Night and the rain bring back memories in Where Your Heart Beats, a one-person play performed by Daniel Sabag, written by Yaron Edelstein and directed by Tal Brenner and Edelstein. The play premiered at the 2023 Theatronetto Festival and is currently hosted at Habima.
Everything is changing all around us all the time; most changes are so gradual, so infinitesimal that they pass unnoticed and unremarked. Other events are so pivotal, so dramatic, in their impact that they change everything, and remain fixed in our minds like a signpost, and we can look at the sign and remember: this is when it happened, this is where I was, this is how I felt. On a stormy January night, the protagonist in Where Your Heart Beats returns in memory to a similar night twenty-one years ago, when he was a soldier. Given compassionate leave because his father was about to undergo bypass surgery the next morning, in the grip of fear, tension, and uncertainty, he sought out a place to wait out the hours. In the black box that is Habima 4, on a stage that was empty except for a black wooden stool and an array of IV drips hanging from above like ominous balloons, Daniel Sabag became that man in his early 40s, remembering and becoming once more that young soldier. Seeking refuge from the rain and his feelings, he enters the Roots Bar, a neighborhood pub on Lilienblum Street in Tel Aviv, and we join him on that night with its deluge of alcohol, strange stories, laughter, longing, fear, heartache, and rain.
In an incredibly powerful performance Sabag conveys the deep, overwhelming fear and pain of a young man confronted with his father’s mortality, and most impressive, with the timbre of his voice, his gaze, his presence, and his movement, transforms himself into each of the characters the soldier meets over the course of that long night. Describing the Roots Bar and its unique appearance, Sabag evokes the feeling of a neighborhood bar, with that one odd guy who always seems to be there, the barman who’s your temporary best friend, and the strangers who sometimes share with you the weirdest, most intimate truths. Some of these encounters are hilarious, some poignant, and all interwoven with the soldier’s rush of thoughts and feelings. He’s thinking about his father and remembering their conversation at the hospital, a conversation that might be their last. He’s thinking about his ex-girlfriend Dafna, remembering the different experiences they shared, and reflecting on the relationship from a different perspective.
A one-person play presents unique challenges in every aspect of the production. Where Your Heart Beats meets all these challenges so remarkably, that I soon forgot that I was looking at one person on an almost bare stage, entirely drawn into the experience. The text is so vibrant and precise, creating and distinguishing the different characters through their word choice and manner of speaking, and the way they perceive themselves and the world. Adjusting his expression, timbre of his voice, and body language, Sabag became by turns a friendly barman, a tense 16-year-old, a muscular combat soldier, the serene owner of the bar, a disappointed young man, and a rather disturbingly odd older man; each time returning to the character of the young soldier, as he reacts to the scene around him, and reflects on his own circumstances. The play is meticulously directed, all the characters are distinct, and although their narrative arc is quirky, they never become caricatures, they always feel very grounded and authentic, like someone you might meet on the street, or in a bar.
Although the play deals with serious themes, the pace and mood shift and flow, much as they do on a long night’s vigil. Several scenes had me laughing out loud, some of the people the soldier encounters on this strange night are hilarious. There is a strong sense of place in the play, which for those of us who have lived in Tel Aviv for a while, will strike the chords of memory. Where Your Heart Beats is a bizarre and moving journey, a reflection on time and relationships, fathers and sons, masculinity, death, and love.
Where Your Heart Beats
By Yaron Edelstein
Performer: Daniel Sabag; Directors: Tal Brenner and Yaron Edelstein; Stage and costumes: Noa Dotan; Music: Itamar Gross; Lighting: Omer Boulanger Cohen
Future performances: Monday, July 3rd at 20:00; Wednesday, August 16th at 20:00. Habima 4. Tickets may be ordered online from the Habima website.