The Promised Land: Paris and Tel Aviv

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eretz_mouftahat-r-5461This month Israeli audiences have the opportunity to see two versions of Jean-Claude Grumberg’s The Promised Land thanks to an innovative co-production between The Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv, Théâtre du Rond-Point and the National Theatre of Nancy-Lorraine. Director Charles Tordjman first worked with the French cast, which has appeared in Paris to critical acclaim, then arrived in Tel Aviv to direct the four members of the Israeli cast – Shmuel Vilozny, Keren Mor, Odaya Koren and Avi Pnini – for the March 20th premiere at the Cameri. The Israeli cast performs in Israel this week, then the casts will trade theaters, with the French cast appearing at the Cameri from March 31 – April 4.

Eran Baniel, Director of the International Exposure of Israeli Theatre, described the evolution of the idea. Tordjman’s first visit to Israel in the context of International Exposure 2007 left him with the desire to return with a proposal – the French government had offered to fund the performance of a French play in Budapest, but he wanted to bring a play to Israel. He described a play he had read during the flight that “no one in France wanted to produce because of its name “Vers Toi, Terre Promise” by Jean-Claude Grumberg (literally: towards you, the promised land).The suggestion was met with warmth by Baniel who responded with an idea of his own: why not have the same production – set, costumes, lighting, music and direction both in France and Israel.

The benefits of co-production are both financial and artistic: costs are shared, the work received greater exposure and there is enhanced opportunity for artistic dialogue between cultures. Noting that dance companies such as Yasmeen Godder and Inbal Pinto have participated in several co-productions, Baniel, who in past years has directed both the “Curtain Up” and “International Exposure” dance festivals, had dreamt of creating the same possibilities in theatre. In this particular case, the opportunity for cultural dialogue is even greater as audiences in both countries will have the opportunity to view two entirely different casts, each with its own language and nuance, within the space of a week.

Baniel, who has seen a DVD made of the French production, described some of the differences between the two casts. Not one of the four actors in the French cast is Jewish, which inevitably creates a different feel in this play (based on a true story) that describes a French Jewish couple’s attempt to reconstruct their lives after losing their two daughters (one killed in the concentration camps, one remaining in the convent that gave her refuge during the war) in the Holocaust. According to Baniel, Avi Pnini (who plays the chorus and several other roles) has a freer approach to the interpretation of his character than his French counterpart, Antoine Mathieu, who has a more formalist interpretation. Keren Mor, as the wife, imparts a fragility to the role in contrast to Christine Murillo, larger physically than Mor, “a towering woman” who establishes a very different presence in the role, thus altering the dynamics of the conflict between husband and wife in the play.

Although dealing with serious subject matter, Grumberg’s characters are affectionately presented in all their absurd flawed humanity and there is an ironic humor throughout the play. On March 31st, the French cast will perform at the Cameri in Tel Aviv while the Israeli cast performs in Paris. Grumberg will be present for this performance and will receive an award from the France-Israel Foundation for his lifetime achievement in theatre and his contribution to the cultural dialogue between France and Israel.

The Promised Land will be performed:
March 20 – 25 Israeli cast
March 31 – April 4 French cast
Cameri Theatre, 19 Shaul HaMelech Blvd. Tel Aviv
Tickets: 03-6060960 or 6060900
www.cameri.co.il