For many Israelis, the Bible is the chunky black object placed in their hands along with a handshake and a smile from the principal at their high school graduation, tribal memorabilia to put on a shelf. The enforced intimacy of religion and government in Israel combined with the tedium of the educational system has resulted in a mixture of apathy and antipathy, particularly among the younger, secular crowd. Yet at the same time it is regarded with a reverence that renders it remote and unapproachable. To engage the biblical texts is to invite a barrage of criticism from every direction. We do not touch the Bible, or let it touch our lives. Prof. Shimon Levy has not only been teaching the Bible to his students, but uses it as text for “Blessed Above Women”, which premieres this week in the Department of Theatre Arts at Tel Aviv University. Aware of the tension that exists between his “tremendous respect for the Bible” and the freedom he and his students exercise in this production, he is against “the traditional perspective that the Bible belongs only to religious people. Each verse deserves many hours of interpretation and feeling.” Asking the question “what is theatrical in the Bible itself?” Levy has worked with several students for over a year, first in a course on “The Bible as Theatre”, then in a workshop using playback theatre methods. In the current production, the selected Biblical texts are performed “as written”, with voice, music, movement and setting providing the interpretation. Regarding the question of belief, Levy says, “When someone watches Hamlet they don’t ask if the ghost of Hamlet’s father is real. Whoever believes, believes, and whoever doesn’t – that is all right too.” In looking at the Bible from a theatrical perspective, Levy has found that not every text is suited to this approach. The texts selected for this performance are somewhat linked by a feminist perspective, not only in featuring women of the Bible, but in the treatment of texts such as Ezekiel Chapter 17, depicting the relationship between Jerusalem and God as that of a woman and her abuser. The emotional tone ranges from solemn to playful and everything in between, with interpretations social, personal and political. Some scenes will provoke laughter, others may provoke, shock or enrage. As Levy says, “When you take the Bible and give it an interpretation, it cannot please everyone, and that is part of the idea.” Levy would like to encourage involvement with the Bible and discussion of the issues and emotions raised therein. He feels that engaging with the texts can have a “healing effect on modern theatre, which is in dire need.” The intellectual and emotional commitment of this talented group of actors, with the creative direction and serious humor of Levy, results in an intense theatrical experience – and the playwright is one of a kind.
Image credit: Arale
Blessed Above Women
17.6.09 – 26.6.09
Performances at 20:30, Friday 12:30 and Saturday 21:00
Room 207 “Bet” Mexico Building, Tel Aviv University Entrance through Gate 8