to establish an ideology that will encompass reality. History put their theories to a very difficult test and they did not know how to adapt their theories to reality.”
In this sense, Oded Kotler’s unbending Heidegger provides the perfect foil to Liora Rivlin’s more vulnerable yet resilient Hannah, who is, as Millstein decribes her, “a keen intellectual, trying to rely on her intelligence to solve her emotional conflict.” Any intelligent woman can tell you where that will lead.
Liora Rivlin and Oded Kotler as Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger
Image credit: Gadi Dagon
“The Banality of Love” continues its run at Beit Lessin
August 5 – 8, Eretz Israel Museum, 2 Haim Levanon Street, Ramat Aviv
September 9 – 10 Beit Lessin Theatre, 101Dizengof Street, Tel Aviv